Wilson leads IndyCar second practice in Houston

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Justin Wilson, one of the talented shoes in the IZOD IndyCar Series field without a win thus far in 2013, led IndyCar’s second 45-minute practice session with a late flier on his 18th lap.

“I think it went reasonably well. It’s a tough track, really bumpy but when the grip comes up it feels good,” he said. “Once the car comes in it’s good. You’re bouncing around and hopefully landing in the right spot, trying not to lose things. I think we see a lot of that. It’s so hard to keep it on that knife edge. Hopefully we keep it up for tomorrow.”

The driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing set a fastest time of 1:04.4237. After getting acquainted with the temporary chicane installed in the first practice session earlier in the day, teams were able to attack further this afternoon before more track adjustments come overnight.

“That’s something else we’ll have to deal with is the track changing,” he said. “It’ll be tough to judge that braking point and especially if people get it wrong, it would be a tedious session. That’s been kind of the story of today, learning and evolving.”

Will Power was second and Tristan Vautier third, rounding out those who clocked a lap in the 1:04 range at the MD Anderson Center Speedway at Reliant Park. Power and Wilson raced in both Champ Car events held at the circuit in 2006 and 2007.

“I honestly couldn’t remember that much anyway,” Power deadpanned. “Obviously it was delayed with the chicane. Apart from that, it’s a vicious circuit. Learn the braking point. But it’s a good day for us; I think we have a good car.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay and two-time Houston winner Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top five.

It was an adventurous session for points leader Helio Castroneves, who spun twice, and ended the session 11th. Power described how Castroneves has driven this season in pursuit of his elusive first championship.

“I think he’s just trying things; he’s an aggressive driver,” Power said. “He’s wanted a championship his whole career and is very close to getting that. To me, I’ve seen him at his absolute best this year. I think he’s driven the right way in every race to get the points, that’s put him in this position.”

Additionally interesting – perhaps humorous – was James Hinchcliffe’s trot down the length of the front straight in his firesuit and with his helmet still on after his newly pink No. 27 GoDaddy Chevrolet stopped at Turn 2.

Josef Newgarden didn’t complete a lap after damage incurred from the first practice session of the day.

Qualifying for Race 1 will occur from 10:45 to 11:15 a.m. Saturday morning. Rather than a Firestone Fast Six knockout session, qualifying will be a 30-minute session with the 24 cars split into two groups, each getting 12 minutes. That mirrors the format done for Race 2 at Detroit and Toronto, the previous two doubleheaders this season. The qualifying order for both days races will be based on a random draw and not these results.

A qualifying show was scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will be aired as planned; however, the content will change to cover the first practice sessions and additional material. Race 1 will still go live on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET and Sunday’s at 1 p.m. ET, both on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Hamilton leads first Monaco F1 practice, Button makes solid return

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing battle for supremacy in Formula 1 continued during first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning as the duo locked out the top two positions.

Hamilton and Vettel have won four of the opening five rounds of the 2017 season and look set to enjoy a season-long fight for the championship, representing Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Hamilton drew first blood in Monaco, turning in a best lap of 1:13.425 around the tight streets of the principality to finish two-tenths clear of Vettel at the top of the timesheets.

The session saw Mercedes and Ferrari run close once again, yet Red Bull was also able to get into the mix at the head of the field with Max Verstappen finishing third-fastest, three-tenths of a second off the pace. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth in the second Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less able to match his teammate’s pace, coming home seventh for Ferrari, half a second down on Vettel’s time in the same car.

Toro Rosso and Force India both had impressive sessions as both teams got their drivers into the top 10. Daniil Kvyat was sixth for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. was ninth, sandwiched by Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for Force India.

Jenson Button’s first running in a 2017-spec F1 car was impressive as he finished 14th for McLaren ahead of his one-off grand prix return. The Briton turned in 31 laps in total and lapped less than two-tenths of a second slower than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, proving he has lost little of his touch over the winter.

Running in Monaco continues with second practice live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Thursday.

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.

Bottas remains confident he can close gap in F1 title race

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MONACO (AP) Valtteri Bottas has put his recent bad luck behind him and remains confident he can close the gap in the Formula One title race at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver’s fledgling Mercedes career has been a topsy-turvy one since he joined from Williams as a replacement for F1 champion Nico Rosberg.

He drove brilliantly to win his first career race at the Russian Grand Prix after securing his first ever pole position in Sochi last month. But two weeks ago he was undone by engine problems in practice for the Spanish GP and then failed to finish because of a turbo issue late in the race.

“It’s one to forget for sure. It’s been a bit up and down for me this year,” Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. “Bad result, good result.”

His other results so far are two third places and one sixth place, putting him 41 points behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 35 behind three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate.

“The gap to Sebastian, to Lewis, is bigger than I was hoping for this year. But things can change quickly,” Bottas said. “What gives me confidence is that there is still 75 percent of the season left. I feel my best races are ahead this year. I feel I’ve done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level.”

Although Bottas has impressed with this speed, he has yet to show the hallmarks of a genuine title contender.

His magnanimous approach goes somewhat against that.

Bottas showed his team ethic by allowing Hamilton past him in Bahrain so that the British driver could chase after Vettel.

He did so again in Barcelona, holding up Vettel for a crucial few laps. That allowed Hamilton to gain some precious seconds on Vettel’s chasing Ferrari. Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing – except praise for his efforts.

It is a difficult situation for Bottas, who is on a one-year contract and has the added pressure of the demanding Hamilton as a teammate. With 55 race wins to his name, Hamilton is clearly the No. 1 driver, even though the team has not officially said so.

Over the past three years, Hamilton was on an equal footing with Rosberg as they fought each other for the title. This led to tensions and fall outs.

The 27-year-old Bottas is not relishing the prospect of finding himself in a similar position. But it might become inevitable if he does manage to close the gap on Hamilton and turn the title race into a genuine three-way battle.

“I can’t even imagine how it can be after a few years with a teammate battling for the title always. There is respect both ways (with Hamilton), which is good,” Bottas said. “(We are) just enjoying working together and hopefully that will help us in this close fight with Ferrari. It is a team sport anyway, so we need to push forward together.”

It’s hardly the talk of a driver desperate to win the title.

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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From the streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco, comes the crown jewel of the Formula 1 season (all times for the weekend via NBC or NBCSN here) this weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix.

And here with the pre-race updates from the paddock are NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales, along with the race crew from the F1 on NBC team who are on site in Monaco.

This is an interesting weekend for Monaco, given the Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle for race wins and the championship so far in 2017. There’s also the question of whether someone can spring a surprise in Monaco, as has been done on several occasions over the years.

Here’s the show, below: