Indy 500 winner would love Formula 1 chance

Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves says he'd relish the switch to Formula 1 if given the chance, and his team boss Roger Penske says he wouldn't stand in his young charger's way if the right offer came along

Indy 500 winner would love Formula 1 chance

Castroneves won the 85th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, taking the chequered flag ahead of Penske team mate Gil de Ferran. The Brazilian is currently lying second in the CART standings after winning at California's Long Beach street circuit earlier this year and he's also had strong performances on ovals, so Formula 1 could well be the next big career move for Sao Paolo-born 26-year-old.

"Where I come from in Brazil, Formula 1 is the main sport," he said. "But every driver has their own steps and their own way. I don't want to follow Juan Montoya or Jacques Villeneuve or somebody else, I want to go and have the best opportunity to win. I am happy where I am today, but if a big Formula 1 team came and asked if I wanted to go for it, I'd have to think about it."

Roger Penske, whose team has now scored a record 11 Indy 500 wins following Castroneves' victory, says he would encourage him to make the switch to F1, but only if a big name drive came along.

"I think US racing on ovals and road courses has demonstrated the strength of our drivers," Penske said. "Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Andretti, Juan Montoya and certainly Helio. If he has a chance for a first-class Formula 1 team, I'd be the first to let him go. He's the right age. He has won on the streets of Long Beach, on the ovals and on the road courses.

"Many times our drivers are underestimated. If he has the chance I'd let him go. It would have to be one of those grey cars (McLaren), or one of the red cars (Ferrari). That is what I would want to get him in."

Castroneves' chances of getting into one of those 'grey' or 'red' cars however would not seem to be on the immediate horizon. Only last week Ferrari re-signed their current driver line-up, with Michael Schumacher contracted to the Prancing Horse team until 2004 and number two driver Rubens Barrichello staying on at Maranello until the end of 2002. And the McLaren duo of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard are also expected to stay on at the Woking-based team next year.

Team Green's Dario Franchitti was the most widely tipped CART driver to move over to Formula 1. The Scot tested for Jaguar last year but insiders reckon a move to F1 may be on the cards in 2003.

Champ Car stars have had mixed fortunes coming into Formula 1. The 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya has taken the F1 world by storm this season with his robust drives for Williams. Jacques Villeneuve is also a CART champion and Indy 500 winner, and the Canadian took the Formula 1 World Championship in only his second season for Williams in 1997.

Michael Andretti, however, failed to set the world alight in his season with McLaren in 1993, while two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi didn't to score a point when he drove for Williams in 1999.

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