Hamilton, Rosberg set for Bahrain epic encore

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Last year, it was the arguably the race of the Formula 1 season.

The Bahrain Grand Prix battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with Hamilton ultimately prevailing, went down in the record books as the first joust between the two in the battle for inter-team supremacy.

Hamilton enters Bahrain this week on a hot streak, having scored all three pole positions thus far in 2015 and winning two of the first three races, while beating Rosberg in every qualifying/race session to date.

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith wrote a column earlier this week that unless Rosberg’s mental game improves, Hamilton’s already got this year’s World Championship in the bag.

But Hamilton is refusing to get comfortable.

“As always, though, my thoughts have been completely focused on the next race from the moment we left the circuit on Sunday,” Hamilton said in the team’s pre-race release.

“It’s been a great start – but for me last season showed that you can never feel too comfortable and that’s even more the case this time around with Ferrari right there with us.”

Hamilton even noted that Bahrain isn’t one of his better tracks, historically speaking.

“I don’t actually have the best record in Bahrain compared to other circuits,” he said. “Last year was my first win here and it was definitely one I’ll remember after a great fight with Nico. That’s what I love about racing and it’s a special feeling to come out on top in a battle like that.”

Rosberg must respond this weekend on track, and seems focused on doing so from his pre-race comments.

“The team has made a great start to the season and, with this incredible car they have built, I know I just need to find a little bit more in myself to get back to the top step,” Rosberg said.

“If we can do that but with the two top steps in a different order it would be fantastic! It won’t be so easy with the competition breathing down our necks.

“But that makes for even more exciting racing, so I’m looking forward to a great battle and I’m determined to come out on top.”

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.”