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Lack of straight-line speed hurts Ricciardo in Japanese GP qualifying

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Six days after taking his first Formula 1 win in over two years, Daniel Ricciardo came back down to earth with a bump on Saturday after qualifying sixth for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Ricciardo was outqualified by both Ferrari drivers and Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in qualifying, with the two teams fighting for the four grid slots behind Mercedes on the front row.

Ricciardo explained after the session that a lack of straight-line speed was harming his efforts, costing him time compared to his rivals – including Verstappen across the garage.

“We tried. We did all we could but if I’m honest I was a bit slow on the straights,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“There were signs of it there last week but I didn’t mention it, I didn’t feel it was worthy, but it seems to be bigger here the deficit today, even comparing across the garage.

“It’s a little bit frustrating. I just see and compare and I’m bleeding down the straights, which obviously would have given a little bit more out of me today on the grid. We gain one position with Seb [Vettel’s grid penalty], but yeah, would have been nice to not have these issues.

“As a driver, it’s hard. You just see it, if you lose time down the straights, there’s not much you can do. I think the lap itself was OK, the second run was pretty good. I gained a bit in the first sector, but then started to lose as the lap went on so probably took a bit out of the tires.”

The Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET on Sunday.

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.”