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MRTI: Kaiser introspective, focused to rebound after Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Kyle Kaiser and consistency have been best friends in 2017. But neither the driver nor his hallmark of his excellent 2017 season could topple the buzz saw known as the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship leader.

Whether it was Ed Jones last year, the combination of Jones and Jack Harvey the year before, Gabby Chaves with the old car in 2014, or Sage Karam in 2013, the leader in Indy Lights points has had a way of coming back to the field after what seems to be the most chaotic weekend of the season for the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.

Kaiser’s 2017 Mid-Ohio weekend was no different, and was especially frustrating coming after his important, determined sweep in Toronto. But all things considered, despite back-to-back 12th place finishes – his first two outside the top-10 in 14 races this season – things could have gone a lot worse.

After fighting an ill-handling car on Saturday and never looking a top-10 finisher, Kaiser then looked back to his usual, solid, steady self on Sunday – before things went awry when a potential passing opportunity arose.

Kaiser attempted to follow his Juncos Racing teammate Nicolas Dapero through Turns 4 and 5, and get past Juan Piedrahita’s Team Pelfrey Dallara IL-15 Mazda for sixth place.

But Kaiser misjudged the move through the uphill, banked left-hander and contacted Piedrahita. Both drivers spun and fell to the rear of the field.

Such is the maturation, growth and development of the Californian now living in Indianapolis that this was the first real notable mistake Kaiser has made behind the wheel all year, and he didn’t hide or run from it post-race.

“I thought I saw an opportunity more than was actually available,” Kaiser told NBC Sports. “I thought I’d follow my teammate on the inside of Turn 5, but I had too much understeer in middle of corner, and he ran the outside line. It was a bad move for that point of the race to be honest. But I’ll learn from it, and grow from it.”

While Kaiser’s 12th-place finishes indeed brought the No. 18 car back to the pack, it wasn’t by much. He entered the weekend with a 52-point lead but left it with a 42-point lead, as each of his title rivals had their own problems.

Carlin’s Matheus Leist, his closest rival entering the weekend, never looked a contender with nondescript 11th and 10th place finishes. Colton Herta made up ground Saturday with a hard-earned second for Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing but then threw away a potential win on Sunday with a spin at Turn 9. He recovered from 13th to sixth but it was a lost opportunity.

Santiago Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing with SPM) and Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport) promptly split the two wins but since both have had their own erratic, inconsistent campaigns, they may be too far back to make much headway – especially with only two races to go.

“Everyone’s had a bad weekend this year and this is our bad weekend,” Kaiser reflected. “But if you were to tell me though we’d have this bad a weekend and still come out leading by 42 points, I’d be pretty happy with that.

“Obviously I’m disappointed. I had a bad lapse of judgment making a move we shouldn’t have. I made a mistake, I’m living on it, but I’m ready to move forward. Let’s go back to our consistent finishes, and we can win this thing.”

Kaiser feels things should be better at Gateway Motorsports Park. It’s a track he thinks will be similar to Phoenix International Raceway, as a repaved short oval, and where he scored his first series win and pole last year.

The title battle for Indy Lights indeed presented an opening this weekend but despite Kaiser’s struggles, he’s still in an excellent position for the final two races of the year.

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.