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Hamilton blisters Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canadian GP FP1

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Lewis Hamilton has gone nearly 1.5 seconds quicker than his own fastest first free practice time (1:16.212) set last year, in this morning’s first 90-minute free practice for the Canadian Grand Prix.

The four-time Canada winner, three-time World Champion and Monaco Grand Prix winner posted a flier of 1:14.755 in his Mercedes W07.

And considering the time was set on Pirelli’s supersoft compound rather than the ultrasoft compound, the softest compound available and brought to Montreal this weekend at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, it’s a foreboding omen for the rest of the weekend.

Hamilton had earlier set a 1:14.980, first into the 1:14 bracket, which set the scene for the rest of the session.

His Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg was second and Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel third, with Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen completing the top five.

Rosberg was 0.331 of a second back on the ultrasoft tire, Vettel 0.488 of a second back; neither of the others in striking distance.

There was a sizable accident with just over an hour left in the session. Felipe Massa lost control into Turn 1 in his Williams Martini Racing entry – Massa noting on the radio he had a problem when he tried to fully close the Drag Reduction System – and it sent him into the Turn 1 tire barrier, rear end first.

Massa was OK; the car, not so much. Meanwhile the irony of a Martini-supported car crashing into the newly Heineken-sponsored barrier wasn’t lost on the Twitterverse.

There were also several instances of drivers running in deep at the final chicane before the infamous “Wall of Champions.” Hamilton was particularly salty at McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso at one point, saying of the two-time World Champion on the radio, “Pretty dangerous of Fernando there.” Valtteri Bottas (behind Verstappen), Daniel Ricciardo and Alonso himself were others caught going in too deep.

There were a number of other lockups and off-course excursions – Verstappen had a full oppo-lock tribute to Villeneuve at the hairpin at one point – but no other incidents.

Jenson Button, meanwhile, had what was termed a “temperature problem” on his McLaren Honda and after repairs, needed to pit in the waning moments of the session.

The ultrasoft compound didn’t get a ton of running this morning, instead most teams opting to run longer stints on the supersoft and soft compounds in race run preparation. Montreal is notoriously a low grip circuit that takes time to rubber in.

Free practice two is live from 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extrawith Off the Grid: Shanghai due to premiere right after at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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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.”