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Castroneves hits 227-plus to lead Thursday Indy 500 practice

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Helio Castroneves turned in a tow-assisted 227.166 mph in the waning moments of Thursday’s six-hour practice for the Indianapolis 500, easily the fastest lap of the month in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Premium Chevrolet for Team Penske.

“It was awesome,” Castroneves said. “The car is handling really well. Certainly the draft counts a lot here. I feel very comfortable in the Pennzoil No. 3 machine. I don’t know fastest lap but I think it was a (2)26 last year. Conditions are really good. Cool, good for the tires, good for the Chevy engine. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Right now we’re looking ahead of the game.”

He had been second prior to that, and his lap beat that set by Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for his own Ed Carpenter Racing team. The defending Indianapolis 500 polesitter’s best lap was a tow-assisted 226.257 mph.

Castroneves’ teammate Will Power was third with KV Racing Technology’s Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport completing the top five.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan jumped up to sixth with Carpenter’s ECR Indianapolis teammate JR Hildebrand seventh, and the third Penske entry of Juan Pablo Montoya eighth.

Kurt Busch, back after missing a day to focus on his NASCAR obligations in Charlotte, was ninth at 224.739 and Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud completed the top 10.

Elsewhere Carlos Huertas did well to get above 224 mph, and Sebastian Saavedra (223.955) and Martin Plowman (223.495) found speed they’d otherwise been lacking in traffic most of the week.

EJ Viso ran 40 laps in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data car before his engine cut out, and that ended his day. It may have ended his month as well with James Hinchcliffe cleared to drive following a concussion suffered Saturday in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hinchcliffe’s car was towed out to pit lane near the end of the session but was unable to complete any laps for him to get back on course.

Buddy Lazier completed his refresher program and ran his first 18 laps of the month, with a best in the 218 mph range, while rookie James Davison completed the first two phases of his Rookie Orientation Program in single car runs. He ran his third in traffic, and ran more than 60 laps in total.

Today’s laps were the last with cars in race mode for the next three days. Extra boost will come into play for Fast Friday and speeds should top 230 mph for both single car and tow-assisted runs.

Here’s Thursday’s speeds.

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F1 qualifying to be red flagged if double waved yellows are shown

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: A marshal waves the red flag during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that qualifying sessions will now be red flagged in the event of double waved yellow flags being shown following the saga surrounding Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary.

Double waved yellows were shown at the end of Q3 in Hungary last weekend after Fernando Alonso spun, forcing a number of drivers to abandon their final qualifying laps.

Rosberg was one of the last to come through the yellow flag zone, lifting slightly through Turn 8 before posting a quicker time to take pole position.

The stewards investigated Rosberg’s lap, and although they were satisfied that he slowed sufficiently, the fall-out from the case has continued ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

On Thursday, Lewis Hamilton told NBCSN that the case set a precedent for all other drivers when it comes to reacting to double waved yellow flags, fearing that it could cause a safety issue in the future.

However, there will be no repeat of Rosberg’s actions in Hungary, with Whiting confirming on Friday in a press briefing that the red flag will now be shown to prevent drivers from improving their lap times.

“Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice,” Whiting said.

“We can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time.

“The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended, but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front.

“So I think the procedure would be to red flag any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

“That’s what I intend to do in the future, just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not.”

Dixon leads IndyCar opening practice at Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – At a track he traditionally dominates, Scott Dixon fired the first shot of the weekend.

The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ran a best lap of 1:04.4491 around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to lead the 75-minute first practice.

Dixon enters the weekend 83 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud and needs a big weekend to have much hope to continue as Verizon IndyCar Series champion. He also enters after the news came out earlier this week that the team’s longtime primary sponsor, Target, will depart IndyCar at the end of the year.

Three Team Penske drivers – Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – were second through fifth with Tony Kanaan interspersed in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in fourth.

James Hinchcliffe was top Honda in the first session of the Honda Indy 200 weekend, in P6.

Series debutante RC Enerson was 1.1042 of a second off the session lead but the nature of the field is so close that the driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was 21st.

Teammate Conor Daly had an off in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, potentially with oil on track, and nosed into the tire barriers at the Keyhole. It brought out the only red flag of the session.

Daly was OK and so was the car, except for the front wing assembly leaving the car.

“I hadn’t broke any later. Maybe oil down? I went straight off,” Daly told IndyCar Radio. “Really weird. But maybe that’s what happens to the track. I don’t have a ton of experience. I shouldn’t be doing that.”

Power had an off, Mikhail Aleshin had a 360-degree spin, and Alexander Rossi also went off, but none of those produced any dmage

Times are below. Second practice runs from 2 to 3:15 p.m. ET and local time, and airs LIVE on NBCSN (Also online at http://indystream.nbcsports.com) from 2 to 4.

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MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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After seizing the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton arrives in Germany looking to extend his advantage over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap stands at six points after 11 races, and with Hockenheim hosting the final grand prix before the summer break, now is the perfect time to finish on a high and take plenty of momentum into the run to Abu Dhabi.

As ever, MST writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno have made their picks ahead of the German Grand Prix weekend. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Hamilton may have the momentum after five wins in six races, but I’m backing Rosberg to hit back this weekend and take a second win on home soil. If he doesn’t, it could be a big blow to his title chances.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. This marks Vettel’s first home race as a Ferrari driver, bringing back memories of Michael Schumacher’s success at Hockenheim. While victory may be out of reach without some divine intervention, I’ll say Seb can finish on the podium behind the two Mercedes drivers.

Most to Prove: Rio Haryanto. Haryanto has done a solid job so far this season, but with talks about his funding ongoing, he needs to impress this weekend. It can’t harm his case.

Additional Storyline: Crowd figures at Hockenheim. After a disappointing turn-out in 2014, will Hockenheim enjoy a better turnout this weekend after two years away? Here’s hoping…

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Continuing with the “home driver wins his home grand prix” theme, I peg Rosberg to get one back over Hamilton this weekend and retake the championship lead.

Surprise Finish: Felipe Massa. Traditionally strong at Hockenheim and with upgrades coming this weekend, a top-five finish is possible for a driver and Williams team that needs it.

Most to Prove: Danill Kvyat. A run of ordinary and forgettable races has followed for him against Carlos Sainz Jr. at Toro Rosso. Would love to see him do something of note.

Additional Storyline: July exhaustion. Fourth race in five weeks and at a track the teams didn’t run at last year. How will the teams hold up and will there be any more mistakes of note?

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

However, Button later updated that he’d be good to go for Saturday’s running.