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Castroneves still rolling, undeterred at 41

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Upon entering the post-qualifying press conference after capturing the pole for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves was greeted with a string of statistics about his qualifying prowess. It was his third consecutive pole at Long Beach, his fourth in total at the event, and the 48th of his career, putting him fourth on the all-time list.

Immediately, Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Graham Rahal took the opportunity to throw a jab Castroneves’ way. “Means you’re getting old,” he quipped. Castroneves, without missing a beat, fired right back. “And I’m still kicking ass,” he retorted to a roar of laughter.

Castroneves’ run to the pole saw him stay on top during the entire Firestone Fast Six session. He was the first driver to record a timed lap and eventually turned in a 1:06.225, a new track around the 1.968-mile street circuit. Still, he indicated that the day was far from easy, particularly in the first round of qualifying. “For me today, it was interesting because the first qualifying was a little bit tough,” he explained. “We almost didn’t make it. (Engineer John Diuguid) and the rest of the guys were able to adjust the car for the next session. After that, we kept rolling.”

Castroneves has repeatedly faced questions recently about how long he’ll continue racing and what keeps him motivated to do so. As he explained, part of it is about proving the younger generation wrong. “Every time I wake up in the morning, I do my workout. Sometimes some of the guys got friends that come by, that are really young. When you come out and say, ‘Yeah, you’re tired, aren’t you?’ It feels good,” he joked.

Further, the strength and speed of Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden constantly give him targets to aim for.

“The point is always when I come to the race, I feel great. In my own team, I have incredible teammates. Incredibly talented, incredibly fast. I’m always learning with them. I’m not worrying about (the other drivers),” he asserted.

Still, Castroneves does not underestimate the other teams, especially given Honda’s vastly improved form, though his confidence in Chevrolet is strong.

“I’m sure that (Chevrolet) is going to continue working because, you know, in the past I think they won the past five, six years, the championship. At one point Honda, will step up their game. That’s what they did this year. Now we got to keep it together and keep working. Hopefully at the end of the season we’ll also be battling for the championship.”

Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach rolls off at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. local time).

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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.”