Can Helio finally turn dream of 4th Indy 500 win into reality?

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The most hallowed club in the realm of the Indianapolis 500 is made up of three men: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears, who have all earned four victories each in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

For a time, it looked like a fourth man, Helio Castroneves, was seemingly on his way to joining that club. But over the last four years, which has seen the competition only get tougher, the Brazilian’s Indy magic has ebbed with finishes of ninth, 17th, 10th, and sixth.

However, another opportunity awaits him today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he always senses the call of history.

“Every time I go here, it brings me great memories,” the Team Penske driver said Thursday. “But we can’t live in the past. We’ve got to look ahead and we’re doing everything we can to accomplish that. I feel very confident.”

For this year’s ‘500,’ Castroneves is paying tribute to Mears, who now serves as Team Penske’s driver coach, by carrying a special livery that nods to Mears’ second ‘500’ win for Penske back in 1984.

With that in mind, it would seem fitting if Castroneves chalked up Indy win No. 4 today. But in order to finally break through for that incredible milestone, Castroneves and his Shell/Pennzoil crew will have to keep one step ahead of a tight field.

To him, there are no also-rans in this year’s 33-car lineup, which is also the fastest in ‘500’ history.

“I think all the teams and drivers have stepped up their game and that’s why [everyone’s] so close to each other; it’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said.

And as such, it will be the little things that likely prove giant once again.

“I thought last year, there were a lot of drivers that had a chance to win and I don’t think that’s different this year,” he said. “Details will make the difference, whether it’s a pit stop, if it’s strategy or things like that.

“Those are the things that will give you an opportunity to win this race.”

Castroneves also noted the importance of being able to keep up at the front of the pack throughout the day and making the right decisions in regards to timing passes out of the draft.

“Normally, in the past, the time to go was the last pit stop but here, the way the things are going, if you’re not there in the Top 5 – especially in the beginning, because it’s so difficult to pass,” he said.

“Everybody seems to be able to have a very good car in the draft. You’ve got to plan [passes] well.”

But if all goes right for Castroneves and he finally earns his fourth ‘500’ title, he’ll no longer have to dream about what it would mean.

“In my dreams, it’s meant the world,” he said. “Just thinking about it, joining a club with only three guys – I hope I can answer that question after the race.”

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.