Firestone 550 - Practice

Andretti leads Texas Friday IndyCar first practice

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Three caution periods and fast tire wearing were the stories, more than speeds, coming out of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ lone practice session before qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway.

Marco Andretti led the 75-minute session, which had three interruptions, with a best speed of 217.950 mph in 43 laps.

Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan, in his first race with Sunoco/Turbo colors, was second ahead of Will Power, James Jakes and Simona de Silvestro. Kanaan made it in the 217 mph range with the other three in the 216s.

Five Hondas were sixth through 10th, Josef Newgarden ahead of Alex Tagliani, Target Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, and Detroit race two winner Simon Pagenaud.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ended the session 13th, said his car was particularly difficult to handle with even less downforce on the car.

“It was interesting; it’s really hot and with less downforce, there was a lot of sliding around,” Hunter-Reay told IndyCar Radio’s Nick Yeoman. “I did about 30 laps and had a cut right front tire. We stopped early and decided to not to burn a set of tires.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Jakes, the breakout star in Detroit, turned the challenges into a positive for fans.

“It’s gonna be a tough race man,” Jakes told Yeoman. “We did a lot of race running. It’s gonna be an entertaining race for you all with the (tire) drop off, and it should be really spread out.”

Tim Cindric, Penske Racing president, explained the nature of the drop off for Firestone’s compounds. After a test in February, Firestone brought a tire that features a slightly softer body construction and tread compound on the left-side tires to increase grip and a slightly harder right-side tread compound to add durability.

“(Will said) he felt a good balance, but night conditions are a lot different with traffic and trying to figure out how to gear,” Cindric told Yeoman. “Tonight will tell us more.”

Oriol Servia and Pippa Mann clocked in 19th and 20th in their first sessions in the No. 4 Panther Chevrolet and No. 18 Dale Coyne Honda. Mann’s DCR teammate Justin Wilson had a substantially loose race car and ran only 14 laps; rookie Tristan Vautier completed the most laps, 62, but only with a best lap of 208.962 to end 22nd.

Qualifying occurs at 3:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. ET) with final practice at 6:45 p.m. local time for half an hour. The qualifying order is below:

1. #5 E.J. Viso
2. #20 Ed Carpenter
3. #55 Tristan Vautier (R)
4. #19 Justin Wilson
5. #14 Takuma Sato
6. #18 Pippa Mann
7. #7 Sebastien Bourdais
8. #27 James Hinchcliffe
9. #25 Marco Andretti
10. #9 Scott Dixon
11. #11 Tony Kanaan
12. #67 Josef Newgarden
12a. #83 Charlie Kimball
14. #3 Helio Castroneves
15. #12 Will Power
16. #77 Simon Pagenaud
17. #98 Alex Tagliani
18. #78 Simona de Silvestro
19. #6 Sebastian Saavedra
20. #16 James Jakes
21. #15 Graham Rahal
22. #1 Ryan Hunter-Reay
23. #10 Dario Franchitti
24. #4 Oriol Servia

Gutierrez hoping for more in Russia after finally banking first finish

during practice ahead of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 18, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
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An accident in the Australian Grand Prix and brake issues in the Bahrain Grand Prix was not the kind of return to competition Esteban Gutierrez was expecting.

After a one-year hiatus and two failures to finish in 2016, the 24-year-old Mexican driver for Formula 1’s new American team was finally running at the end of a race.

As he heads into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, Gutierrez is keen to start getting any sort of momentum going.

“For sure it was a relief to finish the race finally,” Gutierrez said in Thursday’s FIA Press Conference.

“It’s been a frustrating start for me, a lot of interruptions over the weekends, but I wasn’t satisfied completely just by finishing the race of course, I want much more than that.”

Gutierrez finished the Chinese Grand Prix 14th, as the first driver one lap down to the leaders in the No. 21 Haas VF-16 Ferrari.

Notably, that is precisely where he finished his most recent five races of 2014—one lap off the pace, but running at the end of the show. Gutierrez’s last complete race came in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix when he finished 15th.

“China overall wasn’t a great track for our car,” he admitted. “Hopefully we can recover from now on, in Russia, and that this track gives us better possibilities.

“Russia offers… yeah, let’s say a medium range of overtaking so it’s not very straightforward but hopefully the strategy can be a bit more viable, that we can have more pitstops. As you say, the prediction is not the case, but hopefully we have a fun race for the people outside to watch, and have fun.”

Last year, Gutierrez spent his year working on race simulations to stay sharp. It was no substitute for race experience, but it provided a different perspective he hopes will lead to eventually finishing in a points’ paying position.

Working on a simulator in 2015 “didn’t change the approach; it changed my knowledge,” Gutierrez added. “I basically experiment a lot.”

“I feel very confident and I feel very prepared right now and everything is in front of me.”

Follow: @FantasyRace

Kvyat hopeful of continuing China form on home soil

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28:  Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Red Bull Racing waves at the crowd as he arrives on stage during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat is confident that Red Bull can continue its strong start to the 2016 Formula 1 season this weekend in Russia as he prepares for his home grand prix.

Kvyat became just the second Russian F1 driver when he made his debut in 2014 with Toro Rosso, and the first to race on home soil after the addition of a grand prix in Sochi to the calendar the same year.

Kvyat finished third in China two weeks ago after enjoying a spirited battle with Sebastian Vettel, and arrives in Russia full of confidence thanks to the competitiveness of the Red Bull RB12 car.

“Lately we have been competitive on most of the tracks, any kind really, starting with Australia, Bahrain, China we always looked in quite good shape,” Kvyat said.

“I think Sochi also in the past for us maybe hasn’t been the easiest track, as a team, but now we are just coming to any track and we are just trying to extract everything the car has got.

“I believe also here we can fight for quite strong points. We will do our best and I think the car is looking in great shape.”

Kvyat came under fire from Vettel following an aggressive move at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix, but said that he has moved on from the incident.

“I think everything confirmed my point of view,” Kvyat said. “I think obviously everyone told their opinions on that incident, all the people involved. I think all in all I did what any competitive racing driver would do.

“But now I think there has been enough talk about it. Now it’s time to turn the page and move forward and now we are fully focused on the upcoming races.”

Hamilton: Red Bull F1 cockpit aero screen ‘like a riot shield’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sits in his Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen in the garage during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has made no secret of his opposition to Red Bull’s proposed ‘aero screen’ cockpit protection device, saying that it looks “like a bloody riot shield”.

Formula 1 has been working to improve cockpit safety following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing.

The ‘Halo’ device designed by Mercedes made its first public appearance in Barcelona in February at pre-season testing, meeting a mixed response.

Red Bull’s screen is an alternative proposal that has gained significant traction in recent weeks, meaning that it also could be implemented for the 2017 season.

Hamilton spoke out against the Halo when it debuted in Barcelona, and was just as dismissive of the aero screen ahead of its first public run-out in Russian GP practice on Friday.

“If they are going to do this, close the cockpit like a fighter jet,” Hamilton told reporters in Sochi on Thursday.

“If you are going to do it close the cockpit like a fighter jet, don’t half-ass it.

“That screen looks so bad. It’s like a bloody riot shield.”

“You’ve got this cool, elegant, futuristic Formula 1 car and you’ve got a crappy riot shield sat on top of it, and the other one [Halo], the carbon fibre structure was obviously good but obviously Fernando [Alonso] wouldn’t have been able to get out of the car potentially in his crash in Melbourne.”

However, Hamilton said he was pleased to see the FIA pushing on with its drive to improve safety standards in F1, although he believes danger should remain an inherent part of the sport.

“It is a good thing to see that the FIA do take safety seriously,” Hamilton said.

“It is a constant thing that always needs to be worked on but as long as it doesn’t affect the aesthetics and the style and the coolness of Formula 1.

“Because the reason you look as a kid, you look at Formula 1 [and think] ‘wow, these guys, they are crazy, they could die at any moment.’

“Everyone who comes to me who has just started watching Formula 1 is like ‘ah it’s so dangerous’ and that’s a large part of why they are so in awe of what you do.

“You take away all that and that person could do it almost.”

Rosberg: F1 title rivals have had a ‘messy’ start

during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Nico Rosberg may enjoy a 36-point lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship, but the German driver is under no illusions about the difficult start to the season his main rivals have suffered.

Rosberg claimed his sixth consecutive grand prix victory in China two weeks ago to extend his advantage over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings.

Hamilton is yet to have a clean race and go wheel-to-wheel with Rosberg at the front of the pack, while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel failed to start in Bahrain and suffered damage at the start in China.

Rosberg arrived in Sochi this week ahead of Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix full of confidence, but acknowledged that his rivals have been unlucky and expects them to respond soon.

“Definitely I’m pleased with the way I’ve been driving now in the first three races,” Rosberg said.

“For me, it’s not six in a row because the three last year were last year and they don’t count for anything in this year’s championship so for me it’s winning the first three which I’m really happy about.

“I’ve been driving really well, but my opposition had a really messy start. That’s the reality of it.

“I definitely expect them all to bounce back, especially Lewis and it’s going to be a great battle against them as always and it will be tough, even if I have some points lead now but it’s still such a long season: three races is a seventh or something of the whole thing.

“There’s like 450 points to take still and now I have 30-something in front or whatever. There’s still a massively long way to go so it’s not really changing the situation much.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live across NBCSN, CNBC and Live Extra this weekend. For more details, click here.