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Hulkenberg stars, Ferrari falters in Mexico qualifying

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Nico Hulkenberg provided one of the biggest upsets in Formula 1 qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix by beating Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel on Saturday afternoon.

Ferrari looked capable of putting up a fight against Mercedes and Red Bull at the front of the pack after Vettel finished fastest in second practice on Friday afternoon.

Both Ferrari drivers ran well in Q1 and Q2, again pointing to a fight towards the sharp end of the timesheets, only to fade in the closing stages of qualifying on the super-soft tire.

This allowed Force India’s Hulkenberg to squeeze ahead with a stunning lap in Q3, finishing just six-tenths of a second behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton’s time to qualify fifth.

“It’s been a very good qualifying session for me and I am very happy with the result,” Hulkenberg said.

“Our car works pretty well on every circuit nowadays, but I felt it just got better and better through qualifying as the track improved.

“My first lap in Q3 was mega, possibly my best qualifying lap of the season, and I don’t think there was anything more I could extract from it.

“We need to keep ourselves out of trouble at the start but I won’t let what happened last week influence me: every time you get to turn one, there is a unique dynamic and you just have to play it by ear.

“We have a good idea of where we are for the race and we’ll get our head down and build on today’s result.”

Raikkonen made no secret of his disappointment after qualifying behind Hulkenberg in P6, citing a straight-line speed deficit as the cause of Ferrari’s setback.

“In Q1 the feeling with the car was good, better than in the morning during P3. Then in Q2 it was quite tricky to get the tires work consistently and to know where the grip was,” Raikkonen said.

“In the last qualifying stint we were getting there again, but in the first run I felt it a bit odd in the last part of the lap and felt I could have gone faster in a few places.

“On the second try, for whatever reason, I had no speed in the straight, something was not right and we could not even try to go faster.

“It’s a pity because I think there was easily quite a lot of speed there today, but we couldn’t use it. Now we have to find out what happened.

“Obviously it’s disappointing where we finished today but tomorrow we’ll see what we can do.”

“I am very disappointed because the car is quick. Our Q2 had been a walk in the park with the soft tires,” an honest Vettel said after qualifying seventh.

“I had a much better feeling, but then with the supersofts we were nowhere. Yesterday we were gaining quite a lot on the supersoft compound and today we didn’t gain anything.

“We tried a couple of things, but in qualifying you can’t turn the world upside down: so now we need to have a look and see why. Everybody improved on the supersofts, more or less half a second – everybody except us.

“The car is quick, there is nothing wrong with it, and we start where the car doesn’t belong. It doesn’t make our race easier to start further back, but I think we still have a chance.”

The Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.

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.”