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Defending IndyCar champ Pagenaud eager to have some fun at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Simon Pagenaud can quickly recite his favorite and least favorite venues on IndyCar’s schedule.

Toronto has been nothing but trouble over the years. Indianapolis, on the other hand, has been fun.

It helps, of course, when Pagenaud comes to town in May with three major titles – reigning series champ, current points leader and defending IndyCar Grand Prix winner. He also has some momentum and is expected to contend for at least one more victory at Indy this month.

“The goal is to win. If you don’t win, then you probably should do something else,” Pagenaud said Thursday. “For me, it’s just a dream come true. You always want to be fighting at some level, and it’s exactly what you hope for.”

The 32-year-old Frenchman has been the most dominant driver in the series over the last 14 months.

A year ago, he won more races (five), more poles (seven) and had more top-five finishes (10) than anyone else. He also finished the season leading more laps and more races, running away with a 127-point win over Team Penske teammate Will Power in the final standings.

He can’t quibble with the encore, either.

Pagenaud has finished in the top five in all four races this season and grabbed the points lead after winning at Phoenix in late April. He’s done all this while dealing with more challenging obstacles than he had in 2016.

Pagenaud spent the offseason trying to turn himself into a better oval-track driver. After countless hours studying data, reviewing races and working on his race-day mentality, Pagenaud already has seen a payoff.

“Whether it’s hitting the pits faster or being able to manage your tire wear better or to have a better qualifying lap, things like that,” he said. “To me, the biggest improvement I could make was going to be on ovals and so I spent a lot of time on that, and I think it’s working.”

The first big test will come May 28 when he hopes to be starting near the front of the 33-car starting grid for the 101st Indianapolis 500, a race that hasn’t been kind to Pagenaud.

In five previous Memorial Day weekend starts on the 2.5-mile track, three with Sam Schmidt’s team and two for Roger Penske, Pagenaud has one front row start and has never finished higher than eighth. It’s simply not good enough in Pagenaud’s mind.

“After winning the championship, my No. 1 goal is winning the 500,” he said.

Practice for this year’s 500 begins Monday, with qualifying scheduled for May 20-21.

But it’s Saturday’s race, the IndyCar GP, in which Pagenaud has really excelled. He won the inaugural road-course race in 2014, was knocked out of the 2015 race with a bad gearbox and became the first two-time winner last season after taking the pole. It was Pagenaud’s third consecutive victory.

If he can do it again, Pagenaud can enjoy a couple more weeks in Indy with an even bigger lead in the standings.

“There are a few races where you know have bad luck and races you know you have good luck,” Pagenaud said. “For me, the bad luck has always been in Toronto and the good luck is always in the Indy GP. It (Indy) suits my style really well. It’s about braking and traction out of the corners, which suits me really well.

“The grand prix is my specialty and I have a lot of confidence going in and we feel like we can win that.”

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Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.

Mercedes F1 engine chief warns against underestimating Honda

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Mercedes Formula 1 engine chief Andy Cowell has warned against underestimating the threat of Honda despite its ongoing power unit struggles, tipping the Japanese manufacturer to bounce back in the near future.

Honda returned to F1 as a manufacturer in 2015, supplying V6 turbo power units to the McLaren team, but has struggled for either performance or reliability through that period.

The struggles have led McLaren – currently sat bottom of the constructors’ championship – to consider cutting ties for 2018 given how far adrift compared to the other three engine suppliers Honda has been.

Mercedes has been the benchmark for engine performance since the change in regulation for 2014, but Cowell feels that Honda could make up ground quickly, with the removal of the token system for 2017 helping performance to converge through the field.

“I think collectively we’ve helped with convergence in Formula 1 in the opening season, performance development through the year,” Cowell said.

“But then the opportunity to do a big change with Honda coming in, we all agreed that Honda could have that same opportunity to change everything in the first year and then the request came from manufacturers in addition to Honda saying ‘please can we take this crazy token table away because it’s bad for the sport?’

“It’s bad if somebody can’t train to get better and so we agreed, yeah, take the table away because it’s better for the sport because it means that you can innovate, you can introduce whatever you like.

“I think none of us should underestimate the technical prowess of Honda and of McLaren and I think my money is on that combination coming good and coming good pretty quickly. No pressure…”

Williams happy to ‘hold off’ on 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams is happy to “hold off” on making a decision on its Formula 1 driver line-up for 2018 as it focuses on improving its on-track displays after a tough start to the season.

Williams currently fields Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, a mix of experience and youth, but has failed to keep up with midfield front-runner Force India through the first half of the year.

Force India sits fourth in the constructors’ championship with more than double the points of Williams, who leads a tight-knit group down to Renault in eighth place, 15 points adrift.

While Stroll looks set to continue with Williams and Massa has hinted he may look to continue through to 2018 despite initially planning to retire at the end of last season, deputy team boss Claire Williams has confirmed that no decision about next year’s line-up will come any time soon.

“There’s a lot of talk already isn’t there, about drivers across the paddock. For us, we’ve decided we’re going to hold off a bit on our driver decision,” Williams said.

“We’ve got a fight on our hands on the race track at the moment and to be distracted by those kinds of conversations isn’t something that we want to be happening at the moment.

“[Force India’s] got a nice points haul on us at the moment we need to focus on, rather than anything else.”

Nico Rosberg visits Stanford University, considering study options

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2016 Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University after visiting the college earlier this week as part of his tour around California.

Rosberg sensationally announced his retirement from F1 just five days after winning his maiden world title last November, wanting to spend more time with his young family.

The German has been enjoying his retirement, recently embarking on a tour of Silicon Valley and California that saw him hold meetings with electric car giant Tesla, among other companies.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Sunday, Rosberg spoke warmly about a visit to Stanford, revealing that he is considering some study options in the near future at the historic institution.

Rosberg was previously offered a scholarship to study engineering at Imperial College London when he was younger, only to turn it down in order to embark on a racing career. He also reportedly holds the highest ever score on Williams’ engineering aptitude test.

Should Nico sign up to a course at Stanford, we imagine he’d take things one class at a time…