Penske Racing has confirmed speculation that it had chosen former KV Racing Technology driver Will Power as its replacement for Helio Castroneves, at least in preparation for the forthcoming season.
The 27-year old Australian emerged from a crowded field to be touted as the most likely candidate to fill in for Castroneves while the Brazilian fights tax evasion charges, and will now drive the #3 Team Penske Dallara-Honda during pre-season testing.
The balance of the year's responsibilities, including the first IndyCar Series race of the season at St Petersburg on 5 April, will depend on the timing and outcome of Castroneves' pending court case. The Brazilian is scheduled to make an appearance at a district court in Miami on 2 March, and could potentially face a jail term if found guilty.
"We wanted to come and welcome Will Power to Team Penske for 2009," team president Tim Cindric told a press conference, "[but] obviously, it's under difficult circumstances.
"The most important thing for us in 2009, not only is he our driver, but our friend, is to do everything we can to support Helio going forward with what he's going through. It's a difficult thing for me to sit up here today and even talk about it. I'm sure it's a lot more difficult for him than it is for me but, under these circumstances, our job is to make sure that, in racing, you're as prepared as you can possibly be. That's what Roger [Penske] has always set a precedence for; it's what our organisation is known for.
"We need to be sure, in 2009, that we're ready to go and we're ready to win as many races as we can, not only for our sponsors and for our organisation, but also all those that work for us.
"We looked at it very methodically. We didn't feel we really had to make a decision at any certain point in time. Again, it comes down to preparation. The longer you go, the more you know. The more you know, usually the better decisions you make.
"Along that line, when we looked at it, the best thing for us was to be in a situation where maybe this [legal process] could happen at the end of 2009, and we could go through 2009 and do everything as planned. When it became obvious that there really wasn't anything different, other than this 2 March date, at that point in time we felt, even if everything's over at that point in time, everything's good, [Castroneves] has to be able to focus on what he needs to do. The race he needs to win is the race he's going to be in March. That's more important to him than anything we've got going on. We felt like the only way for him to focus on all those things, and for us as an organisation to be prepared in the right way, is to find the best available guy out there [as replacement].
"Obviously, we've chosen Will as that guy. I thought back to some other years. If we'd have been in this situation in other years, we wouldn't have been as fortunate to bring someone on board that can compete at the high level that we're going to obviously expect. We hoped to make a decision before the holidays, but there were a lot of guys out there that had very good credentials.