Simon Pagenaud unable to sweep New Month of May at Indy

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Two weeks ago, Simon Pagenaud made history by winning the first-ever IndyCar road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But the fast Frenchman was unable to follow that with another great result in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Pagenaud qualified fifth for the ‘500’ and was considered to be one of the pre-race contenders but never threatened up front. After finishing 12th, he noted balance issues on his No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

“We struggled today,” Pagenaud said. “We had a lot of inconsistency in terms of balance between different sets of tires. One of the tires blistered in the second half of the race, and we lost a lap when we pitted early to change it.

However, Pagenaud said he was fine with the result considering the difficulties that he encountered on Sunday. And while he came back down to Earth after his exciting win in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he made sure to hail Honda after the manufacturer won the ‘500’ with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport.

“This sport is interesting,” he mused. “In our last Verizon IndyCar Series race, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, we were the class of the field and won. Today that wasn’t the case, but congratulations to Honda on winning the Indianapolis 500.

“I’m so proud to be part of the development of their engines, and a Honda win for any driver here is special. They work so hard, and it’s nice to see them rewarded.”

Pagenaud finished two spots ahead of Jacques Villeneuve, who was making his ‘500’ return after winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing back in 1995.

Villeneuve, also a former F1 World Champion, qualified 27th and chose to hang back as his car developed early handling problems. He eventually went a lap down but an outbreak of late cautions enabled him to get on pace again.

“During the pit stops, we steadily improved the car, and luckily we got our lap back,” he said. “At the end of the race, I felt that my car was really starting to catch its stride, and I drove more aggressively.”

All in all, 14th was a nice result coming from a 19-year layoff – and the French-Canadian knew it.

“We ended on the lead lap and stayed away from the wall, so I think that’s an acceptable result for being away for so long,” he said.

As for the third SPM driver, rookie Mikhail Aleshin, he became the first Russian to lead a lap in the ‘500’. But his car developed a mechanical issue shortly before halfway, and he had to settle for 21st at the finish.

“Being off the lead lap ruined our day, but I still gained valuable experience since this was my first oval race,” Aleshin said.

“The crowd was so much larger than I expected, but it would have been nicer to get a result that reflected our true ability in front of them.”

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.”