One year on: How different the 2014 USGP podium could look

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A year ago, American fans were treated to the coronation of Sebastian Vettel, who captured what was his eighth consecutive victory and 12th (of 13) he’d take during his fourth straight World Championship season.

Vettel essentially had the race in the bag after Saturday’s qualifying session. Mark Webber made a mistake on his final flier while Vettel seized the moment for pole position.

In the race, Romain Grosjean made it up to second place, getting around Webber. But neither had anything for the German in the Red Bull on that day.

It’s funny how much things change in a year in F1 – note too even this podium in 2013 was sizably different from the Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Vettel and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) all-World Champion podium of 2012.

While Hamilton seeks a return to the podium in Austin this weekend, and a win would be his fifth consecutive (it would mark his first string of five in a row in his career), it’s going to be difficult for any of the 2013 podium finishers to maintain their record.

Vettel may be sitting out qualifying in Austin and in theory would be unlikely to recover to a podium position – top five perhaps.

Grosjean hasn’t come anywhere near close to the podium this season. The Frenchman has endured the campaign for Lotus, scoring all eight of its points courtesy of two eighth-place finishes, and is in the midst of a 10-race scoreless streak.

Webber, of course, is off to the FIA World Endurance Championship this year with Porsche. He raced in Austin with the Porsche 919 Hybrid a little more than a month ago.

The three or four odds-on favorites include the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas the next two you’d figure have podium potential.

Rosberg is yet to finish better than ninth in Austin, which a year ago, was behind Bottas. The Finn scored his first World Championship points this race last year.

Ricciardo has just missed points on both occasions, coming 11th and 12th the last two years. But the two young chargers have been up to the task in 2014.

Alonso? The Ferrari hasn’t been the match of the field and who knows how much more Alonso will have in him this weekend as his future plans hang in the plans. But know he’s always giving it his all and tends to outperform his machinery level.

Felipe Massa’s also gone well at Austin the last two years with Ferrari, and should be good too with Williams this go-around.

The one thing we can pretty much say with certainty is that none of the 2013 podium finishers will be finishing in the same positions this year.

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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.”