IndyCar: Penske pair edge ahead in points at end of Toronto weekend

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TORONTO – Neither Helio Castroneves nor Will Power won either of the Honda Indy Toronto races this weekend. But with a pair of podiums and their title rivals Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Juan Pablo Montoya all having at least one issue in one of the two races, Castroneves and Power have taken the momentum out of Toronto heading to the final four races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Castroneves ended second and 12th; the former result increased his points lead as Power was only ninth. But the Australian’s third place finish in race two caught him back up.

Of course, Power’s weekend can’t be discussed without mentioning his race one spin on Saturday, when he looped it at Turn 11 and damaged the left rear suspension. A rapid effort by the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet crew got the car back together in less than a half hour and even gave him the chance to race, although he was eventually moved to the rear of the grid for race one when it eventually did race on Sunday.

Castroneves now leads Power by 13 points, 533-520, as the series heads for an off weekend before the final stretch of four races in five weekends in August.

It’s an intriguing situation for “The Captain,” Roger Penske, who could well see two of his own fight to win the 2014 title. Both drivers still seek their first championship while Penske seeks his first as an owner since 2006 (Sam Hornish Jr.).

Both drivers continue to focus on maximizing their own races, rather than worrying about their competitors.

“I don’t drive looking to the other guys.  I drive when I can push and make it happen, you know?” Castroneves said after his runner-up finish in race one.

Added Power following race two, “At the end of the day you’re always reminded about the championship by the media and your team on the radio.  I’ve been so many times in a massive points lead halfway through the season, you get into a points race, and it’s just no good.  You have to think of the task at hand.”

While these two now hold the edge leaving Toronto, it was a tough Sunday for the other three that needed good Sundays to get back within striking distance.

Hunter-Reay’s passing attempt on Tony Kanaan in race one ended in tears and left the three-time winner this year 21st. It didn’t get much better in race two with a 14th place finish. Hunter-Reay is still third in points, but after leaving Iowa down 32 to Castroneves, he’s now 69 back after Sunday.

Pagenaud rebounded to fourth in race one after he was contacted by rookie Luca Filippi on the opening lap, which blocked the track exiting Turn 4. But the driver of the No. 77 Oculus Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda ended 22nd in race two, retiring due to an ill-timed electronic issue. Pagenaud is fourth in points and a further two behind “RHR.”

JPM’s day was highlighted – unfortunately – by his nosing into the Turn 8 barrier in race two, then being wedged on top of Mikhail Aleshin who had nowhere to go on the slick surface. Finishes of 18th and 19th made for a miserable Sunday, and leaves Montoya 105 points behind Castroneves in fifth.

Sixth through 10th is a crapshoot, with only 29 points separating new sixth-place man Scott Dixon, defending series champion, from Sebastien Bourdais in 10th.

Although double points are on offer for the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on August 30, it’s still likely going to require drivers being within the 25-30 point range of the leaders to have a shot.

“It will be fun to have people up there at the end,” Power said. “The last race, double points, there will be – I’m going to say there will be four people in contention, I reckon.  A lot can happen … and man, it can turn so quickly, I don’t know.”

Here’s the top 10 following race two:

1.  Helio Castroneves, 533
2.  Will Power, 520
3.  Ryan Hunter-Reay, 464
4.  Simon Pagenaud, 462
5.  Juan Pablo Montoya, 428
6.  Scott Dixon, 387
7.  Carlos Munoz, 384
8.  Tony Kanaan, 380
9.  Marco Andretti, 375
10. Sebastien Bourdais, 358

Hamilton fastest, Mercedes gaps field in opening USGP practice

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton made an impressive start to the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin, Texas by topping the first Formula 1 practice session on Friday morning at the Circuit of The Americas.

Hamilton arrived in Austin trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 33 points at the top of the drivers’ championship, having not won a race since the end of July.

The Briton is a three-time victor at COTA, as well as claiming the last F1 win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in 2007, making the United States a happy hunting ground for the defending champion.

Hamilton and Rosberg came out of the blocks early in FP1, immediately pulling clear of the field with laps on the super-soft tire.

Hamilton enjoyed an early edge over his teammate, only for Rosberg to go fastest upon switching to the soft compound Pirellis and going for a lighter fuel run.

Rosberg’s spell at the top of the timesheets did not last long, though, as Hamilton bounced back with a lap of 1:37.428 that was good enough to give him P1 come the end of the session.

Rosberg finished three-tenths of a second further back, but it was the gap to third that was most indicative of Mercedes’ strength at COTA: 1.5 seconds separated Rosberg in P2 and Max Verstappen in P3.

Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth for Ferrari, trailing Red Bull’s Verstappen by just 0.028 seconds, while Nico Hulkenberg led Force India’s charge in fifth.

Valtteri Bottas was sixth-fastest for Williams ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, with Sebastian Vettel following in P8 for Ferrari. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top 10 for Toro Rosso.

It proved to be an eventful session for Vettel, who narrowly missed hitting Jolyon Palmer early in the session before almost losing a wing mirror, only to grab it with his left hand so he could return it to the pits.

Renault’s Palmer was one of two drivers to have an off-track moment, spinning out at Turn 18. Toro Rosso’s Kvyat made a similar error later in the session, finding the limits of adhesion through the long right-hander.

Haas’ first outing on American soil ended under a cloud as both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez stopped at the end of the pit lane with a couple of minutes remaining. They were ultimately classified P14 and P15.

Second practice in Austin is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET on Friday.

Kvyat stresses ‘respect’, ‘loyalty’ to Red Bull as 2017 talks continue

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 08: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso sits in his car in the garage during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 8, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat has stressed his “respect” and “loyalty” towards Red Bull’s Formula 1 programs as talks regarding his plans for the 2017 season continue.

Kvyat was demoted from Red Bull’s senior team to its junior outfit, Toro Rosso, following the Russian Grand Prix in May.

The Russian driver struggled to get to grips with life further down the grid, scoring just two points in the run to the summer break, but bucked the trend by qualifying seventh in Singapore before finishing ninth.

Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost has long expressed a desire to keep Kvyat with the team for 2017, but Red Bull chiefs Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz will make the final call and may elect to promote GP2 driver Pierre Gasly into a seat.

Kvyat has been linked with moves elsewhere on the F1 grid, but said on Thursday in Austin ahead of the United States Grand Prix that his focus lay with remaining in the Red Bull setup.

“My aim is to be in F1 next year, but it’s too early to comment. We will have discussions behind closed doors,” Kvyat said.

“I have a lot of respect for and loyalty to Red Bull. Sooner or later I would like to have more details.

“Red Bull has managed me through my junior career and it is still number one on my list. I am looking for a drive where I can show what I can do.

“Toro Rosso is a fantastic team, we are one family and I feel very comfortable here.”

WATCH LIVE: USGP FP1 at 11 a.m., FP2 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks into the paddock with his dog, Coco, during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Free practice kicks off today for the United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas in Austin, and you can see both sessions LIVE on NBCSN and streamed via and the NBC Sports App (for participating providers).

First practice runs from 11 a.m. ET to 12:30 p.m. ET, leading into the premiere of Off the Grid: Austria at 12:30 p.m.

Then second practice runs from 3 to 4:30 p.m. ET.

Austin is on CT, so local times are 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 3:30 p.m., respectively.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are in the commentary booth with Will Buxton patrolling the pits and paddock for today’s coverage.

Again, that’s 11 a.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN for LIVE coverage of free practice from Austin.

Full times and details for the weekend are linked here.

Hulkenberg: Renault move ‘the right step in my career’

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Hulkenberg believes that his move to Renault for the 2017 Formula 1 season is the “right step” for his career after deciding to leave Force India.

Hulkenberg had been set to remain with Force India next season, but Renault announced last week that it had signed the German driver for 2017 after agreeing a deal to release him from his contract.

Speaking in Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the United States Grand Prix, 2015 Le Mans winner Hulkenberg said he is looking forward to taking on a new challenge.

“I believe that it’s the right step in my career at this point,” Hulkenberg said.

“I feel I have come a long way with Force India – it’s my fifth year with them. We’ve had some good success together. But I felt that it’s time for a new challenge.

“Since I’m in F1 I’ve always wanted to race for a manufacturer team and this is a really good opportunity. The timing was pretty good too. So I think it was a good decision I think from my side.”

Renault has struggled during its first season back in F1 as a constructor after six years away, scoring just eight points to sit third-from-bottom of the teams’ standings.

However, Hulkenberg is confident that, given time, Renault’s might as a manufacturer can help him score his first podium finish in F1 and his first victory.

“I think them being a manufacturer, they are under some expectations to eventually be successful and be at the front and compete for wins and that’s obviously what I’m looking for,” Hulkenberg said.

“We know at the moment there is still a long journey ahead of them, to climb back to the top because it’s been a difficult year and where they’ve come from.

“When they bought Lotus last year was not the easiest it will take time to rebuild the team and to get back to the top but obviously what I see there is a good future, definitely a big challenge, a massive challenge.

“But I’m very much up for that – and why not build a new success story with them?”