Castroneves recovers to second; calls contact with Dracone ‘misunderstanding’

0 Comments

A rained out qualifying session allowed Helio Castroneves to start the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana from fourth place based on points.

The Team Penske driver then survived a rain-soaked track and early damage to his car to finish second to James Hinchcliffe.

“Track conditions (were) really difficult because in some of the areas there were streams going into the race track and it was very difficult for us to keep on (track) out there,” Castroneves told NBCSN afterward.

Only 21 of the 47 laps recorded in the race were actually run under green, as six cautions interrupted the race from Lap 16 to Lap 47 and forced the originally scheduled 75-lap race to end after 105 minutes.

Castroneves’ race was affected on Lap 21, when a caution flew after Jack Hawksworth made contact in Turn 13 after James Jakes spun. On that lap, Castroneves made contact with rookie Francesco Dracone, damaging the former’s front wing.

“We had a bit of a misunderstanding,” Castroneves said. “I thought the guy I hit was two laps down and I knew he wasn’t battling for the lead, and unfortunately I ended up getting our nose chopped on. The information was a little bit iffy.”

But Castroneves battled back for his first podium finish of the year and his first in six races. His last was in Toronto race one in 2014, when he also finished second.

The Brazilian was the highest-placing Penske driver with polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya finishing fifth and Will Power coming home seventh.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner applauded the inaugural running of the race in New Orleans, despite the weather conditions and the short race.

“I have to (congratulate) the entire track and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series for pushing to have a round here,” Castroneves said. “And the fans actually, thank you for the fans (at the race). We have to keep going.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds