Long Beach already a pressure point for much of Indy field

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The field is so incredibly close in IndyCar this year that mere tenths of seconds cost dozens of positions. The top 24 of 26 drivers at Barber Motorsports Park in practice were separated by barely more than eight tenths of a second.

With such a small margin for error, there are several drivers and teams needing to find that extra couple tenths for improved qualifying performances, or have that bit of luck that sees their results improve.

DARIO FRANCHITTI

Franchitti started from pole at Long Beach a year ago but niggling electrical issues dropped him to an unrepresentative 15th by the flag.

Two DNFs to start 2013 – a crash in St. Pete and an exhaust issue at Barber (pictured) – have Franchitti stone last, 26th in points, already 69 points behind leader Helio Castroneves.  Eventual champion Ryan Hunter-Reay trailed Will Power by as many as 59 last year.

Franchitti’s certainly not dead to rights from title standards after just two of 19 races but he needs a result – any result – for both himself and the team going forward.

GRAHAM RAHAL

Young Rahal’s homecoming at RLL Racing hasn’t quite gone to plan through two races. The car was better than its result of 13th at St. Pete and Graham ran out of fuel the last lap in Barber, ending 21st. Rahal is coming to grips with the team and engineer Gerry Hughes, he certainly wants to outqualify regular teammate James Jakes, and he’ll have the extra pressure of Mike Conway’s presence in a third car this weekend. It’s time to deliver.

PANTHER/DRR

Considering both JR Hildebrand and Oriol Servia are regarded as road and street racing standouts, they’ve not been able to extract the maximum on their road and street course setups with the joint Panther Racing and Panther DRR operations this season.

Hildebrand’s started 24th in both races, with Servia 12th and 18th, and combined neither has a finish better than 15th. Servia, a veteran of 11 prior Long Beach races since 2000, has four top-10 finishes including a runner-up result in 2007. Hildebrand was fifth a year ago.

DRAGON RACING

Dragon Racing has yet to live up to expectations this year. Sebastien Bourdais has underachieved in qualifying, while Sebastian Saavedra has played his cards right to qualify ninth in both races. Problem is, Bourdais has had too much work to do on race day and Saavedra’s fallen back from his grid spots due to contact or poor pit stops. Bourdais is a three-time winner at Long Beach and no doubt seeks a performance leap this weekend.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”