Castroneves keeps building on IndyCar title lead

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With the second race of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader coming up tomorrow (3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), the championship battle between Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay can still take some turns this weekend.

But on Saturday, Castroneves definitely came out the better of the two in Race 1 at Exhibition Place as he claimed a sixth-place finish, while Hunter-Reay – last year’s winner at Toronto – finished 18th.

That spells a 39-point lead for Castroneves over Hunter-Reay, who now has to also start thinking about his rival behind him, race winner Scott Dixon. With his second victory in a row, the New Zealander is now third in points and just three markers behind RHR for second in the standings.

Going back to Castroneves, he maintained that he could’ve had a better result if not for a mistake on his part that altered his team’s plans for the rest of the race.

“Unfortunately, [I was told] to come in and I got confused with what car was in front of me – I was coming in and then I decided to bail out,” he explained to NBC Sports Network. “Not good. That changed our pit strategy, but the car was fast. We actually had the fastest lap of the race and showed that we were really, really good.

“Tomorrow, we’re starting third – different things. We feel very strong for tomorrow…Right now, I’m very happy with extending the lead on the championship.”

Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay had a tough afternoon, as he stalled his car twice on pit exits before going into the Turn 3 tire barriers with seven laps left while trying to pass teammate E.J. Viso on the inside. An extended stop in the final laps for a new nosecone also contributed to his poor finish.

“We had two stalls in the pit lane and then were making some moves, making our way up on track, and then racing with E.J. there, I just got held down in the marbles on the inside and collected all that stuff on my tires,” said Hunter-Reay. “I came down into [Turn] 3 and locked up the right side.

“A frustrating afternoon, but I hope we can regroup overnight and improve on the car. I didn’t feel confident at all under braking today and had some issues with it. The four cars, we’ll put our heads together and hopefully come out a better team tomorrow.”

IZOD IndyCar Series – Points Standings
Top 10 – After 12 Races

1. Helio Castroneves, Team Penske/Chevrolet – 384 points
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet – 345
3. Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda – 342
4. Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet – 333
5. Tony Kanaan, KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet – 301
6. James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet – 296
7. Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports/Honda – 291
8. Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda – 274
9. Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing/Honda – 272
10. Will Power, Team Penske/Chevrolet – 260

Button enjoys ‘natural’ F1 return in Monaco, but hasn’t missed driving

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Jenson Button felt his return to a Formula 1 car in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix was “natural”, but admitted he hasn’t missed driving since stepping away from the sport.

Button appeared to have made his final F1 start in Abu Dhabi last November after stepping back from his McLaren race seat for 2017, only to be drafted in for the Monaco Grand Prix following Fernando Alonso’s decision to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Button passed on the opportunity to test the McLaren-Honda MCL32 car in Bahrain last month, making his run in FP1 on Thursday in Monaco his first taste of a new-style 2017 F1 car.

Nevertheless, the transition appeared seamless for Button, even though he has not driven an F1 car in seven months.

“As soon as I exited the pits, everything felt very natural,” Button said.

“The weirdest thing is when you’re behind a car or when you let a car past, because you look at it and it’s gigantic. Then you feel really uncomfortable because you think, maybe I am too close to the barriers.

“I’ve really enjoyed practice, both the long and short runs. FP2 was a bit of a struggle to really find my feet with the car. I’m braking so much later than what I’m used to here and carrying so much speed into the corners.

“Adjusting to that takes time, so with another day with the engineers and a look through the data, I’m confident that I can improve for Saturday.”

Button finished 14th in FP1 and 11th in FP2, lapping less than one-tenth of a second off the pace of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in the afternoon, giving McLaren hope of its first points of the season.

Button remains coy about his chances, though, insisting there is still more pace to be found.

“I haven’t really thought about where I hope to finish. It’s a very mixed-up grid at the moment which I’m sure will all change again on Saturday,” Button said.

“The guys understand where I’m coming from. They know what they need to do to improve the car to suit me a little bit more and to give me a little bit more confidence. Hopefully we’ll see a step in performance on Saturday.”

Will this one-off return stir a desire to be back racing full-time for Button? Don’t count on it.

“It was funny when I did the install lap this morning, I had a little giggle to myself,” Button revealed.

“Have I missed it? No, but when you jump in the car, you definitely enjoy the moments that you have.”

Sainz refusing to get carried away with Toro Rosso’s Monaco pace

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Carlos Sainz Jr. is refusing to get carried away despite making a strong start to the Formula 1 weekend in Monaco as Toro Rosso got both of its cars inside the top five in second practice.

Toro Rosso currently sits fifth in the F1 constructors’ championship amid a close midfield battle, but appeared to pull clear of rivals Williams and Force India in Monaco on Thursday.

Sainz and teammate Daniil Kvyat both reached the top 10 in FP1 before sharing the lead for much of the early part of FP2 before the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull went quicker.

Kvyat ultimately finished the session fourth-fastest, 0.6 seconds off pace-setter Sebastian Vettel’s time, while Sainz followed in P5, but the Spaniard urged caution in the Toro Rosso ranks after the session.

“I think that we did what we needed to do on a Thursday in Monaco, building the speed up little by little and trying different configurations to give myself confidence with the car,” Sainz said.

“After today’s two practice sessions, it’s safe to say that we’re quite happy with everything. Obviously, from Thursday to Saturday a lot of things could change so we can’t let ourselves get carried away with today’s result.

“But it’s definitely a good starting point! I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”

“Since our problems in Barcelona, where we had a number of updates, we’ve learned a little more on how to get a better balance with the car,” Toro Rosso technical chief James Key added.

“Both drivers seemed to be reasonably happy in FP1, so it was a case of fine-tuning the car a little bit for FP2. We ran a slightly different tire program to other teams, concentrating on our own work, car setup and understanding.

“During the afternoon session we made reasonable progress and, even if there are still some issues to resolve, the session went well.

“We will now be working hard overnight and tomorrow to look at the data and optimize the car as best we can.”

Stroll crashes out of Monaco FP2, seeking PlayStation gains

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Lance Stroll’s difficult start to life in Formula 1 continued on Thursday in Monaco when he crashed out of second practice following an error on entry to Casino Square.

Stroll, 18, is yet to score a point through his rookie F1 season, and suffered another setback in Monaco on Thursday when he shunted his Williams into the barrier with 35 minutes to go in FP2.

Stroll was unharmed, but the incident acted as the latest setback through what has been a baptism of fire for the young Canadian in F1 despite significant efforts to prepare for his rookie campaign through private testing.

“The track is great and I was really happy with the car, but then there was the crash at the end. I just basically centered in looking for the limit, got onto the dirt a little bit and lost the rear,” Stroll explained.

“It was a typical street circuit mistake. I got into learning the circuit pretty quickly and I was happy with the day until then. What is good here is the tire seems to be hanging on quite a bit, so we are able to do multiple push laps.

“In FP3 I am just going to build up my rhythm in that area, but I think I know pretty clearly in my head what I did wrong. I am going to look at the little areas I can improve on for Saturday, as I know we can do that and have a good day.”

Stroll’s pursuit of added lap time may be aided by an unusual influece: his experience of racing around Monaco on his PlayStation game.

“I think corner eight and the last corner are the two places I need to improve on,” Stroll said.

“But it really annoys me because every time I play the PlayStation game it has always been those two corners that I couldn’t get right, and in reality it is still those two corners!”

Hamilton puzzled by ‘night and day’ tire difference in Monaco practices

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Lewis Hamilton was left puzzled by his lack of pace in the second Formula 1 practice for the Monaco Grand Prix after feeling a “night and day” difference in his tires from morning to the afternoon on Thursday.

Hamilton posted the fastest time through FP1, but could not match F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel’s pace through second practice, finishing over 1.1 seconds off the pace in eighth place.

Hamilton felt a significant change in his tires between the sessions, and while he is unsure as to why, he is confident Mercedes can get to the bottom of the matter.

“We didn’t have the greatest day today. Practice one was actually really good and we were quickest, but then in second practice we just struggled to extract the grip from the tires and we were sliding around a lot,” Hamilton explained.

“I’m not sure why the tires weren’t working but the difference between the two sessions was night and day. We’ve got some work to do ahead of Saturday, that’s for sure, but I’m confident the team can work it out.

“Monaco is always amazing to drive, but this is definitely the best car I’ve driven around here. Ferrari are very quick again and Red Bull are also looking good this weekend.

“We’re looking forward to a real fight on Saturday.”