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Andretti, Honda extend IndyCar partnership on multi-year deal

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Andretti Autosport has ended the summer saga of whether it would change up its engine partner in the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2018, by announcing an extension of its existing tie-up with Honda on a multi-year deal.

Andretti was known to be in talks with Chevrolet about a possible switch for 2018, only for bosses at the team to opt against ending the partnership with Honda that has been in place since 2014.

Despite the speculation, Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr told NBC Sports at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last month that HPD expected to continue with its current lineup of teams.

“It’s no secret that we’ve been weighing this decision for a while now,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti.

“We’ve had strong relationships and have marked milestones with both manufacturers, but we’re pleased to continue our Honda partnership.

“We have a great history of success with Honda and I have no doubt that together, our collection of achievements will continue to grow.”

“We’re extremely happy to continue our successful partnership with Michael Andretti and Andretti Autosport,” St. Cyr added.

“As Michael stated, his team has played a major role in our success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including victories at three of the last four Indy 500s.

“In addition to success at Indianapolis, 47 of Honda’s 225 Indy car victories through the years have been scored by the Andretti Autosport. Together, we’re looking forward to adding to this already impressive total in the future.”

Andretti poked fun at the summer saga by releasing the official decision via a video on social media, with dominos falling and then leading to Honda.

Andretti Autosport also confirmed Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, no surprise as both drivers were already under contract.

The omission of Alexander Rossi is because Rossi has not signed with any team as yet, contrary to a report earlier this week that he had – and Rossi “liked” a tweet earlier this week that refuted that he was solidified at Andretti. With Andretti staying with Honda, it does provide the option for Rossi to stay, as the question for him isn’t whether he stays in IndyCar but where in IndyCar he drives.

Takuma Sato will not return to the team, Andretti confirmed to the Indianapolis Star, for a second season – Sato and his management group having opted to move before an engine decision was finalized. Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports in July that he and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team, where Sato is poised to return to, had “warm feelings” for Sato.

It’s possible that beyond the four cars Andretti Autosport runs this year that a fifth could be added for more races than just the Indianapolis 500.

“With powertrain confirmation now in place, Andretti will turn its focus on setting the team’s 2018 stable of drivers,” the team statement read.

“With Series and Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and third-generation racer Marco Andretti already contracted through the next season, the team will confirm and announce its remaining drivers in the coming weeks.”

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.