Eight test Wednesday in Texas

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Eight drivers – including three rookies prepping for this year’s Indianapolis 500 – took to Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday to acclimate themselves with the new aero package to the track and gain some valuable oval laps of testing.

A year ago (right), Texas ran a modified wing package and with reduced downforce, produced one of the most exciting races of the season. Now, the wing package for Texas is more in line with what was featured at Indianapolis and Fontana, IndyCar’s two longest ovals (2.5 and 2.0 miles).

“It’s a lot different (from a stock car to drive around TMS),” Team Penske’s AJ Allmendinger told IndyCar.com, after his latest IndyCar test after shifting back from NASCAR. “A little track knowledge (helps), and all these mile-and-a-half tracks a little different – they have their own character – so it’s good to know but it’s still different.”

Besides Allmendinger, full season rookie Tristan Vautier and Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz were on hand turning their first oval laps in the Dallara DW12 chassis.

Veterans on hand included Vautier’s teammate Simon Pagenaud, Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s pair of Graham Rahal and James Jakes, Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing), and Ed Carpenter (his own ECR team).

No speeds were listed for the private test, but a year ago the pole speed at Texas was 215.691 mph set by Alex Tagliani.

Hamilton: McLaren could help create four-team F1 title fight in 2018

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.

Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.

Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.

“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.

“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.

“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.

“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”

Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.