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Power closes on new track record in second practice at St. Petersburg

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Will Power closed on his own track record of 1:00.6509 during Friday’s second practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Even more impressive was the fact he pulled it off in a repaired No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, courtesy of the effort from all four Team Penske crews to repair the car after his accident in the morning session.

Power laid down a late flier of 1:00.9431 to edge four-time and defending series champion, Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, at 1:00.9573.

With both drivers already in the 1:00 range on Firestone’s harder black tires, a new track record once teams bolt on the softer Firestone red alternate tires is well within range.

Simon Pagenaud, the morning session leader, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato completed the top five. Rahal, in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, was fastest Honda in P4 at 1:01.2924.

Balance seemed decent with five of the Hondas joining five of the Chevrolets in FP2.

Meanwhile there was a long red flag for track cleanup as some concrete came up exiting Turn 3, the right-hand flier of a kink. It cost the session more than 30 minutes of run time, before the session was extended past 5 p.m.

Alexander Rossi also had an off course trip at Turn 10, running in too deep, but got restarted with no issues in his No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda. Rossi was as high as second on the timesheets at one point in the session.

The temperatures were warmer this session with 82 degrees Fahrenheit ambient and 109 on track, per Firestone, to start the session at 3:40 p.m.

Times are below:

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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.”