Hamilton hits back to edge out Rosberg in FP2

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Lewis Hamilton has hit back during the second free practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix by finishing fastest on Friday afternoon at the Red Bull Ring.

The Briton posted a fastest lap time of 1:09.542 on the super-soft tire to beat teammate Nico Rosberg into second place, having suffered a reverse result during the first session on Friday.

FP2 saw the drivers head out and post some initial lap times on the prime tire before switching to the super-softs for their qualifying simulations. Even on the harder compound, Hamilton was still on top in the intra-Mercedes battle, while Valtteri Bottas ran well for Williams in third place on the primes.

On the super-softs, Hamilton and Rosberg were dominant once again, but this time Fernando Alonso proved to be their closest challenger. After finishing third in FP1, the Ferrari driver did the same again in FP2, although he was almost a second down on Hamilton at the front.

Bottas continued Williams’ good form by finishing fourth ahead of teammate Felipe Massa. The British team certainly appears to be in with a chance of scoring its first podium finish of the season this weekend, but after his disappointment in Canada, Massa will not be banking on anything until he sees the checkered flag.

Red Bull bounced back from a disappointing first session to finish sixth and eighth, with Sebastian Vettel ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. However, on home turf, it appears that the team will struggle to bother Mercedes at the front of the field.

It may seem to be a regular summation, but once again, Mercedes is the team to beat in Austria.

You can watch qualifying live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Saturday.

Ed Jones adds name to IndyCar’s elite as top rookie in 2017

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Sure, you can say Ed Jones didn’t have a full-season counterpart for IndyCar’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and so he was always going to win the award.

But in a year when you don’t have competition and the other first-year drivers did only selected races, you have to compare yourself to the rest of the field at large and make an impression – and Jones clearly did so for Dale Coyne Racing.

Per Trackside Online, Jones joins this list of drivers in the series’ full-time lineup who won top rookie honors in their year of eligibility: Alexander Rossi, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Heading into last year’s offseason, Jones was not the favorite to take over the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda; fellow Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran RC Enerson was on the heels of three impressive debut races at the tail end of 2016.

However Jones was always going to need a place to land with the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for at least three races. Between that and with additional budget gathered, Jones found his way into Dale Coyne’s second seat alongside Sebastien Bourdais and together the pairing clicked.

Coyne had his eye on him throughout 2016, and watched him win the Indy Lights title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – albeit under somewhat controversial circumstances when Carlin teammate Felix Serralles pulled aside to allow Jones through.

“It was Indy Lights. We went to his last race at Laguna Seca when he won the championship,” Coyne said. “We kept an eye on him. We keep an eye on all Indy Lights guys as well. It’s close, we can see them, watch them race, see how aggressive they are.

“He was always smooth in the car. I didn’t know how good he was going to be, because he was smooth. He doesn’t look like Paul Tracy in a car, but he drives better than Paul Tracy, at least in the beginning, at least Paul’s first year. He was a pleasant — it was the biggest surprise we’ve ever had.”

Jones, the 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit who makes his U.S. residence in Miami, was an instant hit on results if not on outright pace. But with finishes of sixth, 10th and 11th among his first five starts and other results lost due to circumstances outside his control, he immediately made a positive impact in the paddock.

Where Jones grew up fastest in a year where he matured so much from a more quiet and reserved driver in Indy Lights – much of that thanks to the family atmosphere at Coyne and its ace PR rep, Karina Redmond – was in May. Bourdais went from points leader and potential Indianapolis 500 contender to hospital-bound after his devastating accident in qualifying.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Max Chilton of England, driver of the #8 Gallagher Honda, Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, lead a pack of cars during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jones, meanwhile, was suddenly thrust into the unexpected role of team leader, not knowing week-to-week who his teammate might be depending on the issue. Similar to Alexander Rossi last year, Jones carried a quiet swagger during the month of May in Indianapolis, and was aggrieved for getting knocked out of the Fast Nine shootout.

What he did on race day was equally as impressive as Rossi’s 2016 win in the ‘500 if not more so, considering the disparity in equipment and the fact Jones’ car was damaged in the nose from debris contacting it earlier in the race.

That third place finish (and the double points that went with it) was enough to earn many votes for this year’s Indianapolis 500 top rookie honors (including from this writer) although it wasn’t enough to supplant Fernando Alonso for the award, somewhat controversially. Coyne couldn’t resist trolling during Jones’ season-long top rookie acceptance press conference at Sonoma.

“Obviously Indy, third place there. Did you get Rookie of the Year at Indy or no? Didn’t get that, okay,” Coyne deadpanned.

Alas, Jones pressed on anyway with a consistent appetite for learning, thanks to Coyne’s tutelage, Michael Cannon’s sharp mind on the engineering stand and a crew that embraced him.

“It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me,” Jones said. “But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb. Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.

“I seen myself as well as one of the guys, rookies, younger guys that would come in and they try to be right at the front the beginning. In a series that’s so competitive like this, it doesn’t really happen that often. It’s extreme difficult to do it. Sometimes doing that, you can actually take steps backwards because you kind of lose where you’re at. It’s always better to sort of take it step by step, yeah, get there that way.”

After a ninth place at Detroit race one, Jones’ results suffered the rest of the way through a myriad of mishaps – be it tough setups, bad caution timing, an occasional spin or pit stop issues. A seventh at Road America was the lone bright spot, and a potential top-10 championship finish went begging. Losing Bourdais hurt primarily from a setup standpoint.

“I wasn’t always sure if it was just me or if it was a lot with the car. Yeah, that was the main thing. Seb is really good with setting up the car. Having his feedback to work off from was really helpful,” he said.

“If I ever wasn’t sure about something, I could use him to back something up. Not having him there, yeah, made it harder. Sometimes I was guessing a bit more. So, yeah, that was the toughest part.”

Jones said his driving and development got better as the year went on as, paradoxically, the results got worse.

“It’s always difficult not having another full-time rookie to compare to. Then again, I’ve looked at the rookies over the last few years. I’ve seen it’s extremely tough. I feel pretty happy with how it’s gone in comparison to other guys recently,” he said.

“I wanted to finish top-10 in the points. Halfway through the season, we were on track to doing that. We had a good opportunity to do it. The last few races, things have maybe not gone to plan.

“But I feel like as a driver, I got stronger. Early on in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we’ve gone better, me as a driver, also binding with the team. We got stronger, but things just haven’t gone our way. It’s been frustrating.”

None of the issues were egregious and as Coyne related later, Jones was one of the cleanest drivers he’d ever had in a year where the crash damage bills added up fast.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, and Tristan Vautier, driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

With a rotating driver in the second car, be it James Davison, Esteban Gutierrez or Tristan Vautier before Bourdais’ welcome and surprise return at Gateway, Jones was the unexpected but needed rock in the driver lineup.

“I think it’s been a whole progression the whole year. We’ve run a lot of rookies over the years. We run rookies in tests that have never made it to a race, we ran rookies that made it to races,” Coyne said.

“He’s just a puppy. But he’s done a good job, very, very good. I don’t think he scratched the car. He actually did hit the wall at Pocono. The smallest amount of damage I’ve ever seen anybody do hitting a wall at Pocono. Done a very good job all year long, every track.”

Jones isn’t back yet for 2018, but Coyne said “We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year,” and wants to have a deal struck in the next few weeks.

Looking at what he did as a rookie was quite impressive. The five top-10s matched Conor Daly’s number last year as the lone full-season driver and while Daly was 18th in points in his first full season, Jones ended 14th.

That 14th place in the standings is a Coyne driver’s best finish in the standings since the late Justin Wilson’s incredible run to sixth in 2013, and actually a spot ahead of where Wilson was the following year in 2014, in 15th.

Jones’ qualifying average of 14.3 was 3.5 spots higher than Daly’s last year and Jones out-qualified his teammates nine times this year in 17 races, including Bourdais on three of eight attempts.

What he did for the team this year overall in a tough season will be remembered more than the results itself which again, were impressive given thee circumstances.

“It’s been very tough. But the whole team together, everyone within the team works very well together from the beginning of the year. A big shame to lose Seb after quite a few races. Everyone got on well with it. I remember after the accident, actually Dale got everyone together. We pushed forward,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lot of times that on Dale’s team, there’s things that have happened, gone up and down. As we’ve seen, they’ve always come back stronger.”

Photo: IndyCar

McLaren ‘very close’ to agreeing new F1 deal with Alonso

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McLaren is “very close” to agreeing a new Formula 1 contract with Fernando Alonso beyond the end of the 2017 season, according to team racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren announced last week in Singapore it would be splitting with struggling engine supplier Honda at the end of the season, linking up with Renault from 2018.

The decision was made in a bid to lift the team to the front of the field, having struggled for much of the past three years while working with Honda.

Alonso has made no secret of his frustration throughout the three-year stint, prompting the Spaniard to consider his future with McLaren upon the expiration of his contract at the end of the year.

With the driver market closing up, Alonso looks poised to remain with McLaren for 2018, but said in Singapore he is considering options in many series.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Boullier expressed his confidence in Alonso staying for 2018, saying a deal was “very close”.

“Fernando wants to stay. You can see it in his body language and the way he speaks,” Boullier added.

“There are marketing details that have to be sorted out, and that Zak [Brown, McLaren executive director] is working on.”

Despite suggestions of an ultimatum regarding its Honda partnership being issued to McLaren by Alonso, Boullier stressed that the team made the decision to switch to Renault by its own accord, with the drivers then fitting in afterwards for its 2018 plans.

“McLaren’s DNA is to be competitive. The team has always been in the top three and we belong there again,” Boullier said.

“Today we know that we have a decent chassis, which would allow us to be in the top three again with an equal level engine.

“So for us as a business it is important to be competitive, no matter what role Fernando plays. We had to make a decision for us.

“But if you want to be competitive you not only need an engine, you also need a driver. That is when Fernando comes into the picture.

“We did what we did for McLaren first, but the package includes also the driver.”

Behind the scenes of Pagenaud, Penske’s Sonoma strategic gem

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For the first time since 2014, the winner of the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale was not also the winner of the championship as well – and the upshot of that is that the race winner got overlooked as a result.

It’s with that in mind that it’s worth looking a bit deeper at Simon Pagenaud’s win on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, with an effort turned in by strategist Kyle Moyer and longtime engineer Ben Bretzman on the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet that would have been more widely hailed if it wasn’t in the backdrop of the championship celebration delivered by teammate Josef Newgarden.

All of Newgarden’s four wins this year, luck-aided in Barber and Toronto and via authoritative moves at Mid-Ohio and Gateway, entered the microscope in a way that shifted the focus to the bigger picture narrative of a championship pursuit in his first year.

Pagenaud’s season, by contrast, has been a series of consistently very good, but rarely great results. The Frenchman was the measure of consistency but admitted there were points left on the table when he didn’t engage the same level of aggression that served him so well en route to the 2016 title. Only at Phoenix, for Pagenaud’s overdue first oval triumph, was there that same 2016 level of beatdown this year.

This makes Pagenaud’s Sonoma drive, his second straight win in wine country, all the more noteworthy and impressive to dig into.

THE FOUR-STOP CALL

SONOMA, CA – SEPTEMBER 15: Simon Pagenaud of France driver of the #1 DXC Technology Chevrolet chats to his crew during practice on day 1 of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway on September 15, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

It was obvious when Pagenaud pitted on Lap 11 that he and his team were throwing a strategic gamble into the race, and as it turned out, being the only thing to spice up what would have been an otherwise straightforward and fairly dull race.

Pagenaud’s team had three sets of Firestone red alternate tires available at their disposal for the race start, and by starting on the black primary tires, could afford to run the reds in the race, before going back to blacks at the finish. The early pit stop call was the salvo that this would be a pure pace run to try to beat strategist Tim Cindric, Penske Racing president, at his own game.

“I think what you didn’t know is that probably two hours before the race, the drivers, we sat down, Tim and I sat down with the drivers and we talked about all the scenarios that could take place,” Roger Penske said afterwards in the post-race press conference.

“You’ve been here before when there’s a yellow that comes out that mixes up the field, and Simon put his hand up and said, I’ll be the guy, I’ll commit to come in on lap 10.”

Pagenaud wasn’t immediately keen on the call but trusted Bretzman to see if it could work.

“My engineer texted me when I was at the Verizon dinner, and he said, ‘We’re going to do four stops.’ I’m like, ‘What? Four stops never worked here; why would we do four stops?’ He said, ‘Well, if there’s a yellow, that’s the best way we can win the championship.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, that makes sense, but it’s a long shot.’

COMMITTING TO FOUR, THEN PRODUCING THE FIRST SIGN IT COULD WORK

Pagenaud’s early pit stop dropped him from fourth to 15th, but he was back to second and net leader by Lap 18, resuming on point once Conor Daly from the lead pitted on Lap 21.

The nine laps that followed in Pagenaud’s second stint of the race were huge. He ran six of those nine laps in the 1:19 bracket to build the gap to second place from 7.2835 seconds to 15.6117 seconds before making his next stop.

With Pagenaud on the scuffed reds while most of his rivals were on blacks in the second stint, Pagenaud parlayed Bretzman and Moyer’s strategic advantage to his benefit.

“I was really surprised on the second stint how strong we were compared to everybody. We were able to pass a lot of cars and made some very aggressive passes, and it was starting to really work,” he said.

“When I built a gap on Josef, 10 seconds, and then 11 and then 12, I was like, ooh, I think we have a chance. So then I thought, if we keep putting pressure, maybe something would happen. The strategy worked out really, really well.”

Pagenaud’s pace in the second stint was such that when he pitted for the second time on Lap 30, he only fell to 10th place, and then rebounded to the lead by Lap 40, just shy of halfway once everyone else made their next stops.

THE RACE COMES TO THE NO. 1 CREW

Once Daly pitted again on Lap 42, Pagenaud’s lead by Lap 43 was 25.546 seconds – so a net gain of 10 seconds between on-track pace, pit stops and in-and-out laps over that second stint of the race. And again, Pagenaud had the set of reds working for him and the lap times were again faster than the rest. Pagenaud uncorked five of six laps in the 1:19 range as he built the gap back up before stopping for a third time on Lap 48.

And again, because of the gap he’d built, his positions lost on track were minimal. He exited in third place and now could afford to run deeper into the final stint over the final 37 laps, needing one further stop. But they still had to guard against a yellow, because any full-course caution would have negated the progress and the gap built.

It was the IndyCar equivalent of a 0-0 soccer match where one mistake, one yellow card was all it took to have the tension boil over. Sometimes watching timing & scoring is the most thrilling part of an IndyCar race and this was one of those days.

THE FINAL STOPS, AND THAT DEFENSE

Newgarden was first in on Lap 62 and Pagenaud followed on Lap 64, with a lead of 31.1993 seconds. The pit stop delta is roughly 32 seconds and Pagenaud’s stop by his No. 1 crew was fast enough to propel him out of the pits just ahead of Newgarden, to set up the race’s lone on-track dramatic moment behind the computers. And the tire strategy was flipped too; now Pagenaud was on blacks, Newgarden on reds.

Newgarden made the pass attempt on the inside of Turn 7 but Pagenaud held tough on the outside, which set him up on the ideal line for the corner leaving it.

“It was tough, especially on the black tires. I was thinking about it before the pit stop. I was like, man, I’m going to come out on blacks and he’s going on reds. It’s going to be close!” Pagenaud said. “The in lap the tires were really starting to get used up and starting to have a lot of oversteer out of 7, was using some Push-to-Pass, and the rear end was really coming around a lot, and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if it’s going to be enough.’ Then when we did it, I was like, ‘Okay, now I’ve got to really be smart about how I’m going to handle this, ‘so I came out of the pit as hard as I could, took all the risks in the world, and tires came up really quick because I was so aggressive.

“After Turn 7, I knew I could keep it, so then — the nice thing is today I could be on the aggressive side and Josef had to be a little bit more on the defensive side, so I also took advantage of that.”

Newgarden, who still had the championship in his hands at this stage – he’d have needed to fall off the podium to lose that with Pagenaud leading – was still livid at his missed opportunity to pass Pagenaud anyway.

“Oh, 100 percent. I’m not joking. I was kind of steaming inside the car!” Newgarden laughed post-race.

“When I blocked Turn 7 and I saw him diving, I’m like, dude, be careful,” Pagenaud said.

That was the dramatic moment for the race. The strategy play had worked and Pagenaud had his second win of the season, and a fully earned one in his last race for now with the No. 1 adorning his car.

LESSONS LEARNED IN TITLE DEFENSE YEAR

Pagenaud spoke openly at the final two races about how he learned a couple key things this year: sustaining success is harder than achieving it in the first place, and aggression is always needed, particularly when you don’t think your teammate will try a move that’s risky.

The Frenchman was a great ambassador for the series all year as champion, if slightly off a step on-track on pure pace compared to his incredible 2016. Still, completing all laps in the season was incredibly impressive, and that fire to return to the top will only fuel him into the offseason.

“You know, at the end of the day, I think what is important to me is to perform at your best in those conditions. I think to me, the final champion is someone that can bring his A game or extra A game on a given time. I thought we did just that today as a team, myself as a driver, my engineer, my strategist, my guys, my crew in the pit stops. I think we did just that,” he said.

“And to me, when I look at Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and all these guys that really — obviously those guys are Formula 1 drivers, but think about some IndyCar drivers, Franchitti, these guys, when you think about these guys that have really marked the sport, the sport in general, Motorsports, I think today was one of those days for us.

“If you live in the past, you’re not going to improve yourself. Whatever happened there happened. I think Josef obviously won the championship, and that move was critical to his championship. Hat off to him. Next time I’ve got to be better. That’s it.

“Overall, the best man won, and Josef did. On the whole season, he was the strongest. I miss being the strongest, and I will come back next year, and I’m going to try to be the best.

Photo: IndyCar

VIDEO: Celebrating Mexico’s motorsport culture and racing history

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.