Newgarden starts P3. Photo: Ed Carpenter Racing

Newgarden, Bourdais, Rahal all make Fast 6 for first time in 2016

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Three drivers from single-car teams enjoyed their best qualifying runs of the season and first Firestone Fast 6 appearances in some time Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Josef Newgarden (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet), Sebastien Bourdais (No. 11 Europa Chevrolet) and Graham Rahal (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) will line up from third, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Their best starts this year were sixth (Rahal) and seventh (Newgarden and Bourdais). Rahal equaled his best, although he qualified seventh at St. Petersburg and moved up one after Will Power was unable to start.

Newgarden, the defending race winner after starting fifth and leading 46 of 90 laps, and in his final race in the special Fuzzy’s Vodka commemorative livery, exceeded his own expectations.

I didn’t think we were going to be that high up,” he admitted. “I have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing, it was just kind of hard to put everything together this weekend. We were just floating inside that top 10, and I never felt like we could get up to the top three, top five as easily as we wanted to.

“We made a really good change going into qualifying. I think it’s something we were probably missing, so luckily we hit it at the right point, and that really helped us in qualifying to get where we were.”

Bourdais has been on it all weekend with KVSH and was unlucky to only end fifth; he set the track record in Q2 at 1:06.6001.

He was also on it last week at Long Beach, gaining five positions during the race from 14th to ninth.

“It’s always screwed up when it goes like that, right?” he said. “You set the track record and then you get disappointed when you finish fifth. You know, it’s a shame. The guys did a great job. We unloaded off the truck real strong, and that HYDROXYCUT machine was really dialed in.

“Just couldn’t quite make it happen on the rerun on the tires, just picked up a bit too much understeer and just couldn’t get back on power on these long, long, long turns. Only the juice of the new tires could have allowed me to put it together, and it was a really clean lap, and it’s so funny when the car is like that, everything seems easy, and it was one of the very enjoyable moments of the week for sure.”

Rahal, who finished second to Newgarden last year, upheld Honda’s honor in sixth.

“The car was good on reds,” he said. “We snuck through that first group, and then didn’t quite hit it on the first round, didn’t get the reds to match their capability, and then finally second round we did. That was about as good of a lap I think as — there was definitely nowhere else for me to find time. So I knew in round three we were going to have to put some magic together to be up front.

“These guys are all great competitors up front. We’re top Honda. Obviously we’d like to be the top of everything, but we’re going to keep working hard and try to harass these boys tomorrow in the race.”

Of course with Newgarden and Rahal having ended 1-2 ahead of Scott Dixon last year, there’s evidence that the smaller teams can take it to the Penskes and Ganassis of the world at this track.

It will be fascinating to see if any or all these three can do it again this weekend.

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.”