Castroneves looks ahead to Team Penske sunset at Sebring

Barry Cantrell/Motorsport Images

Castroneves looks ahead to Team Penske sunset at Sebring

IMSA

Castroneves looks ahead to Team Penske sunset at Sebring

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When Helio Castroneves strapped into a Team Penske CART IndyCar chassis for the first time on December 8, 1999, he had no idea that first test outing would develop into a relationship destined to last 20 years and produce unimaginable success.

Across the 7,342 days, which began at Homestead-Miami Raceway, and will see his time as a Penske driver come to an end at approximately 10 p.m. on Saturday night in Sebring, Castroneves became a household name, a legend of the Indianapolis 500, and the most tenured driver to grace The Captain’s team.

“Well, as this last race becomes closer, a lot of things are going through my mind,” the Brazilian told RACER. “The love of the sport is still here. It’s hard to stop thinking about it, and what’s next for me in IndyCar. But no question, I was actually trying to figure out what it will be like without Team Penske in my life. Like, I know I have a lot of my things in the shop. And I don’t even know, do they ship it to me now? Do I go there and put it in boxes? I asked TC (Team Penske president Tim Cindric) what to do, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know!’ It was so funny. But change is here for, the both of us, and we’ll figure it out.”

When he wakes up Sunday morning, and starts Day 1 as the newest employee of Meyer Shank Racing’s NTT IndyCar Series team, Castroneves says he’ll look back on the relationships built at Team Penske as the testimonies of value that came from spending nearly half his life within Penske’s family.

“I made a lot of friends in the race team — in the racing world, obviously — but in this team particular made a lot of friends and that will never change, no matter where I will be,” he added. “I’ll always have those special friends, and Roger Penske is one of them. Most of all, I consider him a huge friend, a huge counselor, a guidance person that you can always count on, and TC as well. So, very grateful — can’t thank enough Team Penske for everything they did to make me who I am, to mold me, to teach me, to help me and to give me the tools to do what I love most, which is race.”

Castroneves has one significant piece of unfinished business to tend to at Sebring. He’s a rare bird as a three-time Indy 500 winner, but when it comes to titles, those four runner-up finishes in IndyCar speak to an absence of championships on his pro racing record. Holding the lead in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class with teammate Ricky Taylor has Castroneves in position to go out in grand style, provided Sebring grants his wish.

Castroneves and Ricky Taylor have formed an effective partnership, but have one big item still on their to-do list. Motorsport Images

For Taylor, the 2017 IMSA DPi champion, bidding farewell to Castroneves, at Acura Team Penske’s final IMSA race, by capturing the major championship that has proven elusive for the 45-year-old, is the priority.

“He’s been such a great teammate and I’ve learned so much from him,” Taylor said. “I know how much it would mean to him if we can win the championship, and honestly, it’s all I want to do for him in the last race of the year, which is also our last time together — at least for now — as teammates.”

As all the life and career changes contained within Day 7,342 draws near and readies to become Castroneves’ reality, the core of the man — a racer — is laid bare.

“Winning the championship, that would be a great bookend story,” he said. “I just want to race and win. It’s not complicated at all. And to know how Ricky is thinking about me, it shows the class that he has. I learned so much with him in sports cars; it’s his world, and I have all this experience in IndyCar, but all of a sudden, I’m starting all over again, and having him as a guy that I can lean on and learn from, it’s been the best. It was just a great combination. So I really enjoy working with a champion like Ricky, and likewise, I want to end this partnership with high notes. Being champions with Ricky, that would be amazing. But then again, if not, I made a good friend for life, too, and that’s one of the most important things to have.”

“I made a lot of friends in the race team — in the racing world, obviously — but in this team particular made a lot of friends and that will never change, no matter where I will be,” he added. “I’ll always have those special friends, and Roger Penske is one of them. Most of all, I consider him a huge friend, a huge counselor, a guidance person that you can always count on, and TC as well. So, very grateful — can’t thank enough Team Penske for everything they did to make me who I am, to mold me, to teach me, to help me and to give me the tools to do what I love most, which is race.”

“I want to congratulate Helio on the opportunity with Meyer Shank Racing for the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season,” Roger Penske said. “Helio has been such an important part of Team Penske for over two decades and he is certainly one of the greatest drivers in the history of our team. I am excited for him that he will get the opportunity to return to IndyCar next season and it is great for our series and our fans because Helio’s personality and passion will continue to help drive our sport forward. Before we get to next season, we still have some goals to accomplish with Helio in 2020. He will be racing for the IMSA championship this weekend at Sebring with the Acura Team Penske No. 7 team and we hope we can celebrate one more time with him in Victory Circle.”

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