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Hunter-Reay eager to build on big weekend

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has bigger goals than simply snapping a losing streak.

The 37-year-old Hunter-Reay had been running well this year, but his victory in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit was his first IndyCar win since 2015. It capped an impressive weekend that also included a second-place finish on Saturday. He has six top-five finishes through eight races of the Verizon IndyCar Series the season, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before he ended his drought.

Now his mind is on the IndyCar standings. He’s in fourth place, 31 points behind leader Will Power.

“I have to just keep chipping away, chipping away,” he said. “If you keep finishing in the top three, top five, top three, top five, wins, that’s how you challenge for a championship, so that’s what we’re focused on doing.”

Hunter-Reay was the series champion in 2012 and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. From 2012-14, he won nine times, but after two more victories in 2015, the dry spell began. While he wasn’t irrelevant, he didn’t finish higher than third for the next two seasons.

Hunter-Reay led a combined 80 laps at the Indy 500 in 2016 and 2017 but finished out of the top 20 both times.

Now he’s off to a strong start this season, and IndyCar’s new race cars are to his liking.

“At times with the aero kit, the manufacturer aero kit, we might have struggled a little bit. Our team did, and we just weren’t firing on all cylinders for some reason,” he said. “But now again with a universal aero kit, we’re right back on a level playing field again, just like we left off in `12, `13 and `14.”

Hunter-Reay began the year with two top-five finishes, and he added a second-place showing in Alabama in April. He finished fifth at the Indy 500, then headed to Detroit.

In the first of two races at Belle Isle last weekend, Hunter-Reay came in second to Scott Dixon. It was a strong race for him, but the losing streak continued.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We came up close.”

There was still another chance Sunday, and Hunter-Reay made the most of it, chasing down teammate Alexander Rossi late in the race and eventually passing him when Rossi went sliding toward the runoff area on a turn. From there, it was smooth sailing. Hunter-Reay won easily.

It was an impressive weekend for Andretti Autosport. Hunter-Reay, Rossi and Marco Andretti finished 2-3-4 in the first Belle Isle race, then Hunter-Reay overtook Rossi to win the second one. Hunter-Reay was asked where Sunday’s performance ranked in his career.

“To be that much faster than the rest of the field, yeah, it’s got to be one of my top races,” he said. “I mean, I’ll always put 2014 Indy 500 as my top one because going back every lap with Helio (Castroneves) like that, it’s a different type of race. This one was based on pure speed, not making any mistakes and going fast.”

It was an emphatic way to end the weekend – and perhaps send a message about the rest of the season.

“I know I have the talent to win the races, and just have to think positive. I’ve got the best job on earth, so I come and show up in the morning and there’s a yellow car there with my name on the side of it, and I go to work as an IndyCar car driver,” Hunter-Reay said. “I absolutely knew we could get back in Victory Lane, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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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.”