Helio Castroneves has witnessed it all at Team Penske throughout his 17-year tenure with the top-notch organization. But the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner thinks nothing may match what is on the horizon for him in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Castroneves is coming off a 2016 season as the caboose of what was a Penske sweep of the top three in points, led by series champion Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Will Power. But that isn’t what has the 41-year-old Brazilian’s attention. The focus has already shifted to the upcoming season and the all-star lineup that includes team owner Roger Penske’s signing of Josef Newgarden.
The talented 25-year-old Tennessean was announced in October as the replacement in the No. 2 Chevrolet to two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, who will remain with the team in a one-off as the fifth entry for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28. Newgarden finished fourth in this year’s championship driving for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Castroneves, a 29-time Indy car race winner, got a firsthand look at his new teammate during offseason testing in October at Road America and Gateway Motorsports Park. In fact, it was Castroneves’ No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet that Newgarden drove in the Gateway test.
“First of all, he’s a new generation (of driver),” Castroneves said. “Josef is American as well, which is something that, for Roger it doesn’t matter about the nationality, what he wants is actual results. Josef has been able to show – I wouldn’t say a small team but one not comparable to Team Penske – victories, potential and good results.
Castroneves, entering his 20th year of Indy car competition in 2017, added that there was a curiosity factor in wondering where Newgarden, who has three wins and eight podiums the past two seasons, found his speed. That made it all the more important to add him to the lineup.
“I feel that in some of the areas he was extremely fast and we want to know why, so let’s take Josef and put him in our group and hopefully make it happen,” Castroneves said.
“I feel the first test we had together, I was very surprised that he was able to adapt very quickly to the team, to the setups and to the cars. He was extremely fast. So, I feel that we’re going to have another young guy here pushing us, but at the end of the day it’s always good to have quality drivers around us because it helps to make us better as well.”
A lineup that has undoubtedly everybody’s attention heading into the season, the four-time championship runner-up was quick to joke that maybe the Indianapolis 500 should be renamed.
“I joked the other day, I said, ‘Who’s going to win the Penske 500?’ We have five cars, not only five cars, but we have a very good lineup for next year and it would be great to win another Indy 500 for Roger.”
Castroneves is suffering through a winless drought of more than two years himself, but he’s always one to watch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Come May, his personal focus will again be on joining the trio of all-time legends who have had their likeness placed four times on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy.
“Indy is our main goal,” he said, “to bring another victory for Roger and hopefully tie Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr. and the greatest, Mr. A.J. Foyt.”