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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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Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.