Defending Barber winner Pagenaud learns to speak ‘Southern’ (VIDEO)

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There’s a weird symmetry between Simon Pagenaud, who hails from Montmorillon, France and now lives in Charlotte, and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion for Team Penske, Pagenaud made his return to the Verizon IndyCar Series after a four-year absence in a one-off, injury fill-in drive for Ana Beatriz at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2011. That was the first step towards laying the groundwork for a full-time return that followed in 2012 with Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports.

In 2013, Pagenaud and then-teammate Tristan Vautier made a voyage to the Bass Pro Shops right next to the track in Birmingham. This went as you’d expect for the pair of Frenchmen, transplanted into the world of wild animals and game who entered while speaking French and then embracing the store.

Pagenaud’s decisive, aggressive move for the lead on Graham Rahal, his sparring partner the year they competed for the 2006 Atlantic Championship, netted him his second straight victory and helped to propel him from possible to likely championship favorite.

And now heading into this year’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (April 23, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Pagenaud and Barber have their latest connection – where Pagenaud learns to speak “Southern” English from an app showcased by his new teammate and Hendersonville, Tenn. native Josef Newgarden.

You can see the video, filmed during IndyCar’s recent open test at Barber last month, above via This is Alabama and aired during Thursday’s NASCAR AMERICA on NBCSN.

Pagenaud and Birmingham are the odd couple that seem to keep on giving to IndyCar. He’ll look for an encore of his victory here later this month, but first are in Long Beach this weekend.

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.