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Pagenaud, Dixon hit different sides of luck for St. Pete podiums

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon finishing on the podium in a Verizon IndyCar Series street race isn’t a surprise.

But how they did so today in the 2017 season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was.

Pagenaud had an uncharacteristically awful qualifying effort, taking the renumbered No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet to 14th on the grid.

Pagenaud started outside the top 10 only once total last season – 14th at Pocono – and had only once started outside the top-10 on a road or street course since joining Team Penske in 2015, when he started 15th and finished third at Mid-Ohio.

Dixon, meanwhile took the blue No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to second on the grid and arguably had the car to win before getting caught out on Lap 26 when the second full-course caution flew for debris on course following contact between Dixon’s teammate Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin at Turn 4.

The caution left Dixon and six others stranded on track before their first scheduled pit stops, while Pagenaud – ninth at the time of the caution – able to leap frog into the lead at that time.

“Obviously at that critical time where you’re trying to push the window for the pit stop, they threw a caution, which I still haven’t seen exactly why they threw the caution,” Dixon said.

“There was a small amount of debris in turn four, which typically race control, if it’s not on the racetrack or going to cause any issues, they’ll definitely let you get through the pit stop cycle, especially at that moment.

“The leaders are trying to obviously stretch the window a bit, then you have all the back markers that are pitting early to try to get lucky with a yellow. The yellow fell, which hurt us.”

Pagenaud, naturally, had a slightly different take on how the yellow helped him.

“It’s funny, it was such a well-oiled machine last year. You throw one new component into it, in this case it’s the brakes, and everything goes back to zero. You got to work on it again.

“That’s basically what happened this weekend. It threw us off. We had problems Friday. Couldn’t really tell what the car was doing because of the brakes. Then we fixed it, I would say, Saturday morning.

“Then we made an adjustment for the problems we were having Friday. Then it was a disaster in qualifying. So we regrouped. That’s where this team is incredible. It’s definitely a champion team for regrouping like they did, understanding the issue we had in qualifying. This morning in the warmup, I was back home in my car. It was great to get that feeling back.

“The race, the car was fantastic. We got very lucky at the start, I would say. We went through the chaos. I think God had something to play with it actually, because he put the car back where it needed to go. Very lucky.”

Both drivers had been hosed by a yellow timing in Toronto last year, which cost them a likely 1-2 finish there. Dixon, too, had felt aggrieved at Long Beach when Pagenaud exited the pit lane and was borderline crossing it early, but was issued only a warning from INDYCAR Race Control.

Anyway, the end result today was that Pagenaud had lucked into second while Dixon was unlucky to end in third. But for both to be on the podium spoke highly of their future prospects for the rest of the season.

Pagenaud used smarts to get through the first lap caution and avoid getting caught up in that.

“I haven’t started there in a long time actually. I was a bit rusty on that, too,” Pagenaud said.

“It actually worked out really well. I just trusted my instinct. The biggest thing is when Charlie hit the wall, and Rahal went spin, the biggest thing was knowing where to go was the biggest decision I had to make.

“I was fortunate in that wreck. I think I got touched in the back actually because I had some damage I saw at the end of the race. But I managed to go through. I managed to get some spots.”

Meanwhile Dixon was happy to end on the podium and fulfill his weekend pace in Ganassi’s first race weekend since switching to the Honda aero kit and engine.

“Generally, we were a little surprised, I think, with how our cars hit the track here, how much speed they had right out of the gate. We knew the car was good at Sebring, but Sebring doesn’t really account for too much,” he said.

“I think we had a pretty decent start with the new brakes, a lot of the development stuff. I think knowing we had to reset and go to a totally different package, we looked at a lot of different things that were in our control, too, mechanically and setups, areas that we can improve.

“It’s always hard to know. I think you set your sights on having the performance and being able to race for a race win, which I think personally we had the car to beat this weekend. It was definitely a very strong car.”

IndyCar returns to NBCSN on April 9 at Long Beach.

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan:

FIA WEC reveals restructured TV commentary team

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One of Audi’s flagship drivers, Allan McNish and veteran TV hosts Martin Haven and Toby Moody join Louise Beckett and Graham Goodwin as part of the restructured television commentary team for the FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of its 2017 season.

McNish retired from active driving at the end of the 2013 season and the two-time Le Mans winner and 2013 WEC LMP1 champion with Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval has remained an ambassador for Audi in the years since. He’ll be at six of the eight WEC rounds this season (Le Mans considered separately, although under the WEC umbrella).

Moody has been a familiar voice for his bike coverage and in the U.S., for Red Bull Global Rallycross broadcasts on NBC Sports. He’ll be on for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the 6 Hours of Nürburgring and the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Haven is well known to sports car fans and will be on for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, 6 Hours of Mexico, 6 Hours of COTA, 6 Hours of Fuji and 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Beckett continues in the pits and paddock with DailySportscar editor Goodwin also back as part of the team; he’s been the lead analyst alongside John Hindhaugh the last couple years.

Hindhaugh won’t be on the TV side, instead having announced earlier this week on his own he’d be focusing on Radio Show Limited’s audio productions for WEC shows. Le Mans is treated as a separate entity from a broadcast and production side compared to the rest of the WEC season.

Renowned for his radio calls, Hindhaugh will be in his true area of passion throughout this season, as he also is Stateside for IMSA Radio’s coverage of IMSA championships. RSL has also recently announced it will broadcast VLN coverage this season (more here via DailySportscar).

“Thankfully the busy endurance racing schedule has only a couple of clashes so that means that for most of the WEC events I will be joining the established team providing live commentary for RSL radio,” Hindhaugh said in a release.

“For the WEC events I’m covering for the RSL radio service, we’ll be adding live audio coverage of qualifying to the regular full race broadcast.”

In the WEC release, series CEO Gerard Neveu thanked Hindhaugh for what he’s brought to the TV side the last couple years while also looking forward to the new arrivals to this year’s broadcast team.

“We believe that one of the reasons for the WEC’s current success in today’s motorsport world is that we try not to rest on our laurels; we are always looking to innovate and re-energize the championship in every area.

“John Hindhaugh, who has been our lead commentator until now, has decided to return to his first love of radio commentary, and we want to thank him for the great job he has done, and for his contribution to the championship. We are sure we will have an opportunity to work together again in the future but, for this year, we are very enthusiastic about our new broadcast team and the season ahead.”

The WEC season kicks off with the Prologue test next week in Monza before the season itself starts April 16 at Silverstone.