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Spotlight firmly on Stroll after brilliant podium in Baku

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SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) The spotlight is on teenage driver Lance Stroll at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix following his brilliant podium finish two weeks ago.

The 18-year-old Canadian produced the drive of his young career to finish third at the Azerbaijan GP, answering his critics in style.

Having secured a podium in just the eighth race of his career, he now has a strong platform to build on.

“For sure he’s young, he has a lot to learn but he proved that he’s growing,” Williams teammate Felipe Massa said, with a “much better performance than (observers) were expecting.”

At 36, Massa is twice Stroll’s age and knows all about the pressures of F1. He was agonizingly close to winning the F1 title when driving for Ferrari – losing it to Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the 2008 season.

Now in his last year in F1, Massa is committed to helping Stroll.

“I met him when he was seven or eight years old, so I really have no problem to pass on everything I can to help him,” the Brazilian said. “He’s a lot more confident.”

Stroll was once part of the prestigious driver academy at Ferrari where he first met Massa.

Although Stroll won last year’s European Formula 3 championship by a large margin, being the son of billionaire investor Lawrence Stroll allowed critics the freedom to speculate his seat at Williams was more down to financial backing than his own talent.

Failure to finish four of the first six races of his debut season gave those critics even more ammunition.

Stroll responded with ninth at his home GP in Montreal and followed that up with his brilliant performance in Baku – narrowly missing out on second place to Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.

“Before, I just did not have the confidence to push the car, because the car was just not giving me what I needed,” Stroll said. “(The car) is also getting more from me.”

Massa’s experience, Stroll says, will prove vital over the course of the year.

“At the moment I am at a stage in my career where I do not always know what I need from the car and Felipe does,” Stroll said. “I need to start feeling what needs to be done with the car. Sometimes it might go in the wrong direction, but it is a learning process.”

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.”