By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner with 29 career IndyCar wins. He’s also a two-time winner in IMSA competition with a 2008 victory at Petit Le Mans and his first win as a full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver, which came in May at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course alongside No. 7 Acura Team Penske ARX-O5 DPi co-driver Ricky Taylor.
There’s not a whole lot that the 43-year-old Brazilian – who also owns the coveted Mirror Ball trophy for winning Season 5 of ABC television’s “Dancing with the Stars” competition back in 2007 – hasn’t experienced. Heck, he’s even previously raced on nine of the 10 tracks on the 2018 schedule for the WeatherTech Championship Prototype class.
But one thing he hasn’t done is race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. That’ll change this weekend.
“It’s an amazing track,” said Castroneves of CTMP. “It’s a very fast track, which they say suits my style, so I love that. I’m looking forward to getting to know the track. I haven’t been there before. I’ve watched the races on TV, of course. I can’t wait to race there.”
Castroneves is fortunate to have a couple of teammates on Acura Team Penske that probably can help accelerate his learning curve on the ultra-fast, 2.459-mile, 10-turn circuit that hosted Formula 1 races back in the 1960s and ‘70s when it was known as “Mosport.” Taylor, the 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion, won the race at CTMP back in 2015 and owns two career pole positions at the track, including last year.
Co-driving the other Acura Team Penske entry, the No. 6 Acura DPi, are another strong driver pairing in Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron. Montoya has an impressive racing résumé of his own, with two Indy 500 wins, the CART title in 1999 and wins in Formula 1, the NASCAR Cup Series and three victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Like Castroneves, though, this weekend also will represent his first race at CTMP. Cameron, meanwhile, is the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion, and has come away from the Mobil 1 Sports Car Grand Prix with the winner’s trophy in each of the past two years.
“Ricky and I, Juan Pablo and Dane are really working all together,” Castroneves said. “So, this program with Acura Team Penske will be as successful as possible.”
It’s still relatively early days for the Acura Team Penske program, but the team already has enjoyed success. Both cars ran among the top contenders at both of the season-opening endurance races, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, but encountered issues that prevented them from finishing.
Montoya delivered the program’s first pole position in qualifying for the third race of the season, April’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. In Round 4 at the Acura Sports Car Classic at Mid-Ohio, Castroneves scored the team’s second consecutive pole in a 1-2 sweep during qualifying, then went on to lead another 1-2 sweep for the team alongside Taylor in the race.
Last month, the team claimed another pair of podium results, finishing second with Castroneves and Taylor and third with Montoya and Cameron in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park. And in last weekend’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, Montoya and Cameron picked up their third consecutive podium result with a third-place showing, while Castroneves and Taylor battled issues with its gear shifter, relegating them to a 12th-place result.
Nevertheless, both teams still are in the thick of the Prototype championship fight. Cameron and Montoya are currently in third place, 13 points behind leader Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R. Taylor and Castroneves are sixth, 20 points out of the lead with four of 10 races still remaining.
Not a bad performance for a brand-new car. And in the case of Castroneves, a driver who – apart from a handful of endurance race appearances over the years – is still adapting to life as a full-time sports car racer after a 20-year career in IndyCar.
Adapting to both the Acura DPi race car, and the nuances of multi-class sports car racing is a somewhat bigger challenge than it might appear on the surface. But Castroneves is embracing it.
“The car is great,” he said. “The car is very similar to an open-wheel car. Different tires, and I’m still learning a little bit not only how to manage the that with the tires but also manage the traffic. There’s so many cars around. Sometimes you have a big gap and that big gap can go away in, like, three corners.
“It’s fun. I have to say it’s very intense, a little more intense than IndyCar, plus you have so many buttons in the car. I’m still learning and understanding. I’m really, really happy to be around, for sure, now let’s continue to have some fun. Hopefully we can have the result that we want.”
In addition to racing full-time in the WeatherTech Championship, Castroneves also competed in both of May’s IndyCar races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, although he didn’t get the results he wanted. He was a reasonable sixth in the IndyCar Grand Prix on the IMS road course, but he crashed while racing among the top contenders in the Indianapolis 500, leaving him 27th in the final race results.
The good news for him is team owner Roger Penske already confirmed that Castroneves will get another shot at his fourth Indy 500 win in 2019. Of course, he’ll also keep racing the Acura DPi, which is a good thing, because he’s having a great time.
“Oh, absolutely,” says Castroneves. “No question about it. Plus, when you have a great group of guys it makes it even more fun.”
The the two-hour, 40-minute Mobil 1 Sports Car Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park will be televised on FS1 on a delayed basis beginning at 4 p.m. ET. It will be carried live by IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.
Tickets are available now on CanadianTireMotorsportPark.com.