Will Power tops morning practice at Sao Paulo

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On a quest to return to Victory Lane, Will Power led the opening practice session this morning for the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle.

Power, who is the three-time defending champion at Sao Paulo, posted a quick lap of 1 minute, 21.8517 seconds in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He was one of two drivers to break the 1:22 mark in the session, with the other being Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden (1 minute, 21.8976 seconds) in his No. 67 Honda.

The session ended with Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports driver Simon Pagenaud slamming the wall near Turn 2 of the 2.5-mile street circuit, causing  damage to the left side of his No. 77 Honda.  NBC Sports Network’s Kevin Lee has tweeted from Brazil that the Frenchman is OK after the incident.

Sebastien Bourdais was third-fastest for Dragon Racing (1 minute, 22.0495 seconds), followed by Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti in fourth (1 minute, 22.0543 seconds) and Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand in fifth (1 minute, 22.1400 seconds). Tony Kanaan led the Brazilian contingent with the sixth-fastest time this morning for KV Racing Technology (1 minute, 22.1496 seconds).

Kanaan has torn ligaments in his right hand thanks to an incident two weeks ago at Long Beach, but has been cleared to race by IndyCar medical director Dr. Michael Olinger and is ready to make his 200th career start in the IZOD IndyCar Series this weekend in front of his countrymen.

Pagenaud, Long Beach winner Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson and points leader Helio Castroneves — a native of Sao Paulo — completed the Top 10.

The IndyCars will have another practice later this morning at 11:05 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying at 1:35 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network will broadcast that session Sunday morning at 1 a.m. ET).

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.