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Rahal inherits pole for Detroit 1 after Castroneves penalized

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Graham Rahal will start from pole for Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, Round 7 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, after a controversial qualifying session saw Helio Castroneves lose his fastest lap for failing to slow down enough for a caution flag.

Rahal and Castroneves were in separate groups (Rahal in Group 1, Castroneves in Group 2), with Rahal just barely nipping Takuma Sato to go fastest in Group 1. Rahal set a track record in the process, turning a quick lap of 1:13.9681.

Castroneves, meanwhile, was able to better Rahal’s time when he went out in Group 2, with the Team Penske driver also doing so on his last lap with time of 1:13.8901.

However, amidst celebrations with his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske teammates, Castroneves was notified by INDYCAR officials that he would lose his fastest lap after failing to slow for a caution flag (caused by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin, who received a penalty for causing that).

Castroneves second lap was still quickest of his group and puts him on the outside of the front row.

Rahal’s pole is the third of his career and his first in 134 starts (Kansas, 2009). It’s also the team’s first pole since Scott Sharp did so at Texas in 2007.

Qualifying was conducted differently from its normal fashion on road and street circuits. The field of 22 cars was split into two groups of 11, with combined times from each group setting the grid.

Because Rahal won the pole, his group assumes the odd-numbered grid positions. Takuma Sato will start third, with Alexander Rossi fourth, James Hinchcliffe fifth, and Scott Dixon sixth.

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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.”