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Phoenix Friday IndyCar, Indy Lights notes

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – The nature of Friday’s schedule made it to where there was more content that occurred than there was time to write it.

And that’s where this notebook fits in. Here’s the leftovers from Friday:

  • INDYCAR released its penalty sheet. INDYCAR distributed the breakdown of how penalties will be handed out this year. It’s long, but it’s readily available in a PDF. More on this to come. Here’s what INDYCAR vice president of competition, race control, Brian Barnhart, said about how the penalty guidelines were developed: “The penalty guidelines were developed after numerous meetings during the offseason with drivers, team owners and other team principals. All of the stakeholders involved wanted more teeth in the regulations when it came to more serious violations of safety or competition rules. The result is that the stewards now have a more clearly defined set of rulings they can make. That includes immediate penalties for some transgressions that in the past would have been warnings on the first offense.”
  • 192 vs. 143. Cool stat here from the PIR PR staff: the existing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lap Record is Jimmie Johnson 25.147 sec/143.158 mph set November 13, 2015. The Indy cars first surpassed that record 37 years earlier (Bobby Unser in 1978). Helio Castroneves’ two-lap average is 192.324 but the new single lap mark he set is 19.0997 (192.631 mph).
  • “King Helio” channels “The Wiz” from “Seinfeld.” Funniest moment of the day: veteran reporter Bruce Martin of Autosport and other outlets asks Castroneves after he sets the new track record and gets the “Speed King” hat from Luyendyk whether we have to refer to Castroneves as “the king.” In a hilarious reply, Castroneves says, “Yes… servant” to much laughter in the media center. Meanwhile, if you remember “The Wiz” on “Seinfeld” back in the 1990s, you’ll realize Castroneves’ hat matches the one from there.
  • And Mario wins April Fools’. Mario Andretti driving for A.J. Foyt. Mario won April Fools’ Day, 2016, with this tweet. I jokingly told him today, “Well, now you’ve given me another story to write,” to which Mario replied, “Well, write it!” Even funnier was when he posed in front of Takuma Sato’s car just before first practice…
  • One Avondale race returns. Another one won’t as lawsuit gets settled. The Andretti Sports Marketing vs. NOLA Motorsports Park lawsuit’s been settled. Andretti Sports Marketing isn’t that anymore; it’s now LST Marketing. More here from The Advocate out of Baton Rouge on the Avondale (La.) race that is no more.
  • Sam Schmidt drives the SAM Project Car again. He’s driven the SAM Car at Long Beach and Indianapolis, and now at Phoenix. Sam Schmidt isn’t just Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team co-owner. He’s also an inspiration. Tweets are here (one and two).
  • Ser-vi-a! Oriol Servia was here on Friday; the Catalan spotted chatting with Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing’s managing director. The three of us joked at the time that it would only make sense for Servia – whose last two IndyCar starts have come in fill-in roles at Andretti Autosport and Team Penske – to suit up for Ganassi. It remains to be seen whether the popular veteran will find a place on the grid for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
  • Rahal and the T’birds. Graham Rahal flew with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at Luke Air Force Base on Thursday. It was mega. We’ll have a full pre-race feature on this Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but here’s a teaser Instagram photo he posted, and a teaser tweet from the IndyCar on NBCSN account. Rahal told NBC Sports of the experience after a tough qualifying session, “At least you brought a smile to my face! Yesterday was a dream come true in a ride like that. I never thought I’d get a shot at it. When the opportunity came, I was over the moon.”
  • United Rentals joins RLL. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing added another new sponsor, with United Rentals on board as primary sponsor for the No. 15 Honda at Detroit and a major associate sponsor for the rest of the season. More here from the team.
  • T-Bell’s sponsor for Indy is TBA. Team co-owner Michael Andretti said to expect commercial announcements for NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell’s No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda at Long Beach. Figure Robert Graham – Bell’s longtime sponsor – will play some role, with the potential of additional partners joining the effort. We’ll have a separate breakout with him next week.
  • Luca’s oval debut and excitement. Dale Coyne Racing’s Luca Filippi makes his oval race debut this weekend, and his excitement level and desire to learn was palpable. Sincere respect for that, the driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
  • Ed Jones on dirt. A fuller breakout on this will come next week, but props to Carlin’s Ed Jones, who tested on dirt in a non-winged sprint car at Perris this week. Jones, who finished third in last year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, qualified second for the Indy Lights race tomorrow. He also pulled off one heck of a save in Turn 4.
  • Matty Brabs and Spencer Pigot both here. Two of the rising stars who’ve graduated from the Mazda Road to Indy into IndyCar – Matthew Brabham and Spencer Pigot – are both here this weekend. Brabham of PIRTEK Team Murray told NBC Sports he hopes to test later in April, although his equipment has been pressed into action sooner than expected following KVSH Racing’s transporter fire that was set off in the rear axle. Brabham’s planned transporter was deployed to Phoenix as backup. Pigot raced at the St. Petersburg season opener and Sebring with Mazda.
  • It feels like an IndyCar track. Infield bridges and a lot of signage here at PIR have traditionally featured NASCAR signage. But with Firestone signage over Goodyear bridges and IndyCar partners along the walls – Verizon being the most prominent – it feels as though PIR has gone the extra mile to make it feel an IndyCar track. Props to a colleague, Paul Dalbey (@Fieldof33), who alerted me to this and made me realize it when I knew what to look for.
  • Two Coyotes – plus our Rick Allen – take hot laps. Two Arizona Coyotes players in the NHL, Max Domi (left wing) and Connor Murphy (defensemen) took hot laps today in an IndyCar two-seater. Said Domi: “You’re absolutely flying and it goes by really quick. The turns are a little scary, but once you kind of realize and once you trust the driver and the car it’s pretty cool.” They weren’t the only ones: so too did our Rick Allen, who’s hosting this week’s IndyCar coverage on NBCSN (see tweet here from IndyCar on NBCSN account and a tweet from Allen).
  • Cool to see ya. Nice to see ESPN on ABC pit reporter Rick DeBruhl, who’d worked with NBC’s Phoenix affiliate KPNX (Channel 12) for more than 20 years, and past IndyCar driver Didier Theys today – both of whom are locals and two of the nicest, most genuine people in racing. And they’ve forgotten a lot more about this sport than most of us have ever known.

More tomorrow from PIR.

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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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.”