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Perez hopeful Force India can find race pace for 100th GP weekend

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One of the stars of last year’s Russian Grand Prix was Sergio Perez, who scored both his and Sahara Force India’s most recent podium finish with third place.

But it’s been a genuinely challenging start to the year for both the Mexican driver and the team itself. Perez is yet to score a point through the first three races and outside of Nico Hulkenberg’s seventh place in Melbourne, he hasn’t banked points either.

It’s an important weekend for both drivers – it’s each of their 100th Grand Prix weekend although it is not their 100th Grand Prix start (Perez didn’t start 2011 Monaco and Canadian GPs, nor the 2014 Malaysian GP; Hulkenberg didn’t start the 2013 Australian and 2015 Belgian GPs).

Perez is therefore motivated to end the run of tough luck at a track that has now entered into his heart for the memories provided last year.

“When I come back here and I remember my great race that I had last year, not that long ago actually. It was a great feeling, a great achievement to the team,” Perez said during the FIA Press Conference on Thursday.

“And as you say my 100th race [weekend]. It has gone really quickly, I really hope I can have a great race on Sunday to have a full achievement, you know, because my 100th race, it’s something very special as a driver to achieve and hopefully there’s hundreds more to come.”

Perez added the team needs to find race pace and improve degradation. The latter point is interesting considering Perez is renowned for his tire saving ability.

“I think we have been affected a bit by strategy sometimes, the track position we’ve been having more than our pace,” he said. “I think clearly in the last race we did a great race. I think we have improved quite a bit.

“But still we need a bit more especially in the race pace. I think our quali pace over one lap is good. We have to improve our degradation and I think we have found the issues with the car. I think it’s just a question of time how quickly we can fix them.

“We are planning to have some upgrades for Barcelona. But I’m pretty confident it will be a good season for us, although right now we have zero points. We should have a couple of points already in the pocket, but the season is very long.”

Sochi has been a notoriously low degradation circuit but Perez thinks Pirelli’s three compounds – which have helped to spice up the opening rounds of the season – should make Sochi a more intriguing affair.

“This characteristic of Pirelli bringing three compounds might create a little bit of different strategies and at the same time more excitement in the race,” he said.

“I think last year the race was very exciting – but given the conditions and what happened all through the race. I think if we have a straightforward race we might see a more interesting race than in the past years. I don’t think we’re going to see many cars on one stop 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.”