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Jay Howard fastest on hectic Thursday of Indy 500 practice

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INDIANAPOLIS – The third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda entered into this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is more known for its supporting partner, in Tony Stewart and his foundation’s Team One Cure program.

However, the driver wheeling said No. 77 car was the surprise story of the day on a frenetic Thursday of action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Jay Howard.

The 36-year-old Englishman, who’s spent six years out since his last Verizon IndyCar Series starts in 2011 and now runs F4 and go-kart teams, got a monster tow in the first 30 minutes of six hours of running to lead the timesheets with what is the fastest lap of the month thus far at 226.744 mph.

Of note, Howard was 24th on the no-tow rankings at 219.756 mph.

Stewart was in attendance on the day along with a couple notable others in the SPM pit, including past Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu.

Howard ended ahead of two Andretti Autosport cars in Ryan Hunter-Reay (225.826 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda and Marco Andretti (225.709 mph) in the No. 27 Snapple Honda car.

One of their teammates, Takuma Sato in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, topped the no-tow charts at 224.734 mph, and that ranked him ninth in the field.

More than 2,000 laps (2,362) were turned in what was the busiest day of the week by far, with action coming hot and heavy in the opening two hours and the last two hours.

What was meant to be a bunch of qualifying simulations, however, turned into a mock race in the last hour of the day.

Between drivers from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises, upwards of a dozen cars were exchanging positions around the 2.5-mile oval.

It was a frenetic amount of action as drivers slotted in-and-out of running, all gauging where and when to make their moves for position. Temperatures started in the low-80s today and ticked up to the mid-80s, with track temperatures in the mid-110s to low-120s, so it made for good race condition simulations.

Several drivers topped the 100-lap mark on the day. Helio Castroneves, Will Power and James Hinchcliffe were over 100 laps banked while others such as Fernando Alonso, Charlie Kimball and Jack Harvey were in the 90-lap completed mark.

Alonso’s day in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry saw him provide a number of highlights, both with his running in traffic and his lines set in single-car running. On the whole, he ended fourth at 225.619 mph for his best lap yet, while his no-tow speed was no slouch either – it was 223.687 mph.

Josef Newgarden’s day ended early with a crash in the first couple hours of running. He was checked, released and cleared to drive but the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was not as fortunate. After the accident, Newgarden was done for the day.

Another driver whose day was cut short was Sebastien Bourdais with another Honda engine issue in the back of his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. The Frenchman had a similar issue during the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the weekend, and coupled with Graham Rahal’s failure earlier this week, it’s been a week where reliability has been a talking point just as much as outright speed.

The 33rd and final driver set to enter this year’s race, Buddy Lazier, made it out for installation laps in his renumbered No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, following a build during the week of his car by the small, family-run, Vail, Col.-based team.

The boost is set to be increased for Friday’s scheduled Fast Friday running from noon until 6 p.m., however weather may intervene and limit or halt running altogether.

Speeds are below.


F1 Preview: 2017 United States Grand Prix

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The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas may only have hosted the United States Grand Prix since 2012, yet it has quickly made itself a big part of Formula 1’s recent championship stories.

Results at COTA have played a crucial part in all but one of the F1 championship races – the exception being 2013 when the drivers’ title had long been settled – with the track also being the site of Lewis Hamilton’s third title win two years ago.

Hamilton arrives in the Lone Star State on the verge of taking a fourth world title, and could reclaim the crown this Sunday should results fall his way.

For a driver with such an affinity for the United States as Hamilton, clinching the title in Austin would be very significant.

This race is also a significant one for F1’s owner, Liberty Media, as its first on home soil since completing its $8 billion takeover of the sport back in January.

The United States has long been a target growth market for F1 after a patchy history. Significant progress has been made in the last five years, but seeing how Liberty plays the US GP will be of interest to those with an eye on F1’s future.

Here are the key talking points ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

2017 United States Grand Prix – Talking Points

Will COTA be king-maker again for Hamilton?

There is a similar sense of inevitability heading to COTA this weekend as in 2015. It is not a case of if Lewis Hamilton will win the drivers’ championship, but when.

Ferrari’s remarkable capitulation in the last six weeks has seen Sebastian Vettel go from championship leader to heavy outsider, trailing Hamilton by 59 points with just 100 left to play for this season.

A 16-point swing will see Hamilton clinch a fourth title at COTA – full permutations here – meaning that next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix is perhaps the more likely site for his coronation.

That said, on Ferrari’s recent form, losing another 16 points would hardly come as a surprise.

Silver linings for Ferrari despite recent losses

The failures that have seen Ferrari throw away a shot at both championships in 2017 will surely lead to heads rolling come the end of the season, having been the Italian marque’s best chance of silverware since 2008.

For now though, the team must do all it can to put the brakes on its collapse and bounce back at COTA, with its race pace form in Malaysia suggesting it may not be as far off Mercedes as once feared this weekend.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen have both said there is no track for Ferrari to fear in the closing races this season, meaning that while the titles may already be out of reach, a fighting end to the season would at least save some face.

Alas, with Mercedes very likely to wrap up the constructors’ championship this weekend, for Ferrari to have gone from pre-season favorite with the fastest car to losing the title with three races to spare is a serious failure that will take some recovering from.

Red Bull’s flying finish to continue in Austin?

Red Bull’s late-season form is traditionally pretty good, but the team has been particularly strong in recent races as it looks to build momentum before a renewed title bid in 2014.

Max Verstappen’s dominant victory in Malaysia proved the team can win races on merit and take the fight to both Mercedes and Ferrari, while Daniel Ricciardo has also been on the podium in the last two races.

For a team that was marooned in P3 for much of the season, the updates for the RB13 car have put Red Bull into the thick of the fight at the front – sadly, there is not title race for it to influence.

Nevertheless, Verstappen and Ricciardo will be pushing hard to keep the team’s good late-season form going at COTA. Four years after the team’s last win in the USA, can Red Bull hit the top step again?

Hartley gears up for shock F1 debut

2017 has been full of odd storylines in F1, but Brendon Hartley’s shock debut with Toro Rosso this weekend has to be right up there.

Seven years after being dropped from Red Bull’s junior program, Hartley will line up in the colors of the energy drink giant’s B-team in F1 after Pierre Gasly was forced to stick to his clashing Super Formula commitments in Japan.

Toro Rosso will race with a totally different line-up to two weeks ago at Suzuka, with previously-benched Daniil Kvyat also returning in place of Carlos Sainz Jr., who moves up to Renault.

Heroics cannot be expected of Hartley, who has raced with great success in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche since 2014, but it will be fascinating to see how he gets on back in single-seaters.

The Land of Liberty

Liberty Media’s takeover of F1 back in January was a significant moment for the sport’s future, with a great focus being placed on the United States given the company’s American roots and the importance of the market.

F1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey has made his ambition to make each race a Superbowl-esque event clear for some time, with plans to improve the spectacle around races still in the works.

The US GP has traditionally done very well with its off-track spectacles, with last year’s Taylor Swift concert playing a huge role in breathing new life into the race after a washout in 2015. This year, Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder will both be performing at COTA’s amphitheater.

Another big name confirmed to be attending is Usain Bolt, who will act as the official starter for the race, while iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer will be on-hand for the pre-race driver introductions, a new step for F1.

This weekend will also see the F1 paddock turn pink in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness month and Susan G. Komen, with more information available by clicking here.

2017 United States Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit of The Americas
Corners: 20
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:39.347 (2012)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:34.999
2016 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:39.877
DRS Zones: T2o to T1, T11 to T12

2017 United States Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times