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Advantage Rosberg as F1 title fight resumes at stormy Sepang

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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) Rainy weather may be the only thing that can stop Mercedes from clinching a third straight Formula One constructors’ title at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, as new championship leader Nico Rosberg seeks to capitalize on his current edge over teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes has won all but one race this year – when the teammates took each other out in a crash – and is now poised to seal the team championship with five races to spare. It needs to score only three points more than closest rival Red Bull, while preventing Ferrari from outscoring Mercedes by 22 points or more, in order to clinch the title.

Thunderstorms are forecast throughout the race weekend, and the Malaysian race and qualifying have a history of being hit by heavy rain. That may give some encouragement to Red Bull and Ferrari that they can challenge Mercedes.

A resurfacing of the track will complicate matters for all teams, as their data from previous years on tire degradation will be obsolete.

Rosberg has won the past three races to turn a 19-point deficit to Hamilton into an eight-point lead. The tension between the teammates is spilling over from the track.

“We are pushing each other very hard on the race track and even off the race track,” Rosberg said Thursday. “It’s a great battle and everything counts, in many areas.”

The German has never won on the sweeping turns and long straights of Sepang, but that should not be considered much of an omen, as he has recorded first-ever victories at five other circuits this season.

Hamilton’s campaign has taken a turn for the worse after his own hat-trick of race wins in mid-season.

“I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had tough runs and I’ve had good runs, and it’s not particularly any different to any of those,” Hamilton said of the latest reversal of fortunes. “It’s all about how you handle it, how you deal with it.”

His handling of it was commendable in the previous race in Singapore as he took a fighting third place despite a weekend of technical setbacks.

However, Hamilton hinted at some discontent Thursday. Asked about alterations to the set-up of the car in recent races, he said: “If something changes when it doesn’t need to be changed, it can have all sorts of effects.”

“There’s other things in the background which they (the team) can apply more effort to, but that’s internal stuff,” he added.

Team management was staying neutral in the title fight between the Mercedes pair, and Hamilton said there had been no efforts to buoy his spirts following the recent championship turnaround.

“The team doesn’t have anything to say to me because we’re embarking on the team championship, which is what they care about. Me and the (drivers’) world championship are not really their priority in a sense.”

McLaren driver Jenson Button will make his 300th race start this weekend, joining Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello as the only men to reach that milestone.

“When I started in 2000, I remember speaking to my Dad, and he said, ‘How long do you think you’ll race for?’ and I said, ‘I’ll be done by the time I’m 30, and here I am at 36,'” Button said. “It definitely sucks you in, Formula One, and it doesn’t let go for a long time.”

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.”