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Castroneves still rolling, undeterred at 41

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Upon entering the post-qualifying press conference after capturing the pole for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves was greeted with a string of statistics about his qualifying prowess. It was his third consecutive pole at Long Beach, his fourth in total at the event, and the 48th of his career, putting him fourth on the all-time list.

Immediately, Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Graham Rahal took the opportunity to throw a jab Castroneves’ way. “Means you’re getting old,” he quipped. Castroneves, without missing a beat, fired right back. “And I’m still kicking ass,” he retorted to a roar of laughter.

Castroneves’ run to the pole saw him stay on top during the entire Firestone Fast Six session. He was the first driver to record a timed lap and eventually turned in a 1:06.225, a new track around the 1.968-mile street circuit. Still, he indicated that the day was far from easy, particularly in the first round of qualifying. “For me today, it was interesting because the first qualifying was a little bit tough,” he explained. “We almost didn’t make it. (Engineer John Diuguid) and the rest of the guys were able to adjust the car for the next session. After that, we kept rolling.”

Castroneves has repeatedly faced questions recently about how long he’ll continue racing and what keeps him motivated to do so. As he explained, part of it is about proving the younger generation wrong. “Every time I wake up in the morning, I do my workout. Sometimes some of the guys got friends that come by, that are really young. When you come out and say, ‘Yeah, you’re tired, aren’t you?’ It feels good,” he joked.

Further, the strength and speed of Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden constantly give him targets to aim for.

“The point is always when I come to the race, I feel great. In my own team, I have incredible teammates. Incredibly talented, incredibly fast. I’m always learning with them. I’m not worrying about (the other drivers),” he asserted.

Still, Castroneves does not underestimate the other teams, especially given Honda’s vastly improved form, though his confidence in Chevrolet is strong.

“I’m sure that (Chevrolet) is going to continue working because, you know, in the past I think they won the past five, six years, the championship. At one point Honda, will step up their game. That’s what they did this year. Now we got to keep it together and keep working. Hopefully at the end of the season we’ll also be battling for the championship.”

Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach rolls off at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. local time).

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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.