As planned, final Indy 500 practice ‘uncomfortable’ for Marco Andretti

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Indy 500 pole-sitter Marco Andretti gritted through his Carb Day in a thoroughly unenjoyable final practice Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Which was precisely the plan for the Andretti Autosport driver.

After leading the speed charts for the past three days of on-track activity at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (including Fast Friday and two days of qualifying), Andretti’s No. 98 Dallara-Honda team worked to ensure they knew which setup adjustments to avoid making during Sunday’s 104th Indy 500.

THE 104TH INDY 500How to watch Sunday’s race on NBC

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“Today the goal was to put myself in the most uncomfortable circumstances possible because we’re not planning on leading 200 laps,” Andretti told hosts Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick in an NBCSN interview after the two-hour session. “That would be beautiful. But we know there’s going to be a state of adversity at some point in the 500 miles, so that’s what I put myself into today.

“It was just as uncomfortable as we thought it was going to be!”

He ranked 28th of 33 drivers with a best lap at 221.314 mph, which left him last among his six teammates and the second-slowest Honda.

The third-generation driver, who will be the first member of his famous racing family to start first at Indy in 33 years, said his team worked through about “10 to 15 different things, not necessarily big items” (which he declined to specify because “my engineers would be pretty mad if I repeated it”).

After they “found some things that the car really doesn’t like,” Andretti said the benefit was realizing what changes to avoid for the 200-lap race.

“We needed to confirm, and I’d rather learn that today than on Sunday,” he said.

Marco Andretti final practice
Marco Andretti turned the 28th fastest lap in the Carb Day practice for the Indy 500 (James Black/IndyCar).

Starting from the pole for the first time at the Brickyard will afford Marco a great view of a special moment Sunday.

During the pace laps, his father, Michael, and grandfather, Mario, will ride in front of the field in a two-seater Indy car (with Mario behind the wheel). It’s the first time all three generations will be on track together at the 2.5-mile oval where Mario made his debut 55 years ago, beginning a tradition of speed that only has been lacking checked flags on the iconic layout.

Michael Andretti never counted the Brickyard among his 42 career victories despite leading 431 laps at IMS (more than any other winless Indy 500 driver). Mario Andretti won only once in 1969 despite leading nearly 20% of his laps in 29 starts,

When Marco Andretti lost the 2006 Indy 500 to Sam Hornish Jr. off the last corner as a rookie, it renewed the focus on whether the “Andretti Curse” was real.

But entering his 15th start at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing with perhaps his best shot yet, Marco is relishing the attention.

“I think everybody asks is there a lot of pressure being on the pole,” he said. “I think that’s a good type of pressure. Bad pressure is what I’ve been going through before. When it’s not going right, that’s the pressure. When it’s going right, that’s the good part, so I’m in a good place mentally.”

Andretti chuckled when the interview on the speedway’s pagoda briefly was interrupted by his grandfather turning warmup laps below in the two-seater.

“What this place means to motorsports, it just casts such a wide web,” he said. “So (the pole) feels like a win even though it’s just qualifying. That’s how big this race is. It’s been a fairy tale so far. We just have to keep it going.”

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.”