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Toyota sweeps Le Mans test day, beats 2016 pole time

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Toyota Gazoo Racing made an impressive start to this year’s official running at the Circuit de la Sarthe ahead of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans by dominating Sunday’s test day, beating the pole time from 2016 in the process.

Toyota heads into this year’s edition of the endurance classic out to avenge its heartbreaking defeat, and made an immediate impact by sweeping the top three positions on Sunday.

Kamui Kobayashi turned in a fastest lap of 3:18.132 in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to finish over a second clear of the sister No. 8 entry at the top of the timesheets, as well as lapping 1.6 seconds quicker than last year’s pole time.

Defending Le Mans holder Porsche endured a tough day blighted by a number of issues, leaving the No. 2 919 Hybrid fourth, 3.3 seconds off the headline pace, with the No. 1 car behind in P5.

Signatech Alpine set the pace in LMP2 as Nelson Panciatici posted a fastest lap of 3:28.146 in the No. 35 Alpine A470 Gibson (rebadged Oreca 07), giving the French squad P1 by almost seven-tenths of a second. Jean-Eric Vergne put in an impressive display on his first outing at the Circuit de la Sarthe to finish second for Manor, while Alex Brundle was third-fastest for Jackie Chan DC Racing.

Oliver Gavin topped the timesheets for Corvette in GTE Pro, posting a best time of 3:54.701 in the No. 64 C7.R as the Porsche 911 RSRs followed in second and third, the No. 91 leading the No. 92. Curiously, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Le Mans defense started in quiet fashion as its quartet of Ford GTs filled out the bottom four positions.

Aston Martin Racing led the way in GTE Am courtesy of Pedro Lamy in the No. 98 Vantage V8, whose time of 3:58.250 was enough to give the British marque top spot by 0.052 seconds. Fernando Rees finished second in the No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, with Matteo Cairoli taking third for Dempsey-Proton Racing.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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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.”