Coyne’s Sunday at NOLA ends with missed podium shot, crewmember hit in pits

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AVONDALE, La. – In strategy-based and/or timed races in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Dale Coyne Racing generally stands out as one of the teams to watch.

A strategic masterstroke from the pit wall put Carlos Huertas into position to win in Houston last year, and the Colombian rookie held the field off for a surprise but still well-executed first career victory.

So go figure Sunday at NOLA Motorsports Park, for the series’ inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, DCR was in contention despite a last-place starting position.

Huertas, in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, ran second on an off-sequence strategy late in the eventual 47-lap, 105-minute race, before a spin under the fourth full course caution on Lap 36 put him back in the order.

The series sophomore finished 16th, and rued a missed opportunity.

“It’s my mistake,” Huertas told MotorSportsTalk. “I didn’t go massively fast. It was just the way the car was placed when I touched the throttle, but I lost it.

“For sure I lost a podium today. Maybe the win, I don’t know. It’s my mistake. I’m really sorry to the team.”

Coyne’s team also made headlines during the race for the wrong reasons when the team’s second car, driven by Francesco Dracone, contacted crewmember Todd Phillips entering the pits.

Phillips, Dracone’s crew chief and outside front tire changer, was being treated in care center for a cut to lower right leg.

Former DCR driver Justin Wilson provided an update on Phillips later Sunday night, saying he should be relatively OK.

Dracone’s pit contact capped off a challenging weekend where he spun multiple times in practice and also made contact with Helio Castroneves following a restart.

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.”