INDYCAR championship contenders not happy with Iowa qualifications

Leave a comment

NEWTON, Iowa – Josef Newgarden had just qualified his No. 2 Chevrolet into the third starting position for Saturday night’s NTT IndyCar Series Iowa 300 and the Team Penske driver didn’t look happy. His main contender for the championship, Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, qualified sixth fastest and he didn’t look happy, either.

Newgarden leads Rossi by just four points entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300. Both drivers expected to qualify higher on Friday afternoon during a one-hour qualification session held under very high temperatures with high humidity.

Another reason both drivers may have been a tad sour was the pole winner was Simon Pagenaud, the hard-charging Frenchman who won this year’s 103rd Indianapolis 500, the INDYCAR Grand Prix and last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Pagenaud is third in the standings, 39 points out of the lead.

Live coverage of the Iowa 300 begins tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Newgarden is usually one of the more ebullient and talkative drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series but after Friday’s qualifications, he was unusually short in his responses.

“I think our car will be all right, so I’m excited to go racing,” Newgarden said in a deadpan tone of voice to NBC Sports.com. “The top five is tight to me, so it (the championship) could be anyone’s game right now.”

Rossi was only slightly more descriptive of his car and chances in Saturday night’s 300-laps race at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway short oval.

When asked what it was going to be like start from sixth place, Rossi’s response was blunt.

“(Crappy),” Rossi told NBC Sports.com “I don’t have anything that I’m super happy with right now and it’s going to be hotter tomorrow. We have to get our heads down and figure out how to get me more comfortable in the car.

“I think it was a good effort. That’s pretty much what I thought we had in the car, so we didn’t leave anything on the table. We just didn’t have anything for the top three cars. The last session Friday is very important to us and we need to have a good practice if we are going to have anything for the race.”

Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske won the pole with a two-lap average of 180.073 miles per hour in a Chevrolet. He was followed by his two Team Penske teammates, Will Power (179.598 mph) and Newgarden (179.449 mph), both in Chevrolets.

Rossi was sixth with a two-lap average of 176.057 mph in a Honda, just behind fourth-place Takuma Sato’s Honda and James Hinchcliffe’s Honda.

Later in the post-qualifying press conference, Pagenaud continued his “less is more” approach to answering questions.

When told that the pole winner had never won at Iowa, Pagenaud responded, “I’m not big into stats, so…”

What happened between Friday’s morning practice session and Friday afternoon’s qualifications?

“Conditions were similar, so I don’t think it changed much,” Newgarden said. “I just obviously we didn’t nail it, so we got to nail it tomorrow.”

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
Leave a comment

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.”