“Tough break” for Team Penske in Sao Paulo quals

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If Helio Castroneves (pictured) wants to maintain his IZOD IndyCar Series points lead and Will Power wants to snap his year-long win drought, they’ll both have to race from the back of the Sao Paulo Indy 300 grid to do it.

The Team Penske duo may have been the biggest losers in qualifying for tomorrow’s 75-lap event (11 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network/NBC Sports Live Extra). Castroneves and Power had not yet posted a flying lap in their first round qualifying session and were caught out after James Jakes came to a stop on course with roughly three minutes remaining.

As Jakes emerged from his smoking car, so did the red flag — and the green flag never came back. Barring further alterations to the starting grid, Sao Paulo native Castroneves will start 18th tomorrow and Power will start 22nd.

The latter summed up the episode perfectly, calling it a “tough break.”

“It’s especially bad, because the Verizon car had been so quick all day,” said Power, who led both pre-qualifying practice sessions. “We felt pretty good going into the qualifying and unfortunately didn’t have time to run the lap we wanted after doing a lap on the [primary] blacks. Now we turn the focus to doing the best we can tomorrow and getting the most out of the points.”

Castroneves, who posted the fifth-fastest time in the combined practices, also vowed to forge ahead.

“I’m shocked about our result, but we never say never and will give it all we have tomorrow,” he said.

Watch tomorrow’s Sao Paulo Indy 300 online and on your mobile device.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.