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Indy 500 winners meet the press during IndyCar winter meetings

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Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – the four current IndyCar Series drivers that have won the Indianapolis 500 – looked ahead to the upcoming new season in a special press event today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum.

As part of the event, Dixon received a miniature version of the Astor Cup, which has been presented annually since 2011 to the IndyCar Series champion. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver bagged his third series title with a fifth-place finish in last October’s season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

This year, he’ll be out to defend the championship with Chevrolet power behind him on the No. 9 TCGR machine after running a Honda powerplant for the last eight seasons.

“In some ways, change is enlightening,” Dixon said of the switch today. “Over a two-year period – if you look at the previous four or five years with Honda, it wasn’t the same because there was no [engine] competition – the last two years was a short time, but it was relationships you’d be working on for quite some time.

“The change is what it is, but it makes it interesting, too. The engine is totally different, even though they are very close and competitive on track. The ways they have reached that power and driveability from different directions and that’s quite exciting.”

Also joining Dixon this season at TCGR is Kanaan, the reigning Indy 500 champion, who himself is due a mini-trophy within the next 24 hours.

“…Tomorrow, I go to Detroit to finally get my Baby Borg,” said Kanaan, who recently had his face unveiled on the big version of the Borg-Warner Trophy. “I don’t have my [winner’s] ring yet, which I’m waiting for quite anxiously. A lot of things have happened since [last May]. But I have to say, all the good things that happened was because of the win.”

Kanaan will get his first taste of driving the No. 10 TCGR Chevy – the former ride of good friend and recently retired Dario Franchitti – during a Bowtie manufacturer test on Friday at Sebring International Raceway.

Montoya, the 2000 Indy 500 winner, is returning full-time to open-wheel this year with Team Penske, and after facing the Speedway for the past seven years as a NASCAR driver, he’s eager to get back in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing this May.

“Every year you came here and you’re not in an Indy car, it’s cool, but you want to come to the Museum to see the Indy cars,” he explained. “It’s not the same. The Brickyard [400] is a big deal, but it’s not the Indy 500.

“I never thought I’d be back here to try to get another win. I’m excited and to race here for Team Penske is a hell of a chance [to win].”

Then there’s Castroneves, who will make another bid for his fourth Indy triumph on Memorial Day weekend. He likened the ongoing IndyCar winter meetings to “coming back to school,” and also expressed his hope of making more history at the Speedway.

“It would be amazing and a dream come true to be in the same group as [four-time Indy winners] Rick [Mears], A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr,” he said. “I know it’s a big task, but I have big dreams as well.”

Hulkenberg signing buys Renault time to decide on second seat

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo on track during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur is in no rush to complete the team’s driver line-up for 2017, saying that the recent arrival of Nico Hulkenberg has given him more time to make a decision on the German’s teammate.

Hulkenberg was lured away from Force India for the 2017 season, announcing last week that he had signed to join Renault and aid its revival after its return to F1 as a constructor this year.

Renault is thought to have been chasing a number of drivers under contract elsewhere for 2017, including Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

However, Renault is still exploring a number of options for its second seat, with Vasseur seeing no reason to rush any decision.

“We are in talks with many drivers,” Vasseur told the official F1 website.

“For sure, that we have secured the situation with Nico buys us time. Now we can postpone the decision for the second cockpit.

“Yes, we do have some young drivers and rookies in the loop, so it is important to see how they are improving.”

Bottas was strongly linked with a move away from Williams for 2017, but reports over the United States Grand Prix weekend suggest that he will now stay on with the British team.

“I also have a good relationship with Valtteri. He drove for me for three or four years in the past,” Vassuer said.

“We won the GP3 championship together. But Valtteri is under contract with Williams.

“That is not the same story as [Hulkenberg] with Force India.”

Magnussen recently admitted that he was getting impatient about his future with Renault, as well as adding that he was “millimeters” away from signing a new contract with the French team.

“His situation has not changed. Millimeters. But if you have the pen millimeters off the paper, what then?”

Famous faces descend on Austin for USGP weekend

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks with actors Christoph Waltz and Rosa Salazar in the garage  during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 has a habit of attracting the rich and famous out to play for the weekend, and the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas has been no exception to the rule.

A number of celebrities have descended on the Circuit of The Americas this weekend to catch some on-track action.

Some of the names have appeared in the F1 paddock before, but others are first-timers at COTA, keen to get a glimpse of one of the most exciting sports in the world.

Here’s a quick social run-down of the famous faces that have been spotted this weekend.

Tennis star Venus Williams was a guest of Mercedes on Saturday, and even took time to congratulate Lewis Hamilton following his charge to pole position.

Noted actor and villain in the latest James Bond film, Spectre, Christoph Waltz made an appearance in the Mercedes garage, receiving a tour from Hamilton himself.

American actress Rosa Salazar joined Waltz in the Mercedes garage.

NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon took some time out of his busy schedule to pay a visit to COTA, spotted here chatting to Nico Rosberg before the race.

F1 aficionado and TV chef Gordon Ramsay chatted with McLaren chief Ron Dennis ahead of the race – given McLaren’s excellent catering, it was probably not about the food…

McLaren’s other guest is literally out of this world: British astronaut Tim Peake.

Skateboarding star Ryan Scheckler has been with Red Bull all weekend, seen here swapping gear with Daniel Ricciardo.

Skier Lindsey Vonn received a birthday surprise from the Red Bull drivers.

Gerard Butler is another big F1 fan, seen here chatting with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

2016 Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen also came along (not many free seats in the Red Bull garage!).

Verstappen unlikely to change style despite F1 defense rule clarification

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in the garage during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen doubts he will change his on-track racing style despite the FIA’s clarification of permitted defensive moves in Formula 1 ahead of Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

Verstappen came under fire from his rivals in Hungary and Belgium earlier this year after appearing to move under braking, and was subject to a brief protest from Mercedes in Japan for the same reason.

Verstappen’s on-track moves were brought up in Friday’s drivers’ briefing at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, prompting FIA race director Charlie Whiting to clarify the rules regarding defensive moves.

Whiting confirmed that any move under braking that forces the car behind to take evasive action will be investigated by the stewards, appearing to clamp down on Verstappen’s moves.

However, the Dutchman told reporters on Saturday evening that he doubted it would have any effect on his approach or style on-track.

“I don’t think so. I think it’s good to make it more clear what’s allowed and what’s not,” Verstappen said, as quoted by Reuters.

“So far it said in the rules that you could go to the inside under braking. Now it’s not. So we’ll see how that’s going to affect the racing.”

Verstappen will start fourth on the grid in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET.

Hamilton: ‘Incredible’ to be closing in on Senna’s pole tally

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP waves to the crowd after qualifying in pole position during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton finds it “incredible” to be closing in on Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna’s tally of pole positions after adding to his haul in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

Hamilton scored the 58th pole of his F1 career in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in Q3, recording the fastest ever lap around the Circuit of The Americas.

Hamilton trails only Michael Schumacher (68) and Senna (65) in the list for all-time poles in F1, the latter being an inspiration to the Briton throughout his junior racing days.

“Seven is still a long way to go but to think that I’m within shooting distance is incredible,” Hamilton said after qualifying at COTA.

“But it also just goes to show just how amazing a driver he was. To get as many poles as that in the amount of time that he had, it’s taken me a lot longer to get where I am so it was clearly phenomenal.”

At just 31 years old, Hamilton stands a good chance of becoming F1’s all-time pole position leader, particularly if Mercedes can continue its current domination of the sport over into the 2017 season.

In the running for the FIA Pole Trophy in 2016, Hamilton pulled clear of Rosberg in Austin, the pair previously tied for eight poles heading into the weekend. Daniel Ricciardo is the only other driver to have started a race from pole this year, leading the field away in Monaco.

Hamilton is bidding for his fourth victory at COTA in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET.