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Saavedra gets surprise call-up to SPM for Toronto, in Aleshin’s seat

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Toronto veteran Sebastian Saavedra has been called up to replace Mikhail Aleshin in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda this weekend, a surprise driver change ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, CNBC).

In a statement, the team said Aleshin would be on site for support but would not provide any further comment at this time. The No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda will also feature AFS Racing branding and support, owing to Saavedra’s longtime supporter Gary Peterson.

“We welcome the opportunity to compete with Ric and Sam at a venue where Seb and I have had great success in the past,” Peterson said in the statement.

Aleshin was delayed getting to the last road course race at Road America last month owing to immigration issues, and Robert Wickens filled in for him in the Friday practice sessions. But Aleshin’s return occurred as of Saturday morning for that race, and for Iowa Speedway last weekend.

Saavedra, meanwhile, has one prior start this year with Juncos Racing in partnership with AFS at the Indianapolis 500. He’s also worked with the No. 7 car’s engineer, Blair Perschbacher, previously in his IndyCar career.

At Toronto, Saavedra has six past IndyCar starts from 2011 through 2015, with Conquest Racing, Dragon Racing, KV/AFS Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing. His best finish is 15th in Toronto race two, 2013.

Saavedra also has three starts there in Indy Lights competition. He won from pole for AFS/Andretti Autosport in 2009 and finished second with the same team in 2012.

SPM joins Bryan Herta Autosport, Conquest, Andretti, Dragon, KV, Ganassi and Juncos as teams Saavedra, who’s still only 27, has driven with in his career.

Interestingly, Wickens was available as there’s no DTM race this weekend and the Guelph, Ontario native was home – posting training video from a lake in Muskoka on Wednesday on his Instagram page.

Keen-eyed observers will have noticed Aleshin’s car having switched from the full SMP Racing red, white and blue livery in the past, to a red and black Lucas Oil and ARROW livery this year for Aleshin’s car.

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.”