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Smiling Through The Rain II: US fans’ resolve shines on Saturday

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Earlier this year, I wrote a piece following the British Grand Prix entitled “Smiling Through The Rain” after a damp weekend at Silverstone that saw Formula 1’s diehard fans stick it out and be rewarded with a breathless race.

So after Saturday’s washout at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, it is time for “Smiling Through The Rain II” (no ‘electric boogaloo’), looking back on one of the most bizarre days in the recent history of F1.

Following FP2’s cancellation on Friday and with worse weather due to hit Austin on Saturday thanks to Hurricane Patricia, most expected the day to be called off without a wheel being turned.

The FIA confirmed that a decision would be taken at 7am CT regarding the day, leaving those waiting to make their way to the track checking emails and refreshing Twitter for updates before braving the roads.

No decision came, though, prompting most to venture to COTA. However, the circuit told fans to stay away, saying that the gates would not be opened until midday – with practice due to start at 10am CT, a decision appeared to have been made.

However, much to chagrin of many of the fans in Austin who had hoped to see cars on track, FP3 went ahead as planned in front of empty grandstands, with conditions only just allowing for the cars to get out and complete some laps, knowing that it could have set the grid if qualifying was also rained out.

With the cars having gone out, COTA told fans to begin making their way to the track as qualifying was expected to start as planned at 1pm CT – when the worst of the weather was due to hit.

So we were left with the situation of fans having been kept out for FP3, be then told to come to the track in torrential rain, only to then have no cars on track and qualifying ultimately be postponed until Sunday morning. Memories of Indy ’05 came flashing back: another disaster for F1 in the USA.

What then followed was a show of F1’s human side, often hidden behind visors and race suits, that rewarded the fans who braved the conditions and kept singing away in the main grandstand donned in raincoats, clinging onto umbrellas that the wind kept trying to tug away.

We had breakdancing Force India mechanics, a Sauber tub rowing down the pit lane, a dance between Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, and even Alexander Rossi throwing a football around. Nico Rosberg kicked a soccer ball around with Niki Lauda and the Mercedes mechanics. Jos Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Sr. donned Toro Rosso race suits and jumped in their sons’ cars.

All the while, the fans were still there, refusing to budge until qualifying was definitely cancelled.

And when the call eventually came through, in a gracious move from Bernie Ecclestone, circuit chairman Bobby Epstein and Mayor of Austin Steve Adler, they were invited to come into the pit lane to meet the drivers, pose for pictures and get something out of a soggy day.

Saturday had the potential to be another disaster for F1 in the USA, but it actually turned into a remarkably positive experience.

Think Americans don’t ‘get’ F1? Try telling the thousands of fans who stuck it out in the rain at COTA, knowing they may not see a car on track. Try telling those who cheered at every glimpse of a driver in the pit lane. Try telling those who will be back today for more.

Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, but even she couldn’t rain on the fans’ parade on Saturday, in spite of her best efforts.

For those not at COTA, you can watch qualifying for the United States Grand Prix live on CNBC from 10am ET. The US GP then follows at 2:30pm ET on NBC.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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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.”