IMSA's third-wheelmen in search of a championship assist

Chris Owens/Lumen

IMSA's third-wheelmen in search of a championship assist

IMSA

IMSA's third-wheelmen in search of a championship assist

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With the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-ending race being a 10-hour affair, there will be drivers in the championship-contending teams that aren’t contending for the championship by necessity. Their names won’t be engraved on the trophy nor written in the record books, but they will play a critical role for their respective teams in the Motul Petit Le Mans.

The championship has come down to Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor for Wayne Taylor Racing vs. Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist and Meyer Shank Racing for the final DPi title. But two drivers can’t do the race by themselves, so WTR has brought in sports car endurance expert Brendon Hartley, and Helio Castroneves slides over from MSR’s IndyCar Series squad.

At a different part of the season, the goal for these additions would be the same as any other time: win, just like Castroneves, along with MSR’s other IndyCar ace, Simon Pagenaud, did in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona. Now their job is to help their respective teams win the title, which means simply beating the other car. Castroneves, though, doesn’t see a big difference.

“I’m here [for] a purpose: to win,” he said. “And we’ve got to go and obviously be sensible, but attack, because we’re in a position to be on the offense, not on the defense, and I feel that everybody knows that. But at the same time, you’ve got to be reasonable; to finish first you got to first finish so it’ll be interesting to see. It’s a long race and we try to do the setup as much as we can. I won here in 2008. But the last few years with the DPi we finished really close by attacking and I feel that that’s the mentality we’ve got to keep it going.”

Castroneves is well familiar with the Acura ARX-05 both teams are competing with, having won a championship in it with Taylor for Team Penske in 2020, and he raced with WTR alongside Taylor, Albuquerque and Alexander Rossi in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Hartley, on the other hand, had no familiarity with it, having only once sampled a Cadillac DPi in between World Endurance Championship events, so he had a steep learning curve to get into position to help Taylor and Albuquerque.\

“The pressure’s high, because it’s not just win. We have to have a clean race and we have to beat the Shank car. These guys have got the right attitude this weekend. I think if there’s a chance to take the victory…but the championship’s the most important thing at this point. They want to go for that. I never sat in the car before this week and FP1 yesterday was the first time discovering the car on a very difficult track full of traffic. And it took me all day to get up to speed, I’m not gonna lie. FP1 and FP2 were a struggle, but FP3 I was there, thanks to Ricky and Filipe and all the guys giving all the information they could and giving me some good seat time. But my role on the race as a third driver is going to be to keep it clean, and hopefully we’re fighting at the front.”

Castroneves also tempers his enthusiasm for winning, knowing that situations may call for conservatism depending on their position relative to the No. 10 and the other competitors, as well as his place in the driver rotation. But his experience with the car and the team doesn’t have him in the same high-pressure situation as Hartley, although Hartley has been paying keen attention.

“It generally comes down to the last three or four hours. Anyone who’s watched his race, knows it’s going to come down to the end, so it’s keeping the car in one piece and keeping it at the pointy end. I’m really looking forward to it. And that added pressure, what we look for as drivers…sometimes you feel the butterflies in your stomach, which doesn’t always feel nice, but it’s also what it’s what it’s all about, so, I’m well aware of the added pressure of the championship on the line. We know what we’re here for this weekend.”

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