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Brown plans to get big-name sponsors for F1 team McLaren

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Zak Brown intends to use his commercial expertise to bring a big-name title sponsor to McLaren.

The 45-year-old American was hired as executive director of the Formula One team on Monday as part of a significant restructuring following the departure of Ron Dennis.

“It’s critically important we find a title partner, a major sponsor. We need some logos on the side of our car,” Brown said Friday from McLaren’s motorhome. “The brands we have on the car now are fantastic companies. We need more of them. It costs a lot of money to go motor-racing and we need to deliver a lot of value to our marketing partners.”

Brown is well placed to attract potential new sponsors given his wealth of experience. He founded the motorsport marketing company JMI in 1995 and is an ex-Formula Three racer who started out his junior career in karting.

Brown, who once had aspirations of being an F1 driver, clearly knows what he is looking for.

“If you look at the McLaren brand and what it stands for: it is technology, lifestyle, wealth, competition, speed, precision,” Brown said. “Those are the types of companies that make sense for us to partner.”

Dennis, McLaren’s chairman and chief executive, last week failed in a bid at London’s High Court to stop the team’s board from forcing him out.

Brown paid tribute to him.

“Ron, at the end of the day, is the one who recruited me,” Brown said. “The last couple of years he left the door open. He turned up the volume in pursuit of me.”

The British team is continuing its search for a chief executive to replace Dennis, who oversaw the historic tussle for the F1 title between McLaren drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988 and 1989, before Mika Hakkinen clinched championships in 1998 and 1999. Three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton won his first title with McLaren in 2008.

McLaren’s success has since dried up, and its renewed relationship with Japanese engine manufacturer Honda has yet to bring titles. Although McLaren has 2009 champion Jenson Button and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, neither has placed higher than fifth since Honda’s return last season.

This year, Alonso is 10th overall while Button is 15th heading into Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

However, the car’s improving speed leaves Brown optimistic the team can get podiums next year, when highly-rated Belgian prospect Stoffel Vandoorne will partner Alonso.

“We’ve got what I think is the best race car driver in the world in Fernando Alonso,” Brown said. “I think Stoffel is very much a future world champion.”

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.”