Photos courtesy IMSA

Rolex 24: Acura Team Penske debut falls short, but shows great promise going forward

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You could consider Acura Team Penske’s debut in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona like a Silicon Valley startup.

Lots of promise, great talent, strong corporate leadership and plenty of financing – but admittedly a few bugs in its first full test.

Both teams were at or near the front of the pack at the halfway point of the 24-hour endurance race that kicked off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

But issues in the second half of the race knocked both the No. 6 and No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi’s, the latter finishing ninth out of a 20-car field and the No. 6 right behind in 10th.

The No. 6 had an alternator problem that required an extended period of time in the garage, while the No. 7 endured a crash with Helio Castroneves behind the wheel.

Damage was minimal, but the car spun and lost valuable time both on-track and also in the garage.

All-in-all, for a first time effort – both teams finished 15 laps down to the winning entry of the Action Express No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi – was not potentially lower than what both teams hoped for, but they certainly could have finished much worse, as well.

The No. 7 team was comprised of Ricky Taylor, Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves, while the No. 6 roster was Simon Pagenaud, Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Assessing how his teams ran with about an hour left in the race,, team owner Roger Penske told FS1, “I think the race has been amazing, fast cars, everybody’s been racing hard the whole day and night. We had an alternator go out on one of the cars and Helio got hit, but for us, if we can finish the 24 Hours and we know we have some speed in our cars, we’re looking forward to get to Sebring (next race on the IMSA schedule).

“But this is a great test for us, endurance, our pit crews and for Acura to have something as good as they’ve given us is terrific.”

As for the 42-year-old Castroneves, who was making his first start since shifting from a long career in IndyCar to IMSA – he qualified No. 2 on Friday – former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy said he believes his former teammate still has a lot of fuel left in his performance tank as a race car driver, even if it is in a new series.

“Obviously, those guys are in their 40s now, so it’s not going to go on forever in IndyCar,” Tracy told FS1. “The talent level now in the younger guys that are coming up like (Josef) Newgarden, those guys are the best of the best.

“No doubt that Castroneves still has as much speed as anyone out there, he was almost on the pole for this race.

“So, changing from one type of car to another and then immediately almost being on the pole the first race, he’ll continue to run in this until whenever he wants to stop driving. Until he tells Roger (Penske) one day, ‘Hey, I’m going to hang up my helmet,’ he’s got a ride.”

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.