IndyCar: Helio takes 9-point championship lead with 6 races left (VIDEO)

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After running with the leaders for much of Saturday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300, Helio Castroneves faded late to an eighth-place finish.

But that was enough for him to assume outright control of the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead after Penske teammate Will Power lost 10 positions following the final restart with nine laps remaining.

With seven to go, Power went high up in Turn 2 and had to fight to keep his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet off the wall. The Australian succeeded, but he paid the price with the heavy loss of position; he took the restart in fourth, but finished in 14th.

“It was a tough call at the end there,” Power said afterwards. “Had we went with the new tires we might have been looking pretty good. But a tough day to work hard with the Verizon Chevy doing so well, and then to finish fourteenth just wasn’t where we expected to be tonight. We’ll move forward and look ahead to Toronto.”

Meanwhile, Castroneves was happy to pick up the points lead going into the final doubleheader weekend of the year.

“To be honest, from the first practice session to the race, we changed a lot on this car and it was great,” Castroneves said. “We were running in the top three most of the day.

“Obviously, finishing in the eighth position isn’t where we deserved to finish. But it was a gamble there at the end. We are leaving here with the championship lead and that is what we need to focus on moving forward.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s win on Saturday enabled him to jump from fifth to third in the championship at 32 points behind Castroneves with six races left in the season.

Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya took a step back in the title fight at Iowa. Pagenaud finished 11th, causing him to fall to fourth in the standings at 50 points back.

But he was better off Saturday than Montoya, who slipped to fifth in the standings after crashing with 19 laps to go. The Colombian is now down 66 points.

However, with two races coming next weekend on the treacherous Honda Indy Toronto street circuit, this championship can very well have more twists and turns to come.

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two Ligier JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and British youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”