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A banzai final run was “Lucky 7” for Mikhail Aleshin at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS – Perhaps it’s fitting that DOOM is the sponsor for Mikhail Aleshin this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The driver of the DOOM-adorned No. 7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which usually has SMP Racing branding and logos, was on the verge of doom all day on Saturday.

But then courtesy of one final, literally down to the last second qualifying attempt, Aleshin spelled doom for Alexander Rossi’s hopes to make the Fast Nine Shootout in qualifying for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The Russian hung it out like seemingly no one ever has in recent times without crashing on his first qualifying run. It was a roller coaster ride, when he posted his first two laps north of 230 mph but then tailed off to 229.5 and then 226.7 after four laps – his four-lap average was 229.190 mph.

Then when he went back out just before 6 p.m. later in the evening, he posted a 229.568 mph average as the track cooled and shade fell over the track. That put him into eighth and temporarily into the Fast Nine.

That run kicked off a frantic, crazy final hour when runs were occurring left and right. Others who went out included Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Conor Daly, JR Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Oriol Servia, Gabby Chaves – several of them twice.

But it was Aleshin’s team who beat the gun by a second – literally, one second – to get him out a fraction before 7 p.m. An improved run of 230.209 for the four-lap average put the No. 7 car, fittingly, seventh in the Fast Nine.

“I think everything was in seconds in the end,” Aleshin said. “I just managed to go out on track and that was my only chance to get up there. You know, with team help I obviously used it for 100 percent. I want to congratulate the team, all the team with the results that we had. I think all the team is very strong and especially James’ results shows it.”

Aleshin said the track conditions, more than anything he did, were what contributed to the improved final run.

“We didn’t do much to be fair. I think mostly it was weather just came to us a bit,” he said. “Track cooled down and I think it was less wind as well. That’s what I felt. I don’t know. But yeah, it was definitely better. Unfortunately we couldn’t — James couldn’t help us at this moment because we were already in the line, so you cannot change anything in the car.

“But yeah, I think everything was just all together in one piece at this time.”

Aleshin, who turns 29 on Sunday, will be looking for even more in the Fast Nine Shootout this afternoon.

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.”