Five IndyCar title contenders throw first haymakers in season-long fight

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With Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud ending in the top five on Sunday behind St. Petersburg winner Will Power, you had five likely title contenders already throwing down their first punch in what should be a wide-open battle for this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

In 2012, these five were the top five finishers in the championship. In 2013, all bar Hunter-Reay ended in the top five, and that was more due to his poor luck than any drop-off in performance.

Power said after the race it was a mentally exhausting drive. Hunter-Reay said he pushed as hard as he could but just couldn’t catch the Australian and his 2012 title rival.

The 2013 title protagonists had similar opinions. Castroneves said this was the best thing he could do for a championship challenge; Dixon said this was a needed points day considering the No. 9 Target team has struggled traditionally at St. Pete.

Yet perhaps Pagenaud, in fifth in the No. 77 Environmental Rail Solutions Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, described it all best.

“It’s important when you are going for a championship, you realize you can’t compete for the win to get everything out of it. And today we got the best out of the car. We certainly had a top-five car and finished fifth. So it isn’t a bad day when you build championship contention. Power won today, but we’re in really good shape.”

In no race in 2013 did these five all finish in the top five in the same race. The closest they came was at Round 2 at Barber, when Hunter-Reay won with Dixon second, Castroneves third, Power fifth and Pagenaud sixth. Charlie Kimball in fourth was the only “title interloper.”

But in 2012, they came close to repeating this type of result at the St. Pete season opener. Castroneves won with Dixon second, Hunter-Reay third, Pagenaud sixth and Power seventh.

Daniel Ricciardo would relish being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo says he would relish the challenge of having Lewis Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and expressed interest in joining teams like Mercedes or Ferrari to help him challenge for the championship.

The Australian says he would “love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there.”

He adds: “I don’t want to say it’s just Lewis I’m looking for but that would be a good challenge.”

Ricciardo says he won’t accept a faster car if it means playing second fiddle to an established star.

He says “there’s always been really good clarity and fairness (at Red Bull) … and I would expect that environment everywhere.”