Consistent Castroneves seeks a Toronto breakthrough

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Helio Castroneves is putting together another consistent season, as he continues his quest for his elusive first IZOD IndyCar Series championship with Team Penske.

In 11 races, the series points leader has 10 top-10 finishes and a win at Texas. But he needs to keep pushing heading into the Honda Indy Toronto (3 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday on NBC Sports Network) if he wants to hold off the surge of Andretti Autosport drivers behind him. Ryan Hunter-Reay currently sits second, 23 points back.

“Whenever you’re leading the championship, when it’s by 1 point or 100 points, it’s always good news,” Castroneves said Tuesday in a teleconference. “Of course, we still have a long way, eight more races to go, a lot of points in the game. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing because right now, it’s keeping us up there.”

Toronto has been something of a bogey track for Castroneves. In eight prior starts, he has only two top-10 finishes, with a best result of sixth last year.

“The Toronto track is a traditional place, very, very tight,” he said. “The track is very technical, as well. Plus we’re going to be standing start (for Race 1), so it’s also another trick, something else for us to think about. But in the end of the day, we know what we need to do. Hopefully we put ourselves in good qualifying so we can start at the front.”

Until his win in Edmonton last year, his first in Canada in 15 years in the top level of open-wheel racing, Castroneves and controversy in Canada went together like a box of Timbits and a “double-double.”

In 2009 at Toronto, he and native son Paul Tracy collided out of Turn 3 when battling for the lead, and Castroneves exited his car to a chorus of boos. That prompted apologies.

But Castroneves had every right to feel aggrieved a year later in Edmonton, when he took a defensive line on a restart while leading Will Power and Scott Dixon, but was then called for blocking by then-IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart.

Castroneves, irate, leapt from his car and stormed after IndyCar security chief Charles Burns, grabbing Burns’ chest. Burns was more amused by the reaction than frustrated, since Burns is a seriously large individual.

Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 Shootout

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Michael Carter was selected as the winner of the 2018 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout.

Carter was one of four drivers who competed for the honor and a $100,000 scholarship that went along with it. Matthew Dirks, Hannah Grisham and Loni Unser also competed.

With the scholarship, Carter will compete in the 2019 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup.

“What a journey this has been,” said Carter in a press release. “The reason I started racing a Mazda was because of the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. It was our one single goal all along and to finally accomplish that is surreal. The process begins next week of getting ready for next season, for the series test at Barber, and to put together a good season in the Global MX-5 Cup.”

Carter was invited to the Shootout largely because of his 2018 performance in SCCA. He finished second in the SCCA Hoosier Super Tour Points Championship, won the Spec Miata Challenge and won in Spec Miata at the American Road Race of Champions.

The 18-year-old Carter had his eye on the Road to Mazda early.

“Each year, it is exciting to see the next batch of talent that is in the pipeline,” said John Doonan, Director, Mazda Motorsports. “I heard something from Michael and his father that really hit a chord with me which was that they built a Spec Miata with the sole purpose of going up the Mazda Road to 24 ladder.

That really speaks to the challenger spirit at Mazda, to why we have the Shootout, and to the family that we have at Mazda. Michael is the driver today who walks away with the scholarship, but we had four families come together here who have all gone racing together. For all of us at Mazda, it’s very rewarding to give these families a chance to go racing together. We look forward to watching Michael take the next step in his career in next season’s Global MX-5 Cup.”