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F1: Charles Leclerc wins pole in bizarre Italian GP qualifying

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Charles Leclerc claimed the pole position for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza Saturday afternoon, following a bizarre Q3 which saw only two drivers cross the finish line in time to set a final flying lap.

Leclerc set his pole-winning lap of 1 minute 20.126 seconds around the 11-Turn, 3.6-mile circuit early on in the final session, which was interrupted by an 11-minute red flag due to a crash by Kimi Raikkonen in Turn 11.

When the session went green once again, several drivers waited until the final two minutes to return to the track, and with a tow crucial to set a fast lap at Monza, many drivers backed off in order to not be the leader without a tow.

The slow race out of the pits saw only Leclerc and Carlos Sainz cross the start/finish line in time to complete a lap, and with Saniz unable to set a faster lap than Leclerc, the Ferrari driver easily claimed the pole position.

“I’m happy with the pole,” Leclerc said following qualifications. “It’s a shame there was a big mess at the end. Let’s hope for a good race tomorrow.”

Lewis Hamilton qualified second, 0.039 seconds behind Leclerc, while Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified third.

Sebastien Vettel qualified fourth, while Daniel Riccardo and Nico Hulkenburg qualified in the fifth and sixth positions for Renault.

Carlos Sainz was the slowest of the seven drivers who set a time in Q3 and will start Sunday’s race from the seventh position.

Alex Albon, Lance Stroll, and Raikkonen all failed to complete a single lap in Q3, and will start eighth through tenth, respectively.

The wild end to the qualifying session is currently under investigation by race stewards.

Full qualifying results and times are below:

 

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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.”