UPDATE: Engine change knocks polesitter Castroneves to 11th

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UPDATE (9:35 p.m. ET): After setting a new track record in single-lap qualifying, Helio Castroneves went on to lead every lap of tonight’s third 50-lap heat race at Iowa Speedway – earning the pole position for tomorrow’s Iowa Corn Indy 250.

However, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner will have to start 11th on the grid for the race because of an engine change on his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. As explained by Penske Racing president Tim Cindric on Twitter, the No. 3 team installed a fresh Chevy engine for Indianapolis but now must re-install the previous motor – which, according to Cindric, “had a problem” – and run it to the mileage threshold of 2,000 miles.

As a result, Castroneves’ teammate, Will Power, will start first on the grid tomorrow with James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport on the outside front row.

Castroneves was among the six fastest drivers in single-lap qualifying that were waiting in Heat 3 for the top two finishers in both Heat 1 and 2. Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato (who will also be penalized 10 spots on the grid due to an unapproved engine change) made it out of the first heat, while Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter transferred from the second heat.

But the third heat was all Castroneves.

“I’m very excited to be honest – the boys did a hell of a job, again,” the Brazilian said to the IndyCar Radio Network afterwards. “We learned a lot today, but obviously, tomorrow will be a different ball game. We’ll have more traffic and it’ll be a little bit hotter. There are a lot of things going on but I’m excited.”

It looked like Castroneves’ Team Penske teammate, Will Power, would mount a charge for the pole after passing James Hinchcliffe for second place on Lap 31 of 50. But Power ultimately opted to settle in for a runner-up result in the heat.

“We definitely had a good car,” Power told IndyCar Radio. “Got a bit of a problem with the tires…Maybe the car, we need to improve on a bit. All in all, it was very good. I kind of backed off at the end there. There was no use in attacking Helio. It’s just a qualifying position, so yeah, it was a good warmup for tomorrow’s race.”

As for Castroneves’ pursuer in the championship, Ryan Hunter-Reay had closed to within 16 points after his victory last weekend at Milwaukee. But the American driver was unable to advance out of the first heat, starting eighth and finishing fourth.

“We’ve been sitting on our own thumbs all day,” Hunter-Reay told IndyCar.com. The No. 1 DHL team will have to regroup because we’re starting buried in the pack. We gave up points today.”

IZOD IndyCar Series – Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DEKALB
Unofficial Starting Lineup

Row 1
12-Will Power
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 2
25-Marco Andretti
20-Ed Carpenter

Row 3
11-Tony Kanaan
15-Graham Rahal

Row 4
4-Oriol Servia
77-Simon Pagenaud

Row 5
98-Alex Tagliani
19-Justin Wilson

Row 6
3-Helio Castroneves*
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 7
55-Tristan Vautier
83-Charlie Kimball

Row 8
9-Scott Dixon*
5-E.J. Viso

Row 9
14-Takuma Sato*
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 10
7-Sebastien Bourdais
78-Simona de Silvestro

Row 11
10-Dario Franchitti
67-Josef Newgarden*

Row 12
18-Ana Beatriz*
16-James Jakes*

*10-spot grid penalty for unapproved engine change. Sato and Beatriz changed theirs before heat races, and Castroneves, Dixon, Jakes and Newgarden changed theirs after heat races.

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.