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A welcome, different Firestone Fast Six occurs for 2016 Indy GP

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INDIANAPOLIS – There aren’t too many trends you can pick out in a three-year race, but an abnormal and perhaps welcome, jumbled grid for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis is one of them.

In 2014, Sebastian Saavedra and Jack Hawksworth were perhaps the perfect front row starters for the inaugural GP race, with no disrespect to either of them. Neither was particularly experienced or highly rated at the time but both maximized the slick, tricky conditions to their benefit.

Frankly, it was weird seeing IndyCar race a road course event for the first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it was weird seeing two guys who had a combined zero front row starts in IndyCar between them share the front row.

Two years later Saavedra isn’t in a seat although he is here this weekend, and Hawksworth is now in the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda, and only in the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since qualifying third for Detroit race one in 2014, some 32 races ago, after qualifying sixth for Saturday’s race.

“Seems like an eternity since I’ve been in the Fast Six. Nice to be up here again,” he quipped during the Firestone Fast Six press conference.

Hawksworth’s presence in the Fast Six – along with fellow participants Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal (polesitter Simon Pagenaud came in later, separately) provided a needed spice of life to something that’s become a Penske and Ganassi benefit since the debut of manufacturer aero kits at the start of 2015.

Sure, Pagenaud took Team Penske to the Verizon P1 Award for the team’s fifth in as many races.

But behind him, there were five other teams represented – so a perfect six different teams in six spots, with Kimball (Ganassi), Rahal (RLL), Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson), Newgarden (Carpenter) and Hawksworth (Foyt) all flying the flag for their respective teams.

“We’ve been kind of knocking on the door of the Fast Six for the last couple rounds,” said Hinchcliffe, who’s qualified eighth, seventh and eighth in the three previous road and street course races in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

“It was nice to finally break into that. Not really full of the of the usual suspects. Charlie and I were joking, probably the youngest median age, six different teams.”

Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan with Theodore Racing Honda added, “It’s crazy to me, you look at this, Hinch touched on it a second ago, if anybody were to dispute the thought that IndyCar racing is the most competitive form of motorsports in the world, you just need to look at the time sheets this weekend. It’s not like this is easy. You slide a 10th in practice, it’s like five, six, seven spots. It’s crazy right now.”

Also crazy is how well Rahal is getting on despite battling arguably his worst cold he’s dealt with on a race weekend.

And how random has it been since there were last six different teams in the Fast Six?

This is the first time it’s happened in the aero kit era.

For reference, prior to today only six teams total (Penske, Ganassi, RLL, Carpenter, Andretti and KVSH) had a Fast Six appearance. Hawksworth and Hinchcliffe bring eight of a possible nine full-time teams into the Fast Six; the only team that hasn’t is Dale Coyne Racing.

It didn’t happen once last year where there were six teams in the Fast Six; Team Penske got at least two of its four cars into the Fast Six every single qualifying session.

Today, they didn’t; behind Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Helio Castroneves qualified eighth, 12th and 18th.

It’s been since Houston race 1 2014 – ironically, when Pagenaud was also on pole – that six teams last graced a Fast Six. Pagenaud then drove for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and qualified ahead of Castroneves (Penske), Dixon (Ganassi), Luca Filippi (RLL), Hinchcliffe (Andretti) and Takuma Sato (Foyt).

Kimball, in second, has a career best start. The driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet had a best of fourth on two prior occasions (Fontana 2013, Phoenix 2016) as he heads into his 89th career start.

“Kind of the first session that really counts here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May,” he said. “Nice to start up front. Although a couple of people have reminded me since qualifying that I think last year in the melee, second place was not the place to be. But I can’t control what happens behind me, I can only really look forward.”

Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, then outlined the goal the non-Penske five have going into tomorrow’s race (3:30 p.m. ET).

“Hopefully we can make it through Turn 1; that’s going to be the hot spot. Hopefully we don’t have a car that goes off very hard, race up front, take on Pagenaud who has been on a tear lately,” he said.

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.”