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Max Chilton anxious for road courses to avenge slow start to 2017

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While Scott Dixon has gotten the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams/Honda reunion off to a strong start in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, his teammates have been less fortunate.

Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball have each been involved in two incidents in both of the first two races.

Meanwhile series sophomore Max Chilton has been stuck in a weird spot altogether. The Englishman has had improved testing pace to where he nearly led the series’ open test at Barber Motorsports Park last month and qualified seventh at St. Petersburg, but endured an anonymous weekend off pace in Long Beach.

The driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was caught out by the Kanaan/Mikhail Aleshin contact and yellow flag at St. Petersburg when in a top-10 position and fell to 16th there; retirements helped turned a frustrating 20th place start into a respectable, if still unsatisfying, 14th place at Long Beach. It leaves him 19th in points through two races, although just six points behind 10th place.

With Chilton having excelled most on the permanent road courses last year – he qualified 11th at Barber, seventh at Road America and sixth at Watkins Glen – a turnaround in fortunes is due on the agenda for the likable Englishman, who turns 26 on Friday starting this weekend.

“I think you’ve nailed it on the head to be honest,” Chilton told NBC Sports last week. “The Long Beach weekend put a spanner in the works – I don’t have the answer why we didn’t have the pace we did elsewhere. I’d made the Fast Six or close a couple times last year. Then we were P2 at the Barber test, and was quick at Sonoma.

“We were very quick at St. Pete and got screwed at the race, but Long Beach we had no pace. We tried changing the car every time we were out. It was a head-scratcher. Drivers do get weekends like that. It was a good weekend for us. The result wasn’t the end of the world, so we got some points. It’s a weekend to forget. Hopefully we have stronger weekend in Barber.”

Chilton has adapted to the street courses in IndyCar although admits he could do without Detroit, easily his least favorite track on the calendar. But he has a natural affinity for the permanent road courses and provided the Honda enhancements that have come to start the year continue, he thinks Barber could be the sign of a needed turnaround.

“I’ve always quite liked street circuits and done quite well on them. But the American ones are so different,” he said. “Detroit, I’ll admit I don’t like it there! I just don’t get to grips with it. It’s too much a rallycross track.

“But I’m looking forward to these ones – Barber, Elkhart Lake’s Road America, Watkins Glen, the fast, flowing tracks I was brought in up. Barber for me is such a great event, not just a great track. It’s’ a fantastic atmosphere, and there’s plenty of people in RVs. The track is absolutely pristine – like you want any event to be. I’ve been watching The Masters. It’s not a million miles from Augusta. If I owned a race course, that’d be the one I want.”

Chilton’s had a slight change to his timing stand this year with Ganassi technical director Julian Robertson taking over as strategist, working in tandem with engineer Brandon Fry. The two have meshed well in spite of the tough results thus far.

“He’s fantastic. It helps that he’s a fellow Brit so we bounce off each other well,” Chilton said. “His knowledge is mind-blowing. But because he’s been Ganassi that whole time, he is their IndyCar team. He works very well with Brandon to come up with the strategies. Brandon now has someone to help make the decision with strategy. He’ll say something. It’s always better to have two than one.”

Chilton hailed the Honda’s fuel economy and low-end torque as the noticeable improvements he’s picked up on so far.

The Reigate, England-based native still commutes to and from the U.S. as he did in 2016, preferring the comforts of home instead of a more regular relocation. Chilton said he’s already accomplished five or six of his planned 13 intercontinental trips this season, and with his wedding to his fiancé Chloe on the horizon in August, that’s taken up a bit of his planning.

Beyond the road courses, Chilton is bullish on having a good month of May and with Honda, he’s optimistic that’s more possible.

“For us, Indy’s the one for us. A good Indy for us would mean the rest of the year really doesn’t matter.”

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.”