Pagenaud’s quiet run of results sets him up nicely for second half surge

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Because the eye-popping “big” results haven’t quite happened outside of his win at Detroit race two, it’s easy to overlook what Simon Pagenaud and the HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports team have done in the last five races.

Pagenaud’s month of May was quietly solid, ending as the second-best Honda finisher in eighth place. He hasn’t made any mistakes in the races since then and racked up a needed top-10 Sunday in Iowa, with sixth place. The only three drivers that have scored more points than Pagenaud since Indy are Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and Iowa winner James Hinchcliffe.

“Traffic played a big role in the race, but it was great for the HP car to be up front on an oval today,” Pagenaud said. “At the end I’m not sure what we were missing because the car was really hooked up.”

“I had a blast out there,” he added. “The restarts were fun, the racing was fun, and it was just a great day of competition. From the cockpit it was back and forth going as hard as you could into pit lane and getting out just as fast. We were trying to grab positions any way we could.”

Since Pagenaud is only in his second year racing on ovals, the fact he didn’t lose substantial ground while the Hondas have struggled compared to the Chevrolets is a promising sign heading to the second half of the season.

Pagenaud exited the Indianapolis 500 10th in points, and he’s now sixth, 36 points behind Marco Andretti in third. Pagenaud has already tested at Pocono earlier this year, so he won’t be going in completely blind to “the tricky triangle” in a couple weeks.

More importantly, the run of seven straight road and street course races after Pocono sets up nicely for Pagenaud the second half of the season. Combined with the strengths of engineer Ben Bretzman, team manager Rob Edwards, look for the Frenchman to score his second win of the year and make some more regular visits to the podium.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.