IndyCar prospects take on the Brickyard in Freedom 100

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Friday’s Freedom 100 for the Firestone Indy Lights (Noon ET, NBC Sports Network) will feature only 11 cars on the starting grid, but there’s still racing’s ultimate form of bragging rights on the line: Victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Headlining the Freedom 100 field is Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz (pictured), who is also on the front row for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in a fifth Andretti car. Munoz currently leads the FIL points and will seek to become the fourth driver to compete in both the 100 and the 500 on the same weekend (Sebastian Saavedra, Marty Roth, Jeff Simmons).

But Munoz will likely have to go through the four Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers — Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam, Jack Hawksworth and Indiana’s own Kyle O’Gara — in order to win his first race of the weekend. Sam Schmidt’s FIL operation is the series’ resident dynasty, and in the Freedom 100, the team has won an astonishing seven times with six different drivers since the race’s inception in 2003.

It will be interesting to see how the six rookie drivers in the field fare against the world-famous Brickyard. Lights drivers and teams will only have one day of practice and qualifying tomorrow before going into the 40-lap race on Friday for Carb Day. All six rookies are making their first start at Indy, and O’Gara and fellow Hoosier Jimmy Simpson are making their first Lights start altogether.

Also in the field is Chase Austin, who was announced last year as the driver for a second A.J. Foyt Racing machine in this year’s “500.” That ride did not pan out due to a lack of funds, but Austin is still here at the Brickyard for a third consecutive year.

FIRESTONE FREEDOM 100
Entry List

2-Juan Pablo Garcia, Team Moore Racing

4-Jorge Goncalvez, Belardi Auto Racing

5-Peter Dempsey, Belardi Auto Racing

7-Gabby Chaves, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

8-Sage Karam, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

12-Zach Veach, Andretti Autosport

22-Jimmy Simpson, Team Moore Racing

26-Carlos Munoz, Andretti Autosport

28-Chase Austin, Jeffrey Mark Motorsport/BHA w/Curb-Agajanian

67-Kyle O’Gara, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

77-Jack Hawksworth, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

Watch Friday’s Indianapolis 500 Carb Day (11 a.m. ET) online or on your mobile device.

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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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.”