Williams poised to end 24-year USGP podium drought after second row lockout

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AUSTIN – Williams has made it an all-Mercedes top four for this year’s United States Grand Prix, and in no real surprise after emerging at the head of the queue behind the Mercedes factory squad earlier Saturday morning in third free practice.

Both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas have been on strong form this weekend, with Bottas finding his comfort level in fewer sessions. He sat out free practice one while Felipe Nasr was in there.

Massa and Bottas improved from fifth and 11th in FP2 – 1.3 and 1.7 seconds off the Mercedes, respectively – to third and fourth in FP3, albeit still 1.1 and 1.3 seconds in arrears.

Once the field went to Pirelli’s soft tire for qualifying, the Williams pair came in even more. Bottas, who was one of the stars this race last year in a then-Renault-powered Williams chassis, emerged third at the end of the session with Massa fourth. The gap to the Mercedes on the softs came down with Bottas within eight tenths and Massa just under 1.2 off.

“I’m really pleased with the couple of good laps I got in Q3 today actually,” Bottas said in the post-qualifying press conference. “It’s been a difficult weekend from my side for some reason, to get in a good rhythm and then finally during the qualifying I could really trust the car, like you should do.”

“But I’m really happy for us as a team. We locked out the second row, which is great for tomorrow’s race. We’re pushing in the Constructor’s Championship.”

Williams is currently 28 points clear of Ferrari for third in the Constructor’s Championship.

After this result, Bottas has now ended in the top three in six of the last eight races, whilst Massas is four for his last eight in terms of ending in the top four.

Bottas discussed how much he improved in qualifying to get within less than half a second of Lewis Hamilton in second.

“Qualifying in general from the practice, I managed to improve myself a lot during every session,” he said. “I could really trust the car a bit better in the qualifying and get those lines right and get every corner right.”

The team is seeking its first podium in the U.S. since, surprisingly, the 1990 United States Grand Prix at Phoenix, when Thierry Boutsen came third in a Williams-Renault behind Ayrton Senna’s McLaren and Jean Alesi’s Tyrrell.

Williams never podiumed in eight years at Indianapolis (2000-2007), including their BMW-powered years from 2000 through 2005, and is currently 0-for-2 at COTA.

With either Bottas or Massa, or perhaps both, perhaps that 24-year drought is poised to end this weekend.

It’s already been a weekend of celebration for the team – Williams played host to a small gathering of reporters Friday to celebrate NBCSN producer Jason Swales’ 250th Grand Prix this weekend.


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.”