RHR’s Iowa comeback continues his hot streak

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He isn’t leading the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings yet, but defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is riding a crest of momentum heading into the series’ deserved off weekend.

Hunter-Reay is now a perfect four-for-four in podium finishes on ovals this year, with the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DEKALB probably his hardest earned this season.

After contact cost him his front wing right endplate, Hunter-Reay dropped to 21st in the field. But he charged back from there. He was closing on Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe in the final 30 laps of the race but a stretch where he got proverbially boxed in behind Simona de Silvestro, who was several laps down, and rookie Tristan Vautier cost him his momentum and a chance at a repeat Iowa win.

“It was so hard to catch back up to James (Hinchcliffe) and then lapped traffic. It’s one thing if you’re a lap down, but if you’re five laps down or six laps down, just making it tough on the leaders was uncalled for,” Hunter-Reay admitted.

“But hey, we came back from 22nd or whatever we were to finish second. We definitely had the car to win today but just made a mistake there trying to get by Graham (Rahal), keeping my foot in it. The front just had no grip on it when I turned to pop out and pass him. Easy mistake. We had a tough weekend… to come second out of this thing, I’m pretty pleased with that. Good job to James (Hinchcliffe). It was a good day in the points for the No. 1 DHL Chevy – definitely have to be happy about that.”

About those points: Hunter-Reay trails Helio Castroneves by nine, the difference in Castroneves winning the points-paying Iowa heat race and Hunter-Reay failing to advance out of his.

Hunter-Reay has scored 185 points in the last five races to lead the series, has scored the most oval points thus far with 176, and has advanced from fourth to second in the championship standings since the end of the Indianapolis 500.

In brief, the champion is driving even better than he was last year, with a team that is firing on all cylinders.

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.