Acura Team Penske aims to go out on top with an IMSA title in Twelve Hours of Sebring

IMSA Team Penske Sebring

With four victories in its past five races, Acura Team Penske will enter Sebring International Raceway on the verge of punctuating the end of its run with a DPi title in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

But it was a low point during the No. 7 team’s dismal start that might have foretold its finishing kick.

After Helio Castroneves was wrecked by Harry Tincknell less than four hours into the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Penske crew went to work. Despite losing 23 laps on repairs that took more than 30 minutes, Castroneves returned to the track with a determined sense of purpose along with co-drivers Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi.

The team would finish 22 laps behind the race winner as the last of the eight DPi cars in the race – but still just ahead of every other car in the lower classes, including the LMP2 winner that the team spent much of the race trying to chase down and beat to the checkered flag.

“The whole team was just focused on we need to at least finish as the eighth-place car,” said Rossi, who will return to the team for his third and final endurance race this season with Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. “We didn’t want to finish behind (the LMP2) cars. We weren’t content to park the car. We kept fighting over the other 20 hours of the race as if there was a podium or win on the line.

“So I think regardless of the surrounding situations, the methodology and mindset and approach have been the same. It’s been a real pleasure to work with everyone in the capacity I have. It’s one more weekend to get it done.”

Saturday’s race at Sebring International Raceway will mark the end of a three-year run as Acura and Honda Performance Development move on to other teams next season, and Penske puts its sports car program on hiatus.

The No. 7 will have the chance to go out on top after an impressive stretch starting with a victory at Road America by Castroneves and Taylor. The duo would win the next two races at Michelin Road Atlanta and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

After a runner-up finish in the Petit Le Mans (which featured a late crash with Taylor and Pipo Derani battling for the lead), the No. 7 was gifted a victory by No. 6 teammates (and defending series champions) Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya at Laguna Seca.

That’s put the team two points ahead of the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande (who will be joined by six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon at Sebring) and nine points ahead of Derani, who is teamed with Felipe Nasr and Gabby Chaves in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac.

Such a scenario might have seemed impossible after the No. 7 followed the Rolex 24 with a last-place finish in the July 4 race at Daytona International Speedway (because of an engine failure) left them 18 points out of the championship lead.

Helio Castroneves Meyer Shank
Helio Castroneves (IMSA)

“Obviously a very rough season at the beginning and who would have thought,” Castroneves said. “But this is a perfect example that in racing, anything is possible. Right now, I can’t believe we’re leading the championship. We put ourselves in this position. When you combine the whole ingredients together, yes, momentum is everything. We’re going to definitely ride this wave to go into the last race. Anything can happen, so again we don’t want to lose this momentum, especially now that we need it.”

In the last outing at Sebring – a two-hour, 40-minute race on July 18 – the Penske Acuras were sixth and seventh. Led by Derani and Nasr, Cadillacs swept the top three spots and have won three of the past four at the 17-turn, 3.74-mile road course.

Taylor is expecting the trailing Cadillacs to be a major threat again this weekend.

“I think as at the IndyCar finale at St. Pete, everybody’s got to raise their game,” he said. “Josef (Newgarden) had to win, and Dixon had to have an outstanding performance, too. Those guys are champions, and they really raised their game when they needed to, and that’s kind of what we need to try to do this weekend. We’ll fight the Cadillacs as best we can. There’s a few of them, so who knows if they’re going to help each other, but we’ve got a great wingman in the 6 and a really strong driver lineup with Alex joining us again.

“He’s fresh off Petit Le Mans, where he passed for the lead in his last stint in the car, so I think we’re all fresh and ready, and we’re all at the top of our games, so if there’s ever a time to go to Sebring to fight for a championship, this is the one.”

Though the team has faced an uncertain future for much of the season (Castroneves just announced a part-time IndyCar ride next season; Taylor has yet to announce his plans), the drivers said it’s had no detrimental impact on performance.

Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor celebrated after a rain-soaked victory at Road America (IMSA).

“Even though the program only has one race left, it’s full attack,” Taylor said. “As guys are developing things right up to the last minute, I think the car is going to be at the very best it’s ever been. I think they’re not wanting to go back to Sebring without giving us the best shot possible to win. The way the points look, if (Wayne Taylor Racing) wins the race, which they’re always strong there, they win the championship. So we need to be prepared to win the race. Not just play a safe championship battle and follow them around. I think everyone is really motivated and really working hard.”

Said Castroneves: “As soon as we knew the news regarding this program was being terminated, we never thought like, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ We always had the same thing in mind, finishing the best way possible, and it shows. We started winning, and everything started clicking, and we just kept rolling the good momentum. It motivated us to finish on a high note. We’re going to fight a lot to make sure we get this championship.”

After his first winless season in IndyCar, Rossi also has extra motivation to earn his first IMSA victory at a historic track that normally holds its prestigious race in March instead of November. The impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on scheduling doesn’t lessen its value.

“The fact that the Twelve Hours of Sebring is the finale is awesome,” Rossi said. “It’s one of the highlight races of the series, no doubt. The fact that it really is going to be a winner-take-all situation no less is really special for teams, drivers and fans. It’s a big event. It’s a lot of pressure, but I think the whole team, everyone has a single focus in mind: To finish it on a high note, to win one of the biggest endurance races of the year, as well as the second championship in two years.”

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws

The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)