Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kaiser ends atop Indy Lights field after practice at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Kyle Kaiser took his No. 18 Juncos Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda to the top of the timesheets in practice for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Mazda Grand Prix of Watkins Glen, the second-to-last weekend in the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.

Tire conservation was still first and foremost on the minds of most of the field of 12 in the pair of practice sessions. Santiago Urrutia, the championship leader, drove only 12 laps combined between the two practices in his No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian entry. The busiest driver was Dalton Kellett of Andretti Autosport, who did 33 laps.

Even though Urrutia only did the 12 laps, he was still just off Kaiser’s time – both set in the second practice, in hotter temperatures. Kaiser set a 1:33.4343 in the No. 18 Intervision-backed car, while Urrutia’s No. 55 Soul Red Mazda best time was 1:33.4911.

Andre Negrao, Urrutia’s SPM teammate, was third with Ed Jones fourth and Zachary Claman De Melo firth.

Urrutia, Jones, Kaiser and the remaining three mathematically eligible championship contenders, Dean Stoneman, Felix Serralles, Zach Veach, all met the media earlier in the day.

It was a pretty straightforward session but the most candid comments came from Jones, the Dubai-based Englishman and driver of the No. 11 Carlin entry with Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels on the car.

Jones noted he was almost complacent and relaxed when in the points lead, and now welcomes the opportunity to come from behind. Urrutia leads Jones by 16, 309-293, heading into this weekend’s race. Stoneman is third on 284 and the other three need a bit of help to re-enter the title picture.

Qualifying occurs tomorrow morning from 10 a.m. with the race from 1:35 p.m. ET. The race airs on Sunday on NBCSN at 1 p.m. ET, as the lead-in before the Verizon IndyCar Series’ INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi.

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.”