IndyCar: Rossi keeps his head high after Sonoma disappointment

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The season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma was always going to be an uphill battle for Alexander Rossi.

Championship leader Scott Dixon, who led Rossi by 29 points entering the weekend, outqualified Rossi – second to Rossi’s sixth – giving him a theoretical advantage before the race even began.

Things only got worse for Rossi when the green flag waved, as a disastrous first lap saw him make contact with his Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, damaging Rossi’s front wing and then cutting the right-front tire on the way back to the pits.

Rossi ran in 25th after the stop for a new wing, and all appeared lost in terms of his championship hopes.

However, he got a lifeline on Lap 44, when the race’s only full-course caution was flown after Graham Rahal pulled off on the back straightaway after losing power. It came seconds after Rossi completed his third pit stop of the day, and after he managed to stay just ahead of teammate and race leader Ryan Hunter-Reay to stay on the lead lap.

The yellow allowed Rossi to catch back up to the field, and he even pitted again under caution for a splash of fuel and a set of Firestone alternate reds.

He restarted the race in 20th on Lap 50, but was immediately on the charge. A chaotic restart saw him gain five spots in one lap, and he was back in the Top 10 by Lap 52.

Inside of the 20 laps to go, with final stops complete, Rossi found himself all the way up to fifth. However, Dixon remained ahead of him on track – Dixon ran second, where he ran for most of the race, behind Hunter-Reay.

What’s more, Rossi was in fuel-save mode in the final stint, and he surrendered a pair of positions to Marco Andretti and then Sebastien Bourdais.

In the end, Rossi took the checkered flag in seventh to end a trying day that saw his championship effort come up short.

“I got a good start and then, I don’t if (Marco) lifted or if I misjudged it. But, it is what it is, and it was going to be a tough day to beat Scott anyway,” Rossi lamented while talking to NBCSN’s Kevin Lee about the opening lap contact.

Rossi added, “But at the end of the day, this Napa No. 27 Andretti Autosport team did such a good job. It was unfortunate for it to go out like that. I wish I could replay that a million more times. But, it’s the way it is. The team did a great job to get me back on the road to recovery after the mistake that I made.”

However, Rossi still feels the 2018 season produced plenty of positives and is confident he and the team can build on it going into the 2019 season.

“At the end of the day, we have to look at 2018 and be pretty happy with it,” he said to Kevin Lee. “Obviously, you’re disappointed to come away second, and the first loser, but we have lots to work on and lots to improve upon for next year.”

Rossi ended up 57 points behind Dixon in the championship fight.

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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.”