Hinchcliffe, de Silvestro due for big Long Beach weekends

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Two of the stars of the St. Petersburg IZOD IndyCar Series curtain-raiser figure to play heavily into the equation at this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, if history is any indication.

James Hinchcliffe’s Long Beach record includes a podium in his first Formula Atlantic start (2006), his first Indy Lights win (2009), his first IndyCar top-five (fourth in 2011) and first IndyCar podium (third last year) in the last seven years.

The Andretti Autosport driver and St. Pete winner seeks a bounce back after a frustrating early exit from Barber when a wheel went loose.

“It’s a track I’ve always enjoyed, and one where Andretti Autosport has a good history here too,” said Hinchcliffe. “Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and (Mike) Conway have won here. And I got the first Lights win, first IndyCar top-five and podium. The first pole would be nice? That would translate well.”

For KV Racing Technology’s Simona de Silvestro, Long Beach also holds a special place in her heart with her first Formula Atlantic win in 2008 – a win that was overshadowed as Danica Patrick won her first and only IndyCar race the same weekend, the other side of the world, in Motegi, Japan.

“Yeah, it’s always cool to be here, as it’s a real tricky place!” she said. “My IndyCar career has had some good weekends here and some miserable. Last year we actually had a strong car (probably her best with Lotus, after starting 17th) and with the things we learned at St. Pete, should be competitive. I always enjoy coming here.”

Both drivers noted the key to Sunday’s race will once again be tires, as Firestone is expected to bring the same primary and alternate compounds as was at St. Pete. Hinchcliffe’s managing his tires helped aid his victory, while de Silvestro fell off on the red alternates just shy of a podium finish.

“It depends when you use what compounds at what stage. You have to stay up on it,” said Hinchcliffe.

Both have had some fun this week too, Hinchcliffe with recent filming of a new GoDaddy spot with Patrick – Hinch estimated a full five minutes of footage was usable, only to be condensed to 30 seconds – while de Silvestro took in her first NHL hockey game Wednesday night, as the Anaheim Ducks played the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I was very excited, but unfortunately they lost and Graham (Rahal’s) team won!” she admitted, reluctantly. “I was a bit frustrated about that. But they’re going to the playoffs, and that’s what counts.”

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

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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.”