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F1: Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton fastest in second Brazilian GP practice

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton set the pace in practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday, keeping Mercedes with the edge in the fight for the Formula One constructors’ championship.

Bottas edged his Mercedes teammate on a warmer Interlagos track than the expected for the rest of the weekend. The Finnish driver had a lap of 1 minute, 08.846 seconds in the second practice session at the Sao Paulo circuit, with world champion Hamilton only 0.003 seconds behind.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished third, 0.073 seconds from Bottas. The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen ended in fourth and fifth places, respectively, and Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen was sixth.

Mercedes leads Ferrari in the constructor’s championship by 55 points.

Bottas could not say what made the small difference between him and five-time champion Hamilton. He insisted the two Mercedes will have to improve to secure the constructors’ title.

“We can’t be feeling satisfied going to the hotel tonight, everyone will be working,” said Bottas, currently fourth in the drivers’ championship. “It is a short track, so the margin (for improvement) is small.”

Hamilton said he expects the biggest challenge coming from Ferrari, not Red Bull. He said “the car is feeling better than in Mexico,” where he secured his title two weeks ago.

“We got through everything we needed to,” he said. “We just need to keep working on it.”

Vettel said his performance was troubled by a screw that fell between his legs during the afternoon session. “We found it in the end,” the four-time champion said. “We still have to improve the car because it doesn’t feel good yet. If we get the balance in the window tomorrow, then it can be tight (against Mercedes).”

The German driver is under pressure to deliver good performances in Brazil and in the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP after a series of mistakes that left him out of contention for the title.

Red Bull’s Verstappen led the first practice session on Friday, with Vettel and Hamilton close behind.

Ricciardo, who was fourth in both sessions, was handed a five-place grid penalty after Red Bull had to replace his turbocharger for the sixth time this season.

The Australian driver, who was on pole position in Mexico, also started from the back because of penalties in Italy and Russia.

“It sounds really simple and silly, but bad luck really is the best term I can use,” Ricciardo said.

The second session was stopped after nine minutes because Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg crashed entering the front stretch. The German driver was not injured but the car was badly damaged.

Rain is expected in qualifying on Saturday and in the race on Sunday.

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.”