Hulkenberg, Force India off to flying start in Bahrain

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The “why is he not in a top seat” narrative for Nico Hulkenberg may continue fully into the 2014 Formula One season. But if he and Force India’s preseason testing pace is anything to write home about, perhaps his position in the Silverstone-based squad may become “a top seat” on its own.

Hulkenberg set Wednesday’s fastest time at 1:36.880 at the Bahrain International Circuit, which eclipsed the fastest race lap (1:36.961) set by Sebastian Vettel in the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix.

But while the time was nice, the extending running was a better note to emerge out of Wednesday’s testing, as the Mercedes-powered cars continue to hold an early reliability edge over Renault.

That was the takeaway Hulkenberg had on the day, as he continues to reintegrate himself back into the Force India mold after a year away at Sauber.

“Time in the car is very valuable at the moment and so it feels good to cover so many laps and even complete two long runs at the end of the day,” Hulkenberg said, via the team’s official website. “That gave me a chance to see how the car behaves and to start getting a feel for it, which was not something I was able to do in Jerez.”

An even more telling quote was the fact that for the first time this winter, the team was able to work on actual setup of the car rather than sorting through installation, mapping and other bits and pieces to make the new car run.

“It’s great that we’ve already done some set-up work and started to improve the driveability of the car,” he said. “But it’s still very early stages; we are learning with every lap and we face a very steep learning curve in the coming days. ”

Team chief operation officer Otmar Szafnauer said the team completed successful aero running in the morning, with the setup evaluation including various Pirelli tire compounds, ride heights and balance occurring in the afternoon.

Hulkenberg tests again on Thursday, with Sergio Perez taking over on Friday.

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.”