Team Penske is charging into the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series with big names and an all-new machine—the Acura ARX-05 IMSA DPi. Two stars included in the crew's lineup are IndyCar great Helio Castroneves and all-around racing veteran Juan Pablo Montoya, both of which will be joining the team for full-time duty come January's Rolex 24. Although both of them have multiple Indy 500 titles under their belts, prototype racing is a different ballgame that will require dedication, talent, and adjustment.
Castroneves was the first to admit by saying, “Ricky and Dane, they are champions in the series. Actually, they have more experience than me and Juan Pablo as well. We like having them as a reference to learn details. We’re talking about traction control, we’re talking about power steering, I mean, there’s a lot of things that, in IndyCar, we don’t use."
Helio himself is a former Petit Le Mans winner in the sports car racing series. He, along with Montoya and Simon Pagenaud, competed at this year's running of the season-ending 10-hour endurance race to gain some perspective for 2018. According to him, that helped the team heading into next year's full schedule that kicks off with a day-long race at Daytona.
“So now, going through that transition, I’m glad to have those guys to be able to smooth it out," Castroneves continued. "I’m excited. I’ve got the champ in my car, and Juan Pablo also has a champ in his car. It’s fun. We’re the older guys, but at the same time, we’re rookies. There’s nothing wrong with learning, always, and especially with those guys.”
Montoya and Castroneves raced an Oreca-07 prototype at Petit Le Mans which uses the same structural underpinnings as the Acura ARX-05 IMSA DPi. However, it used a Gibson-sourced V8 rather than a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 like their full-time entry for next season. Juan Pablo confessed that albeit different, the team's participation in Petit broke them in for the extensive testing they have since performed under the helm of the new Acura prototype.
“Honestly, you feel like you’re being chased or you’re chasing somebody that stole your life and you need to get it back. You’re driving the wheels out of it and in the meantime, people are getting in the way and you’re bouncing into people. It’s pretty cool.”
Lastly, Montoya complimented the consistency of the new car. Penske has been working diligently this fall going into next year, and according to the Colombian racer, it's held up without issue–a promising sign leading into a competitive season.
“I think the reliability of the car has been unbelievable,” Montoya said. “We have no issues. Acura came out with an engine that just runs. It’s great to see and I think it’s very important. Pace, we’ve still got to work on it a little more, but I think it’s still early days for the car.”