It was one of those questions that kept popping up: would Penske ever return to sports car racing? And the answer came in mid-2017, when the team and Acura pulled the wraps off plans for a joint multi-year DPi program in IMSA’s WeatherTech series.
The program delivered its first win through Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor at Mid-Ohio in 2018, and backed it up with a championship through the sister car of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron last year.
Thanks to everyone who sent questions in, and we’re grateful to Helio, Ricky, Dane and Juan Pablo for taking the time to answer them.
If you missed the previous Guest Mailbags with Mario Andretti, the Haas Formula 1 team and Jimmie Johnson, you can catch up on those here:
Q: Which is easier to drive – a DPi or GT3 Acura? Are you looking forward to the chance to race at Le Mans?
DANE CAMERON: That depends! DPi is tougher to get the maximum performance out of, as you need to be so precise. But the GT3 is actually a little more physical as you need so much more brake pressure to stop the car, as well as the cockpit temperature being higher. DPi is a softer with the controls, but the big G-forces are hard on the body, especially the neck.
And I am very excited for the chance to race at Le Mans. I have not raced there yet, so it’s at the top of my bucket list! The possibilities that convergence could provide are huge for sports car racing. Fingers crossed, for sure…
Q: Would you trade your sports car deal with Penske for a season in IndyCar?
DC: Just one season? Tough question. I actually get this one a lot. I grew up watching IndyCar races at Laguna Seca, so a part of me does want to fulfill that childhood dream someday before I am old and slow.
Q: Helio, you are truly one of my favorites and I really miss your presence in IndyCar. I have a few questions if you don’t mind? Which driver(s) pissed you off the most on a regular or semi-regular basis, and why? What are your two most disappointing and/or frustrating Indy 500s?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you, Dunivan. It pisses me off whatever driver is in front me. I want to be in front of them! The most frustrating 500 was in 2003, when I had the best car in the field. I was cruising around until I got to a slow car in Turn 2 and made me lose the lead. I was not able to get it back.
Q: Which is more fun, IndyCars or sports cars?
HC: IndyCar is in my DNA, however I’m a racer and any time I’m behind the steering wheel I have fun. I love working together with my teammates and developing the Acura ARX-05 Prototype at Team Penske, and I feel our best is yet to come.
Q: Are there any types of racing you’d still like to try (stock cars, drag racing, sprint cars, etc.)? Which types and why? Of any past race car drivers, who would you most have liked to compete against? Who was your favorite driver you ever raced against, and in what series?
HC: I would love to try a stock car, just to feel how it is. It would be a honor to compete with Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. I had a lot of fun with my teammates at Team Penske; they were the best in the business and I’ve learned a lot from them during my career.
Q: You’ve had a long and amazing career, hopefully with lots more still ahead. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
HC: When you work hard, dedicate your time and dream big… your dream will come true, and God always has a plan.
Q: How difficult has the transition from IndyCars to sports cars been? They do have similarities and differences, with the most obvious similar item being all of the specialists that work on the race teams, and the obvious difference being one driver in IndyCar and up to three drivers for one car in IMSA.
Matthew Jackson, Ohio
HC: There are challenges with the sport cars, for sure. The cars are similar in cornering speeds, but in the race every corner is different because of many different series racing together. Sharing the car means compromising in little details, and that makes a big difference.
Q: Thanks for answering our questions, Helio. I’m a huge fan and have met you at the track a few times, and you’ve always taken time out for fans. Here’s my question. You came so close to winning an IndyCar championship so many times… is there one ‘near miss’ that stings the most?
HC: Thanks Oliver for bringing those memories back. Yes, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2017… You know, I may not have won a championship, but what I am most proud of is that every year from 1998 till 2017, I was only out of top five in four seasons…1998/1999/2000/2011. That shows I really fought hard, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
Q: Hi Helio. One of the amazing things about your IndyCar career is how consistent you were in the championship standings – for years and years, you were almost always somewhere between second and fourth. The outlier was 2011, and I’m curious about what didn’t click for you that year, whether it was mentally hard to manage a season when things weren’t going right, and what it felt like to rebound by winning straight out of the gate at St. Pete in 2012?
HC: They changed the rules that year for double-file restarts every time there was a yellow, just like NASCAR. I did not adapt well and it forced me to change my style from right foot braking to left foot braking. Once I adapted to the new style, I was ready for 2012!