Sato on top in IndyCar St. Petersburg second practice

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ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. –  Takuma Sato led the second round of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Sato, who qualified second in this race a year ago, posted a flier of 1:02.5615 in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda for A.J. Foyt Racing. It occurred on his 22nd and final flying lap.

He was third in the morning session and this backed the pace up, even though he said the track seemed a little slower this year.

“I am very excited to back in St. Petersburg and excited to be on track,” said Sato, who has a best finish of fifth in four previous St. Pete races (2011). “The conditions were not very representative as usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked really well and we made good progress during this session. Let’s hope this continues and we will work on speed for (qualifying).”

Graham Rahal got the No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda up to second at 1:02.6122, with four-time defending St. Petersburg pole sitter Will Power third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:02.6443.

Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five. Practice 1 leader and defending race champion James Hinchcliffe was seventh.

The 45-minute practice session was peppered with red flag interruptions; Sebastian Saavedra, Juan Pablo Montoya, Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth all had minor off-course excursions but nothing that produced serious damage.

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”