Hunter-Reay leads Long Beach practice two

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Ryan Hunter-Reay led an incident-marred second practice session at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach at 1:09.4224.

“We’re executing a little better,” said the Andretti Autosport driver and defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion. “We’ll take the balance of what we learned today and apply it to tomorrow. We know what we’re working with.”

Mike Conway was second once again for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with Will Power, Tristan Vautier and Helio Castroneves in the top five.

Conway, who like Hunter-Reay is a former Long Beach race winner (2011), hasn’t appeared to miss a beat for his first race back in IndyCar since Baltimore last year.

“There were cobwebs, but I felt good coming into the weekend,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about this since February.”

James Jakes, Alex Tagliani, Dario Franchitti, Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe completed the top 10.

Four red flags peppered the 45-minute session for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Sebastian Saavedra, Justin Wilson, Simona de Silvestro, Scott Dixon and E.J. Viso all had unscheduled appointments with the concrete barriers.

Saavedra led off the session when nosing into the Turn 1 wall. Later, Wilson went into the tires at Turn 8 and de Silvestro, who ran a wider exit of the 90-degree right hander, crashed right into him with nowhere to go.

Turn 9 was the trouble spot for both Dixon and Viso. Dixon hit the wall exiting the corner and damaged his left rear suspension, while Viso nosed into the tire barriers going into the corner.

Combined times from Practice 1 and 2 are below:

Rank  Car Driver            Team                C/E/T Time 

1.     1    Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.4224
2.     17   Mike Conway          RLL                    D/H/F 1:09.4603
3.     12   Will Power           Penske                 D/C/F 1:09.5166
4.     55   Tristan Vautier      Schmidt Peterson       D/H/F 1:09.5657
5.     3    Helio Castroneves    Penske                 D/C/F 1:09.6008
6.     16   James Jakes          RLL                    D/H/F 1:09.7664
7.     98   Alex Tagliani        Barracuda/BHA          D/H/F 1:09.7829
8.     10   Dario Franchitti     Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:09.7891
9.     27   James Hinchcliffe    Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.8157*
10.    14   Takuma Sato          Foyt                   D/H/F 1:09.9197
11.    78   Simona de Silvestro  KV                     D/C/F 1:10.0767*
12.    19   Justin Wilson        Coyne                  D/H/F 1:10.1028*
13.    9    Scott Dixon          Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:10.1479*
14.    15   Graham Rahal         RLL                    D/H/F 1:10.1906*
15.    67   Josef Newgarden      Fisher Hartman         D/H/F 1:10.2081*
16.    77   Simon Pagenaud       Schmidt Hamilton       D/H/F 1:10.2472
17.    25   Marco Andretti       Andretti               D/C/F 1:10.3292
18.    7    Sebastien Bourdais   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:10.3736
19.    4    JR Hildebrand        Panther                D/C/F 1:10.4001*
20.    11   Tony Kanaan          KV                     D/C/F 1:10.4956
21.    2    AJ Allmendinger    Penske                 D/C/F 1:10.5424
22.    5    EJ Viso              Venezuela/Andretti/HVM D/C/F 1:10.8132
23.    83   Charlie Kimball      Novo Nordisk Ganassi   D/H/F 1:10.8156*
24.    18   Ana Beatriz          Coyne                  D/H/F 1:11.0011*
25.    22   Oriol Servia         Panther DRR            D/C/F 1:11.0586*
26.    6    Sebastian Saavedra   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:11.0693*
27.    20   Ed Carpenter         Carpenter              D/C/F 1:11.6747

*Fastest time set in Practice 1 instead of Practice 2

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”