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Dixon leads, as times are crazy fast in Watkins Glen first practice

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – As expected, times have plunged in the opening practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Watkins Glen International.

Scott Dixon took the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to a 1:24.1281 lap time around the 3.37-mile road course in the opening practice, which was scheduled for 45 minutes initially but extended an extra 10 minutes owing to a red flag for an incident involving Conor Daly.

Dixon then went even quicker to a 1:23.8921 time, with an average speed of 144.614 mph!

“A little bit cooler than when we tested, but the Target car rolled off quick,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis.

The official track record is 1:28.1322 by Ryan Briscoe in 2009. But owing to the repave of the track and the new aero kit components, times are four-plus seconds clear. And that’s only on Firestone’s black primary tires, not the red softer alternates.

Daly’s incident occurred when he lost control off the downhill left-handed Turn 6, apparently hitting water in the curbing from overnight rain and then spinning to the other side of the course. He was OK and spoke to Beekhuis afterwards, but his No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda was not.

Beyond Dixon up front, Sebastien Bourdais was second in the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet, with Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal completing the top five.

Of note, Spencer Pigot was 16th and RC Enerson was 17th, both back in their cars for the first time since Mid-Ohio. Pigot takes over the newly reliveried No. 20 Samsung Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing while Enerson is in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

Times are below. We are also LIVE on NBCSN for free practice two, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. ET.

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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.”