Ryan Briscoe fastest in IndyCar Practice 3 at St. Pete

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Chip Ganassi Racing returnee Ryan Briscoe made a late charge to top the time sheets in this morning’s third and final practice before qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Briscoe threw down a lap of 1:02.4236 in the No. 8 NTT Data Chevrolet, enough to beat out former Team Penske teammate and fellow Chevy man Helio Castroneves (1:02.4730) for P1 in the session.

“It’s tough conditions out there with the wind,” Briscoe said. “The car feels not great, but everyone is struggling with the balance. We’ve made quite a few setup changes and nothing really made the improvement.”

Honda-powered Takuma Sato continued his steady weekend so far in St. Pete, logging the third fastest time this morning at 1:02.5243 in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. entry. Sato was P3 in yesterday’s morning session and then topped the afternoon session later on.

After him came another pair of Chevy drivers – KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (1:02.5445) in fourth, and another Penske pilot, Will Power (1:02.5996), in fifth.

Simon Pagenaud, defending St. Pete champion James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, reigning series champion Scott Dixon, and rookie Jack Hawksworth rounded out the Top 10.

Qualifying is set to begin this afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. In case you’ve forgotten or are new to the sport, IndyCar utilizes a form of the knockout-style format that begins with two groups of drivers (you can see today’s groups in Tony DiZinno’s notebook from last night).

Each group receives 10 minutes of track time to set their best lap, and the top six from each group will advance to the second round. The rest will make up the grid from 13th on back (Group 1 drivers make up the odd-numbered positions, Group 2 drivers make up the even-numbered positions).

In the second round, the 12 remaining drivers will get another 10 minutes of track time. At the end of that, the six fastest move on the final round – the “Firestone Fast Six.” Those unable to advance set positions 7-12 on the grid.

In the FF6, competitors will get 10 minutes of track time with a guarantee of five minutes’ worth of green-flag time. They also receive an additional set of tires to use in this segment. The fastest driver wins the pole, with the remainder setting positions 2-6.

Brown: Dennis would have made same decision on McLaren-Honda split

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Zak Brown believes former McLaren team boss Ron Dennis would have made the same decision to cut ties with struggling Formula 1 engine partner Honda had he still been in charge at the team in 2017.

McLaren executive director Brown helped engineer a deal for the team to split with Honda at the end of the 2017 season after three tough seasons that had seen the Japanese manufacturer offer little in the way of performance or reliability.

The decision split opinion, with McLaren spurning a significant annual financial injection from Honda in order to link up with Renault, believing its on-track fortunes had to be prioritized over its commercial interests.

In an interview with Sky Sports, Brown was asked if he believed Dennis – McLaren’s long-running team chief before stepping down at the end of 2016 – would have made the same decision to cut ties with Honda.

“I think he would have,” Brown said.

“He was here when those conversations were ongoing and I think Ron always has and always will have the best interests of McLaren in his heart.

“He is Mr. McLaren. It burns him inside as much as us not to see us winning races.”

Brown also elaborated on the decision to break off the much-lauded relationship with Honda, saying the first signs of trouble with the 2017 power unit were clear in pre-season.

After a number of attempts to try and rectify the situation, Brown and his fellow team bosses felt there was no alternative but to end the Honda deal for 2018.

“We knew we were in trouble in testing in Barcelona and we worked really hard for six months to try and find solutions that would give us confidence that we’d be much more competitive in 2018,” Brown said.

“Ultimately, after trying many different things and many different ways we felt we couldn’t get there.

“Three years is a long time in Formula 1 and so we needed to change the direction to get our team back at the top.”