Pagenaud leads at halfway in second Detroit race

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Verizon IndyCar Series drivers’ championship leader Simon Pagenaud gave himself every chance of extending his points advantage by dominating the opening half of Sunday’s Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans race.

Driving the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Team Penske Chevrolet, Pagenaud led all but one lap of the opening 35 in Detroit after starting from pole position.

A caution was called just seconds into the race after a clash between Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe, the latter being shunted into the wall.

Munoz bore the brunt of Hinchcliffe’s initial anger, but the Colombian was left with nowhere to go after being squeezed by Charlie Kimball. Max Chilton was also eliminated at the first corner, while Takuma Sato was fortunate to continue after also being tagged. The majority of the field used the caution period to pit briefly.

Pagenaud managed to retain his lead once the race returned to green before eking out a gap to Ryan Hunter-Reay through the first stint of the race. By the time the drivers’ championship leader came in for his second pit stop and made the move onto the black primary Firestone tires, his advantage stood at over five seconds, allowing him to re-claim the lead once the pit cycle had been completed.

Juan Pablo Montoya battled his way up from P10 on the grid to run fifth ahead of the first scheduled round of stops, having pulled off a superb pass on Penske teammate Will Power early on. The Colombian attempted a repeat move on Scott Dixon, only for the two to make contact. Both were forced to pit for light repairs, dropping out of the top five.

Hunter-Reay dropped back after making his first planned stop, losing out to both Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves. Sebastien Bourdais was able to rise to third after making an early second stop as KVSH Racing looked to repeat their strategic success that took the Frenchman to victory on Saturday.

As the race neared half-distance, Kanaan began to close on Pagenaud at the front, the Penske driver appearing to save fuel in a bid to make a two-stop strategy work. Bourdais had also been in striking distance before pitting just on lap 33, lifting Castroneves to third ahead of Hunter-Reay and Power.

On lap 35, a full course caution was called when Montoya shunted not long after making his third pit stop, capping off a tough weekend for the Penske driver.

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.”