Button: Japan “almost a home race”

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We mentioned earlier this morning that this year’s Japanese Grand Prix will be run without a native driver – or engine manufacturer – for the first time in the race’s history since it came back on the Formula One calendar in 1987.

Perhaps the locals will shift their support and attention to Jenson Button? The McLaren driver has a love and affinity for Suzuka more than any circuit on the calendar, except his actual home Grand Prix in Silverstone. He explained as much leading up to this weekend’s on-track festivities.

“Japan is almost my second home Grand Prix, besides Silverstone, as this country here is in my heart,” said Button, who won in 2011 even though it was overshadowed by Sebastian Vettel’s clinching of his second straight World Championship.

“2011 was such a tough race, leading towards the end, running low on fuel with Fernando chasing me and Sebastian. It was amazing to win especially that year when Japan had had such a rough year as a country itself. So this was a very special victory, and my girlfriend was crying her eyes out,” he said. Button’s girlfriend, Jessica Michibata, is Japanese.

He rated two McLaren victories at Suzuka as his most memorable moments there, not either of the 1989 or 1990 comings-together between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

“Probably Mika Hakkinen’s win (in 1998), and for sure also Kimi’s (Raikkonen) win (in 2005),” said Button. “I was racing then. I remember having a qualifying in mixed conditions, and I qualified in the dry and managed to be on the front row, but Kimi caught the wet. He had to work his way through the field during the race, and he won it in the last or second-to-last lap only. That was a mega drive.”

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.”