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Marco Andretti paces first practice at St. Petersburg

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Marco Andretti led a Honda sweep of the top four in the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Andretti, in the rebranded No. 27 hhgregg Honda for Andretti Autosport, set a best time of 1:03.7559 around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. It’s a good start for the team, which made some operational changes where Eric Bretzman is the team’s new technical director and Bryan Herta is Andretti’s new race strategist.

“We’re off to a good start. It’s still early and we need to stay with it,” Andretti told IndyCar Radio after the session.

Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were second and third for Chip Ganassi Racing in their first official race weekend sessions back in Hondas, with James Hinchcliffe fourth ahead of defending series champion Simon Pagenaud the top Chevrolet in fifth.

Pagenaud’s teammate, Will Power, had another practice crash – as he did here last year at the Turn 9 kink. On this occasion, Power lost the back end coming through Turn 10 and knocked the rear wheel guard out of alignment, but was able to make it back to the pits under his own power.

Times were a bit slower than last year to start, owing somewhat in part to a last-minute track change this morning at Turn 3. The corner angle was changed from a sweeping right hander to a more angled turn with a new curb on driver’s right. A crest was there following a track repave prior to the weekend and cars were hitting the crest, then getting airborne during Thursday’s practice sessions for other series competing here this weekend. Temperatures were 81 ambient and 108 track to start the session, per Firestone.

Times are below. The second practice is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. This session was delayed a bit by accidents in previous sessions, qualifying for both the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pirelli World Challenge races.

Hamilton, Red Bull teammates both go to NASA before USGP

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool
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One of the more intriguing United States Grand Prix adventures occurred on Wednesday, as both Lewis Hamilton and the pair of Red Bull Racing teammates, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, all went to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – in separate sessions – before heading onto Austin.

Hamilton posted on his Instagram story on Wednesday that he’d “quit his day job in a second” to work at NASA and become an astronaut, and the unbridled enthusiasm spoke to the three-time Formula 1 World Champion’s love of different life aspects entirely outside of racing.

“(I) had an incredible day yesterday, having a bit of a comedown today,” Hamilton said today at the FIA Press Conference. “I was just buzzed all day yesterday because it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. It’s always something I’ve been fascinated about, space and space travel particularly.

“So to actually go there… and I had a million questions. I’m sure the guy got fed up with me. I asked a lot of questions and I got to see a lot of great things, some of the new technology they are working on and yeah, I want to go back.”

The Mercedes AMG Petronas team posted a gallery of Hamilton’s adventure on its website, linked here, and a few samples are below.

As for the Red Bull pair, the young duo of Ricciardo and Verstappen were equally awestruck by the experience.

“There really are a lot of similarities between this and F1, just the technology alone,” Ricciardo said. “I had a guest come to a race last year, when they got into the garage they were like: ‘this is like a space station’. We went to mission control here and it’s really like what we have in the Ops Room in Milton Keynes. Even the safety technology is similar. The astronauts go through the same measurements, a similar kind of HANS device etc. It’s really cool.”

Verstappen added, “There are quite a lot of comparisons, if you really want to talk about it we could go on for an hour! The control center looks pretty similar to ours. We share a lot of the same technology. It was really interesting for us to see that and I bet it would be the same if they could see ours.”

Here’s a link to Red Bull’s gallery and some teaser shots below.