Simon Pagenaud leads 1-2 finish for Schmidt team in Houston Race 2 (VIDEO)

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Simon Pagenaud may have had the fastest car throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series’ doubleheader weekend in Houston, but brake problems on his car meant that he didn’t get to show it in Saturday’s Race 1.

In today’s Race 2, he had no such problems and went on to lead Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports to a 1-2 finish at NRG Park. Pagenaud’s second win of the season also bolsters his title hopes; while he stayed fourth in the standings, he moved to within 59 points of leader Will Power.

Climbing out of his No. 77 Oculus Transport Honda, Pagenaud apologized for not being exuberant over his success due to the hot and humid conditions this afternoon in Houston. But he was still very much pleased.

“The car was just beautiful,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “I don’t know if you saw the on-board but it was awesome braking, awesome traction, awesome grip. What else [more] could you expect from a driver?

“That’s why I was so disappointed yesterday. We had such a fast car this weekend. Thanks to the group at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. We regrouped really well after Detroit and they came up with this package. Beautiful.”

When asked if today was the most challenging race he’s done, Pagenaud answered in the affirmative.

“Not in terms of steering effort, but exhaustion from heat,” he said. “There was no air. As you could see under yellows, I was opening the visor but the safety car was going so slow, so I wasn’t getting any air in the helmet. Even the safety car was worse than running fast. But, yeah – good day though!”

Additionally, two rookies were able to hit the Houston podium for the second day in a row. SPHM’s own rookie, Mikhail Aleshin, survived a mid-race incident with Graham Rahal to finish second, while Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth finished third after fighting off veterans such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball.

Aleshin thought his day was over after he ran into the back of Rahal on Lap 29 following the American’s pit stop.

“At that moment, I thought that was it,” said the Russian, who made his last stop on Lap 51 of 90. “But we had a good strategy and I had the same pace as the leaders, so I could catch up and overtake some of them – and with the strategy, we were up there.

“And then – can you imagine? – in the end, I had a flat tire. I had a flat tire on my car in the last few laps, so I was really lucky to finish actually. Really lucky. The team did an amazing job. I don’t have any English words to thank the team for that, because they did an amazing job.”

Hawksworth has shown promising flashes of speed up to today, and he definitely deserves his podium following his battle with the likes of Montoya and Kimball.

But he also benefited from Power suffering a rear suspension failure in the final few laps, which forced him to abandon a possible podium of his own. The Australian wound up finishing 11th.

However, his closest title pursuer, Helio Castroneves, crashed today on Lap 49. That means Power’s lead over the Brazilian has returned to 39 points – the same margin he had going into the weekend.

Castroneves was a threat to win today from the pole position, but lost the lead to Pagenaud following a Lap 48 restart. One lap later, contact with Sebastien Bourdais sent into the outside retaining wall at Turn 6.

Bourdais sustained a damaged front wing in the incident but battled through it to finish fifth behind Kimball in fourth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth today, followed by Montoya in seventh, Ryan Briscoe in eighth, Marco Andretti in ninth, and Tony Kanaan in 10th.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON
Race 2 at NRG Park – Final Results

Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
2. (2) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 90, Running
3. (23) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 90, Running
4. (19) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
5. (5) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, 90, Running
6. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
7. (14) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
8. (15) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
9. (16) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 90, Running
10. (8) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 90, Running
11. (18) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 90, Running
12. (6) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, 89, Running
13. (17) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy, 89, Running
14. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, 89, Running
15. (12) Luca Filippi, Rahal-Honda, 88, Running
16. (4) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, 87, Running
17. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, 84, Running
18. (11) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 78, Running
19. (10) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, 74, Contact
20. (22) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 61, Mechanical
21. (1) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 48, Contact
22. (9) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 40, Contact
23. (13) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, 2, Off Course

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 78.981 mph
Time of Race: One hour, 51 minutes, 43.0625 seconds
Margin of victory: 7.2622 seconds
Cautions: 5 for 21 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 2 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Castroneves 1 – 30
Pagenaud 31
Castroneves 32 -48
Pagenaud 49 – 90

Point Standings: Power 405, Castroneves 366, Hunter-Reay 364, Pagenaud 346, Montoya 289, Andretti 281, Munoz 270, Bourdais 242, Dixon 237, Hinchcliffe 229.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.