Being Nine Is Fine With Castroneves At Loudon

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 13 2011

Helio Castroneves was more than satisfied with his qualifying run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

LOUDON, NH –  Helio Castroneves qualified ninth Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and appeared to be thrilled by the performance.

After jumping out of his Team Penske car, Castroneves, who is also ninth in the season points, pulled off his helmet, pointed to the scoreboard and smiled broadly.

At that moment, midway through qualifying, the ebullient Brazilian was fifth.

“I’m extremely happy because I had no feeling I was going to be in the top 10 this weekend,’’ he said. “Before qualifying, I would say it was very difficult and this place is not suiting me at all. Whatever happened in qualifying is touched from the sky. I’m not joking. There was night and day change.

“We’re hitting the (rev) limiter all the way around because it was so fast.’’

His two-lap average on the 1.058-mile oval was 168.886 mph, considerably slower than pole winner Dario Franchitti’s 170.843.

But it was good enough to make Castroneves start thinking about getting his first win of the season in Sunday’s MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225.

“We need a win and we know we can win,’’ he said. “Now, for the race, it’s so different. It’s going to be crazy: it’s going to be traffic, difficult to pass. However, with more rubber there might be more grip. It might be like Milwaukee, with the track getting better and better as the race goes on. It’s going to be fun.’’

YOUNG INSPIRATION: Ryan Hunter-Reay got his inspiration for beginning a racing career by

Pippa Mann and Rahal Letterman withdrew from the race in Loudon. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

watching Andre Ribeiro’s exciting victory at the New Hampshire track in a CART-sanctioned event in 1995.

“At that time, I was just happy to go to an Indy car race,’’ said Hunter-Reay, who was 12 at the time. “I actually started racing go-karts after that event. Maybe it was the thrill of the racing that I wanted to try it.’’

Hunter-Reay, now driving for Andretti Autosport, got onto the track for the first time this week as the IZOD IndyCar Series prepared for Sunday’s Movethatblock.com 225, the first open-wheel race here since 1998.

“I never thought I would get to the top level of the sport,’’ Hunter-Reay said. “You always dream of it, but it isn’t realistic. So coming here now and racing IndyCars on this track is great. It’s beautiful around here and it’s a great place to have a race.

“I really enjoy going to the tracks that are new, and we have been to a few this year. It’s fun to have to adapt to new circuits.’’

MANN OUT: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing withdrew their car from the race after rookie Pippa Mann crashed hard during Saturday’s afternoon’s practice. Mann was released after being examined at a nearby hospital for a neck or back injury. Precautionary x-rays and a CT scan were negative, but IndyCar officials said the English driver will undergo an MRI Monday in Indianapolis.

The crash between turns 1 and 2 was her fourth incident since arriving here on Thursday, but by far the most serious.

This was her first IndyCar event since finishing 20th for Conquest Racing at the Indianapolis 500 in May. Sunday was to be the first of three races for RLL. She is scheduled to drive at Kentucky and Las Vegas in the last two races of the season.

Mann spun twice in Thursday’s test session, doing some minor damage to her car in the second spin. She also spun in the morning practice Saturday, before slamming the wall hard between turns 1 and 2 in

SPARK PLUGS: This is Sarah Fisher’s last trip to the races for a while. The team owner is pregnant with her first child and is due to give birth in mid-September. … Chris Simmons, lead engineer for Dario Franchitti’s No. 10 Dallara, won twice here in the USAC Formula Ford 2000 series. … The winner of the last previous IndyCar race at New Hampshire in 1998 was Tony Stewart, who has gone on to win two NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 13 2011
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