Long Beach flashback: Dario and Helio’s happy returns in 2009

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Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves were back in Long Beach for the first time since 2002 and 2001, respectively, in 2009. Both were overjoyed with the reasons for their returns.

After a lackluster St. Petersburg to start his season, Franchitti took the win in Long Beach to prove to himself, team owner Chip Ganassi and the IndyCar community that he still “had it” after a one-year sojourn to NASCAR. The win kick started his championship season, the first of three in a row from 2009 through 2011 after he won the 2007 series crown.

Castroneves, meanwhile, was back for different reasons. The Brazilian was exonerated on charges of tax evasion, as the legal issues had surrounded the Indianapolis 500 and “Dancing with the Stars” champion throughout the offseason.

Castroneves’ team owner Roger Penske had a contingency plan in place for Long Beach in case Castroneves would be available to race. The team prepared a third car, run by crew that had serviced its sports car programs in either the American Le Mans Series or the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, to ensure Castroneves and his temporary substitute Will Power would both have rides.

Power – who filled in for Castroneves in the traditional No. 3 in St. Pete – shook down the No. 3 in Friday practice as Castroneves returned to Long Beach. Then he switched to the No. 12 Verizon entry for the first time on Saturday, promptly stuck the car on the pole, and finished an impressive second behind Franchitti.

Power hadn’t done enough yet to ensure his full-time status with Penske Racing, but that was about as good of a start as could be delivered. Four years later, Power and Castroneves are still teammates with Penske Racing once again prepping a third car for a potential future full-season driver, AJ Allmendinger.

This Long Beach race also marked the first under INDYCAR sanction, after the final Champ Car edition in 2008.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.