Photo courtesy United Autosports

Rayhall: Title time in Portugal

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Editor’s note: Sean Rayhall, one of America’s rising driving talents, will file a series of blogs throughout the year chronicling his season in the European Le Mans Series, co-driving with John Falb at Zak Brown and Richard Dean’s United Autosports team in its Ligier JS P3.

His sixth blog is simple: they won the LMP3 championship, and here’s the recap (previous blogs are linked here; SilverstoneLe MansRed Bull RingPaul Ricard, Spa).

We rolled into this weekend in Portimao, Portugal needing a mistake-free race in order to clinch the championship. With how wild the race was at Spa, this was a bit of a taller order than it seems. It was nice to have my girlfriend Bailey with me this weekend, which helped my peace of mind.

We had a lot of oversteer in the car initially which wasn’t going to be comfortable for four hours, so United Autosports went to work dialing us in to have a good race car on old tires. It turned out that ultimately was the case, and we weren’t sure how qualifying was going to go, but we knew over four hours we would be in the hunt.

Qualifying was shortened by red flags, which unfortunately only gave us one timed lap, and a few others were able to get two. We would’ve started on the front row but I went a little wide in Turn 1 which violated track limits, and deleted our only lap. Therefore we had to start dead last behind all the GT cars. That was a bit devastating, but I had a lot of faith in our team and the race pace we had shown that all was going to be alright in the end.

Nerves were flying Sunday morning, but I knew we just had to go to work and things would play out alright. I picked car by car off and ended my double stint in second place after starting 17th in LMP3. It was a mega feeling getting out of the car after one of the best races we had put together so far.

John worked really hard getting himself into the lead, but ultimately didn’t have the pace over the last hour to hold off our teammate Christian England (co-drove with Wayne Boyd and Mark Patterson) in the No. 3 car, which ended up giving us a P2 finish and the championship.

I really can’t put into words how special this was for us and the team. Everyone was in absolute tears of joy, minus our engineer “G-Baby” (Gary Robertshaw) who simply refuses to show emotion… but he gave us a smile which was plenty enough for me.

Every single person on the United Autosports crew won this championship out of sheer dedication and hard work, and I can’t thank them all enough for the work and talent they brought to the table this year. When days didn’t go our way, we all dug in and worked even harder, and that’s what champions are made of.

I want to thank you all for following this year and being a part of the biggest accomplishment in my racing career yet! It means more to me than you could ever know. Oh.. and you can bet we had one or more drinks at the banquet. The celebration was mega!

Stay tuned for 2018… but I can’t wait to see what we do next.

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.”