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F1 star Fernando Alonso gets taste of Indianapolis oval

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) With ticket sales soaring for the Indianapolis 500 in anticipation of his first start in the race, Formula One star Fernando Alonso hit the Brickyard on Wednesday for his first drive around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After IndyCar driver Marco Andretti set up the No. 29 for Andretti Autosport, Alonso strapped into the bright orange Honda and hit the track and ran several laps, moving gradually past the 200 mph threshold to near 210 mph before heading to the pits.

“He only has 20 mph to go,” IndyCar legend Mario Andretti said. “He’s getting the feel of it. He’s doing exactly what he needs to do. The experience that he has should dominate, but the anxiety is still there.”

The Spaniard will attempt to run the Indianapolis 500 later this month, and hopefully, some day, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He’s on a quest to win what’s considered the Triple Crown of racing. That includes the Monaco Grand Prix, which he’s already won. This bid at Indianapolis requires him to master new cars and racing styles.

“Fernando is coming in with a team that’s certainly fresh with winning this race,” Mario Andretti said. “He’s placed exactly right. I think I feel what he’s feeling right now.”

Alonso, whose 32 F1 wins rank sixth all-time, has competed before at Indianapolis, but on the road course set up for the U.S. Grand Prix. He waited patiently for his turn behind the wheel while Marco Andretti ran several laps to get the car set up.

“You just need to make sure it stuck for him to get confidence,” Marco Andretti said after exiting the car. “He’ll have to learn by fire. He’s asking the right questions. He’ll be fine. He’s a race car driver. I think he’ll leave today pretty confident. He’s going to be spoiled after today, that’s for sure.”

Alonso drives for struggling McLaren in Formula One. He will be the sixth entry for Andretti Autosport at Indy in a partnership with Honda and McLaren. The 35-year-old has begun preparing for Indy by testing on a simulator, where the walls aren’t so intimidating and there’s no traffic to negotiate.

Speedway president Doug Boles said Alonso’s planned appearance in the race has sent ticket sales trending higher than all but one of the last 20 years.

“It’s been great for the momentum and excitement,” Boles said. “Fans from all over the world … began buying tickets. It’s great for the brand.”

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

Hamilton hails ‘greatest day’ after USGP victory, Mercedes title win

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Lewis Hamilton made no secret of his jubilation after taking a giant step towards his fourth Formula 1 championship win with victory in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix that also saw Mercedes clinch the constructors’ title.

Hamilton recovered from an early pass by F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel to take his sixth victory on American soil, five of which have come at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, to extend his lead to 66 points.

With just 75 left on offer this season, Hamilton needs just one top-five finish in the final three races to clinch his fourth world title, with the enormity of the victory not being lost on the Mercedes driver.

“Today has been amazing. It’s been the greatest day,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“I woke up a bit tired, felt the rain, then was like, ‘What the hell?’ But I didn’t mind. I won here in the rain in the past. Then it dried up, clear blue skies, amazing opening at the beginning of the GP.

“I lost first place into Turn 1. It was OK. That first section, we got through there, and it felt very reminiscent of 2012: ‘Game on. You have to save the tires’, and he wasn’t doing that. I kind of kept my cool.”

“I saw I got a good exit of Turn 1, this was the lap and it was. His tires were dropping off anyway.”

Hamilton’s victory saw Mercedes wrap up its fourth consecutive F1 constructors’ title with three races to spare, with the Briton having played a key part in each of its successes.

“I’m so proud of this team. Big congratulations to the guys, people don’t know the amount of work they do,” Hamilton said.

“It’s over 1,500 people in two factories, so much brainpower and a lot of people to manage to extract the best from each of those.

“To come into a new era of car and perform as we have. There’s been a newfound love within the team. Ferrari, we want to beat them, thrash them.

“So they put more hours of working in to do that. That’s for all their hard work.”