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Hamilton expects Monza fight with Ferrari to be as close as Spa

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Lewis Hamilton is braced for another close battle with Formula 1 title rival Sebastian Vettel in this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix after Mercedes and Ferrari were evenly-matched through Friday’s second practice at Monza.

Hamilton was tipped as the favorite for both last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix and the upcoming race at Monza given the high-speed layouts and the strengths of the Mercedes W08 car.

However, Vettel was able to push Hamilton all the way at Spa, remaining within two seconds for much of the race, and ran both Mercedes driver close again in FP2 at Monza on Friday, finishing just one-tenth of a second off the pace.

Hamilton topped FP1 before trailing Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in second practice, and while he remains wary of the threat posed by Ferrari, he was content with his performance.

“It’s been a good day, a clean day. We got the running done, we got through our program with no problems,” Hamilton said.

“The car seems nicely balanced here. We just have some work to do to eke out a little bit more performance.

“It looks quite close between us and the Ferraris, so I anticipate it’s going to be similar to the last race in that sense.”

After a rough weekend in Belgium that ended with a run to P5 in the race, Bottas was more upbeat following his charge to P1 in second practice at Monza.

“I think it was a good day – at least I have a better feeling than I had after the Friday in Spa, everything started on the right foot,” Bottas said.

“Initially in FP1 we went slightly in the wrong direction with the setup, but we managed to change it around for FP2 and the car felt a lot better.

“Overall, it was a positive day, the car is looking strong, but obviously it’s the next two days that count.”

Penske: No room for Patrick in Indy 500 lineup. Ganassi? OK

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Roger Penske has no room in his Indianapolis 500 lineup for Danica Patrick.

“The Captain” has a hunch where Patrick’s Indy comeback will take her in May – with Chip Ganassi.

“I sent him a note and said, `Congratulations. Danica better be driving your car at Indy because unfortunately she’s not driving for us,”‘ Penske said, laughing.

The 35-year-old Patrick said this week she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from racing. Patrick is the only woman to have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Patrick ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps in the race when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.

Penske has a full field for Indy with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden racing as fulltime entries and three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns on a one-shot deal to try and win a fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the likely ride at Indy. Ganassi has room to field additional cars – he’s scaling down from four full-time cars to two next year – and would give Patrick a car capable of winning. Ganassi said Friday he has met with Patrick and called her “Danica Double” a great idea.

Penske said Patrick and Ganassi, who has Ed Jones and IndyCar great Scott Dixon in his lineup, would be a perfect pair.

“I think that’s a great seat for her,” Penske said Saturday. “That’s a great team. They’re the ones that’s always been competitive there. I take my hat off that she wants to continue to go back to open wheel. That’s going to be terrific for the sport and there’s going to be a lot of interest around the country.”

Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s (though she led laps at the Daytona 500) in 189 career starts.

Penske, a 16-time winner as a car owner of the Indy 500, said Patrick would return to IndyCar a better driver.

“I think she’s going to come back to IndyCar a lot tougher having run in NASCAR,” he said. “I think she’s going to be someone that, in a good car, is going to pick it up. She’s got plenty of time to practice.”

Team Penske won the owner championship Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indy 500, said the sport would welcome back Patrick.

“She’s probably going to have a better shot at Indy because of what she’s done the last five years,” Hornish said.

Patrick has not revealed the team she’ll race for but surely a package deal with the same team and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.

“I think it’s a great way for her to say, hey, I’m here, I’ve done it, I’m going to go back to the two biggest races and see if I can’t get out on top,” Penske said.

Penske can win a NASCAR championship with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup race.

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