There is a reason that Helio Castroneves may be leaving the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet after this season.
It is not due to diminished skills, the Brazilian’s triumph Sunday at the Iowa Corn 300 and his high placing on the current championship points table dispose
s of that theory. Yours truly thinks this is a move to bolster not only a new entity (IMSA sports car team), but also maintain a solid foundation on the other (IndyCar).
Team Penske’s return to the prototype ranks for the first time in nine years with Acura and ORECA has the chance to show the same muscle flexed during a three-year run with Porsche from 2006 to 2008. Recall that span resulted in class titles and an overall win at the 12 Hours of Sebring in its final season.
The squad has one solid cog in the form of Juan Pablo Montoya, who in addition to winning the Indianapolis 500 twice, has done likewise at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Having already spent three years as a teammate to Castroneves, this increases the chances of a successful pairing in IMSA.
So what about the IndyCar operation? If Penske decreases its full season entry to just three cars, the organization enters 2018 still as a favorite. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Josef Newgarden are all well within their prime years and should continue to contend for wins and a series crown next season. However, if the team remains at a quartet of participants, there is a bigger reason why the Captain may be making a move now.
For comparison purposes for those familiar with the NFL, Roger Penske’s philosophy is very similar to that of former San Francisco 49ers head coach and general manager Bill Walsh. Walsh was not a guy that looked at the current scenario to influence his transactions. The Super Bowl-winning manager always glanced two to three years down the road, and that’s what I feel the Captain is doing with the future of his IndyCar team.
At this time, there are a couple of notable IndyCar prospects who could become hot property during the upcoming silly season, based first on the situation involving Castroneves at Penske, but also the future of Tony Kanaan at Chip Ganassi Racing. TK, like Helio, is on the other side of 40, and his ability and desire to continue another season is a question mark. If both Brazilians are out of full-time service, the timing of the Penske to IMSA announcement could give the Captain and Tim Cindric the first choice of a replacement.
The two big fish to snap up appear to be in the back half of the grid. One is Carlos Munoz, who has suffered through a horrendous year at A.J. Foyt Racing. Of course, the Colombian had success at Andretti Autosport, keeping his value high. The other target could be Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones, the likely winner of the 2017 Rookie of the Year award. The Dubai-based pilot finished third at this year’s Indianapolis 500, but has had a bit of a trial by fire period as the team leader following the month of May accident to teammate Sebastien Bourdais. Joining a bigger group could ease the pressure on the former Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires champion.
While replacing Castroneves may not be a favorable move in the short term, it could allow Penske to continue to dominate the IndyCar circuit for many years to come.
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