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Houston IndyCar weekend rebounds in a big way after 2013 trials (VIDEO)

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It’s fair to say that heading into this weekend, Houston had a bit to prove as an event on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.

A trying first weekend back on the calendar last October was not without its challenges. And in theory, a doubleheader the last weekend of June for this year shouldn’t have improved things.

But following the two races that made up the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, it’s definitely easier to say this was a much smoother, better second year than the first.

The weekend this time around was not without its speed bumps and question marks. The heat and humidity did make things uncomfortable, particularly on Sunday.

And the biggest misstep of the weekend from an organizational standpoint came during Sunday morning’s qualifying, when two men somehow were able to run across a hot track from one side to the other just prior to Turn 6. Per this Autosport report, INDYCAR and track officials said they’d work on a fix.

Putting those two aside, otherwise, the $1 million in investments and upgrades put in by the event organizers seemed to pay dividends. The M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park circuit was still bumpy, but not nearly as rocky and craterous as it had been last October. Fortunately the new catch fencing enhancements didn’t need to be crash tested.

And the races? Smashingly entertaining, baby. Between various strategies, weather conditions, a flood of passes, penalties and controversies and a vintage, cursing A.J. Foyt, IndyCar’s pair of races had everything you could ask for and then some.

Last year, Mike Conway dominated race one in Detroit coming in off the couch driving Dale Coyne’s beloved yet perpetually underfunded second car, and the IndyCar world collectively asked, “How the hell did that just happen?”

Saturday, an unheralded 23-year-old Colombian rookie named Carlos Huertas – better known as “TBA” just five days before St. Petersburg – managed to bag his first career win in a canny, mature drive beyond his years in the beloved yet perpetually underfunded second Dale Coyne car. And again, the IndyCar world collectively asked, “How the hell did that just happen?”

As he did in Detroit race two last year, Simon Pagenaud again won race two in Houston. It was yet another sign the Frenchman must be considered among IndyCar’s elite drivers at the time being, as his already high stock continues to climb in the paddock.

Behind them, the fight for the rest of the top five was seriously entertaining. It was a battle of generations as Juan Pablo Montoya, back in IndyCar and adding to the spice of the series, fought tooth and nail with rookie Jack Hawksworth – the Englishman was all of eight and nine years old when JPM swept through CART in 1999 and 2000 like a storm through “tornado alley.”

This is why IndyCar is brilliant at the moment. You run through the stats and the level of competition is off the charts. You see the racing and wonder how much better can it get. You hear the excitement of the commentators in the NBCSN booth, just adding to and enhancing what was already a great show on track.

When an event at Houston, which is by no means a classic circuit, delivers the level of awesomeness that this weekend did, it speaks volumes of the caliber of racing IndyCar can put on at a single event right now.

It also helped to redeem the event, which rebounded nicely in 2014 after its 2013 return to the calendar.

Here’s all 2017 F1 cars on track today at Barcelona (PHOTOS)

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari leads Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Yesterday we took a look at all 10 Formula 1 chassis for the 2017 season, most standing still with the exception of the both the Ferrari SF70H and Haas VF-17, shot during a shakedown at Fiorano and a filming day at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, respectively.

Today though provided an opportunity to see all 10 Formula 1 cars on track with the first day of testing, a recap of which is linked here. You can hear all four engine notes and most of the cars here.

Here’s a run through of photos of them (all photos by Getty Images):

Mercedes W08 EQ Power+

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Red Bull RB13

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari SF70H

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Force India VJM10

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM10 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM10 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM10 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM10 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Williams FW40

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

McLaren-Honda MCL32

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Toro Rosso STR12

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Haas VF-17

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Renault R.S.17

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Sauber C36

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Times plunge as Hamilton leads first day of first Barcelona test

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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All the talk heading into the 2017 Formula 1 season was that the new cars would be significantly quicker than their predecessors, and in day one of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, that was exactly the case.

Lewis Hamilton took the new Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+ to a best time of 1:21.765, which was nearly 3.2 seconds faster than the quickest time on day one of testing last year, set by Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari (1:24.939).

Vettel was second today in the Scuderia Ferrari SF70H, also in the 1:21 bracket at 1:21.878. Former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, now back for 2017 despite his planned retirement, was third in Williams Martini Racing’s FW40 chassis at 1:22.076.

MORE: Hear sounds from the cars at today’s test (VIDEO)

Vettel led the way from a lap count standpoint at 128 of them, with Massa also cracking the 100-lap threshold at 103.

But as Mercedes AMG Petronas banked over 150 laps on day one last year, they’ve done the same this year – albeit with both drivers.

Hamilton ran the afternoon session and completed 73 laps while the team’s new recruit, Valtteri Bottas, did 79 for his first official running with the team in the morning session. That meant Mercedes had 152 laps in the books out of the box.

While Mercedes was pounding away, others were less successful from a lap count and mileage standpoint.

Sensor and battery issues limited Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo to 50 total laps on the day, but the Australian was back going fuller in the afternoon in the not-so-unlucky RB13.

Kevin Magnussen completed the same number of laps in his first day at Haas F1 Team, despite an off at Turn 10 that damaged his front wing of the VF-17 chassi. Magnussen (1:22.894) and Ricciardo (1:22.926) were fourth and fifth on the day.

Their days were still slightly better than Sahara Force India, with Sergio Perez only clocking 39 laps in his VJM10 and McLaren, which lost most of the day to an oil systems issue for Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard made it out for 29 laps.

All drivers with the exception of Sauber F1 Team’s Marcus Ericsson ran a faster lap today than Vettel’s best time of last year; Ericsson was only able to muster a 1:26.841.

Most of the fast runs were set on Pirelli’s red labeled supersoft compounds.

As ever, times aren’t as important as lap counts in testing and from that standpoint, Mercedes seems to have got off to another fast start with the other two 100-lap teams not as far behind.

Times are below; more to follow.

OVERALL

MORNING

IMSA 2017 Sebring test results

imsa_29055418
Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing for the 65th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring took place last week on Thursday and Friday, with Cadillac DPi-V.Rs again setting the pace across the board for the quartet of sessions.

A busy couple of days occurred, with the majority (if not all) those that raced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona joined by a handful of intriguing newcomers or returnees.

The Ferrari debut of Juan Pablo Montoya, along with the U.S. debut of Alex Lynn for the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac team and the return of sports car veterans Marino Franchitti (Mazda) and Spencer Pumpelly (Alegra Motorsports) highlighted the new drivers.

IMSA’s recaps from Thursday and Friday are linked in this sentence, with test times below. Use this as a reference for when the series returns from March 16-18 for the second round of both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup seasons.

THURSDAY

Session 1
Session 2

FRIDAY

Session 3
Session 4

F1 testing returns, as do the sounds of this year’s cars (VIDEO)

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Today marked the first day of running for Formula 1’s new 2017 cars in anger at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, as this week sees a four-day test from today through March 2.

And thanks to an apparent relaxing of the rules to allow for teams to post quick video on social media, you can hear the new cars as well as see them.

This is a good spot from F1 on NBC Sports producer Jason Swales:

Teams and onlookers at the test have taken the opportunity to post up these video clips to Twitter. An assortment of clips are below:

MERCEDES

RED BULL

FORCE INDIA

WILLIAMS

MCLAREN

TORO ROSSO

HAAS

RENAULT

Ferrari and Sauber haven’t yet released clips from their official accounts, but those may come later today. In the meantime, here’s a couple still shots the teams released:

FERRARI

SAUBER