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Indy 500 notes: Alonso arrives; ROP, refresher test underway

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INDIANAPOLIS – The first day of official practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is underway.

Here are notes gathered from the track and paddock (Gasoline Alley) so far.

  • Fernando Alonso arrived in Indianapolis last night straight from Spain for the Spanish Grand Prix, where he was greeted by fans at the Indianapolis airport. In his first run through the paddock this morning, dozens of fans at least stood outside his garage, awaiting the chance for his autograph. Alonso has been signing; here’s a photo from Trackside Online at close range, and here’s one from me from further range. Besides Alonso, McLaren’s Zak Brown and Eric Boullier have also made it to Indianapolis. Once the first on-track action began, his pit was more populated than anyone else’s. It’s only the first day of practice and so far, what I’ve seen of Alonso, the people here have a pretty good idea of who he is and will work to mob him at every opportunity.
  • Rookie Orientation Program and refresher testing is underway, which is what Alonso completed on May 3. Drivers have to go through 10 laps of 205-210 mph, then 15 laps of 210-215 mph, then 15 laps at 215 mph-plus to complete the ROP. The three other rookies participating are Ed Jones, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey. Drivers eligible to participate in the refresher program include Oriol Servia, Sebastian Saavedra, Sage Karam, Pippa Mann and Jay Howard. Servia, Karam and Mann were in last year’s ‘500 while it’s been since 2015 (Saavedra) and 2011 (Howard) for the other two. At the start of the session, temperatures were 77 degrees ambient and 106 on track.
  • Jack Harvey’s start to his day in the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda has gotten off to a slow start with clutch issues. The car has sponsorship from SiriusXM, AutoNation and Gap Guard among other longtime Shank partners.
  • Jay Howard told NBC Sports he was happy to shake the cobwebs off at his first IndyCar running in six years at the Gateway test. As of 12:40 p.m., he had also completed his first phase of his refresher test.
  • Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing is now its planned oval chassis, starting today. The team rebuilt the road course chassis for the INDYCAR Grand Prix this weekend, and that chassis is the team’s lone backup car for all three entrants.
  • Buddy Lazier and some members of his Lazier Racing Partners team are here, though as of the first practice time, there was no signage listed above their garage in Gasoline Alley and no sign of the car as yet. It would be a surprise to see Lazier on track today.
  • Bell Racing has 18 of the 33 helmets entered in this year’s field. Full season drivers are Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal and Ed Jones. Indianapolis additions are Pippa Mann, Jack Harvey, Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, Fernando Alonso, Sage Karam, Buddy Lazier and Sebastian Saavedra.

More notes will follow throughout the day.

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.”