IndyCar: Helio, Pagenaud see points deficits grow with 2 races left

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Down a mere five points to teammate Will Power in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship going into today’s ABC Supply Wisconsin 250, Helio Castroneves surely wanted to thrive.

Instead, on the tough old Milwaukee Mile, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion could only survive.

Starting eighth on the grid, Castroneves rose as high as the Top 5 but handling problems on his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet eventually had him fade to an 11th place finish.

And with Power coming through with a big win, Castroneves took a 34-point hit and fell 39 points behind his intra-team rival with two races to go.

“The Hitachi car was consistent, but unfortunately Turns 3 and 4 was where we had most of our problems,” the Brazilian told NBCSN. “If I finished without crashing today – it was a good day. Every time the car pushed, I couldn’t turn, and I was like, ‘Whoa, hold on, boy!’

“Turns 3 and 4 were very difficult for me. [Turns] 1 and 2 actually wasn’t bad but unfortunately, you have two more corners.”

Despite the setback, Castroneves recognized that with double points on offer for the season finale on Aug. 30 at Auto Club Speedway, his hopes of finally capturing a series championship were not extinguished.

It also bears noting that Castroneves is a past winner at Sonoma Raceway, where the IndyCars will set up shop next weekend for the penultimate race of the year – the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Next Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“Remember, it’s 100 points [for the finale] and we’re 39 behind,” he said. “Still a lot of racing to go. Yes, [today] hurts a little bit. But we can come back.”

Also taking a hit today were the other title contenders, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud.

Hunter-Reay just about conceded the championship when an apparent suspension failure on his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda at Lap 168 knocked him out. He’s now fourth in the standings at 108 points back.

Pagenaud had better luck, jumping from 16th starting position to seventh at the checkered flag. However, Power’s victory did him no favors championship-wise; the Frenchman was down 65 points going in, but is leaving Milwaukee at 92 points back in third place.

But Pagenaud was still pleased with the afternoon, saying that a different approach taken with the set-up of his No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda paid off.

“I think we had a really good car, but it was just a matter of being up front, to be honest,” said Pagenaud, who was also saving fuel during his final stint of the race. “It took good pit stops – the guys were awesome in the pits – and we climbed our way forward.

“I’m really happy with this. I think we’ve done our hardest. I’m very confident with Sonoma and Fontana.”

Altogether, the top six drivers in the standings remain mathematically alive in the championship. That group also includes today’s runner-up, Juan Pablo Montoya (fifth, -114), and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (sixth, -130).

McLaren F1 drivers and senior management agree to pay cuts

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McLaren Formula One drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris are taking pay cuts, while the team is furloughing other employees as part of protective cost-cutting during the coronavirus pandemic.

With F1 racing suspended, McLaren said both drivers and senior management, including chief executive Zak Brown, all agreed to voluntary pay decreases. No figure was given, but McLaren said the percentage of the cut is the same for all employees who are not furloughed.

McLaren said in an email that “these measures are focused on protecting jobs in the short term to ensure our employees return to full-time work as the economy recovers.”

Sainz Jr. tweeted his support, saying “I fully understand these tough decisions and I have obviously decided to take a pay cut. We are all in this together.”

The first eight races of the 22-race campaign have been called off because of the virus. The season-opening Australian GP and the showpiece Monaco GP have been canceled, while the others might be rescheduled.

There is no date set for when the season might start, with the Canadian GP the next scheduled race on the disrupted calendar on June 14.

The season is scheduled to finish with the Abu Dhabi GP on Nov. 29, but F1 organizers previously said they anticipated that “the season end date will extend beyond our original end date.”

To further save costs and potentially gain time, engine manufacturers and teams are observing a three-week factory shutdown period. It normally would have been two weeks and would have taken place during the midseason summer break.