Hulkenberg leads Day 1 of Bahrain testing on Wednesday

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The theme of surprise pace-setters in Formula One testing, as it was in Jerez a few weeks ago, continued Wednesday on the first day at Bahrain. Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India clocked in at 1:36.880 on Pirelli’s soft tires, in a lap actually faster than the 2013 fastest race lap in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

What is a trend though, is that Hulkenberg is in a Mercedes-powered car, and was able to clock a substantial amount of laps on the day. His fellow Mercedes-powered drivers did as well and the Renaults, again as in Jerez, didn’t.

Hulkenberg was third in the morning session behind McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, as times dropped by a couple seconds once teams switched onto the softer compounds.

By day’s end only Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari was within a second, and only just, at 1:37.879.

With times not as important as lap counts on the first day, here’s the breakdown by manufacturer:

  • Mercedes: 238 (Hulkenberg 78, Hamilton 74, Magnussen 81, Felipe Massa 5)
  • Ferrari: 149 (Alonso 64, Adrian Sutil 82, Jules Bianchi 3)
  • Renault: 95 (Sebastian Vettel 14, Robin Frijns 68, Daniil Kvyat 5, Romain Grosjean 8)

Neither Massa or Bianchi set an official time; Williams’ Massa had a fuel system issue that cost him most of his day, while Marussia’s Bianchi had what was deemed an “IT configuration problem” per the team.

Meanwhile for Renault, Red Bull’s Vettel encountered more issues as he stopped on track with a broken down car. The team didn’t reveal the reason as yet. As it is, a disconcerting sign after his Jerez problems.

Kyvat had an oil leak in the Toro Rosso, while Grosjean was out mainly for installation laps and didn’t put up a representative time.

Caterham’s Frijns impressed on his only day of running, before race drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson take over later this week.

1. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes, 1m36.880s, 78 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m37.879s, 64
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m37.908s, 74
4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m38.295s, 81
5. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault, 1m40.224s, 14
6. Adrian Sutil, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m40.443s, 82
7. Robin Frijns, Caterham-Renault, 1m42.534s, 68
8. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m44.346s, 5
9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault, 1m44.832s, 8
10. Felipe Massa, Williams-Meredes, no time, 5
11. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, no time, 3

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.”