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Rossi, NAPA Auto Parts re-up with Andretti in multi-year deal

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Alexander Rossi and NAPA Auto Parts have re-upped (Merriam-Webster definition of re-up here) with Andretti Autosport in a new multi-year agreement, announced Friday morning ahead of this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.

Rossi was coy on his future status earlier this week, having explored alternative Honda team options in the wake of speculation Andretti Autosport could shift engine manufacturers from Honda to Chevrolet.

However, the Andretti and Honda renewal was confirmed on Thursday morning, and Rossi’s renewal has now been confirmed on Friday. Interestingly, this was called an Andretti Autosport signing, not an Andretti-Herta Autosport signing as part of the release.

Michael Andretti told NBC Sports Thursday in the paddock he hoped “Rossi would remain part of the family,” and now he will.

NAPA AUTO PARTS has, more importantly, upped its support of the team to a 10-race, co-primary sponsorship.

“It’s great to have NAPA AUTO PARTS return in support of Alexander and the team. NAPA has been a fantastic partner, and we look forward to building on the success of the relationship,” Andretti said in a release. “Alexander has been a great ambassador both on and off the track and, with only two years of IndyCar experience, he’s proven that he is a true competitor as well.”

Rossi has confirmed a two-year extension through 2019.

“As always, this silly season is a challenging one for everyone involved, but I am very thankful to have such incredible support from Andretti Autosport, NAPA AUTO PARTS and Honda, and to extend our deal through 2019,” said Rossi. “The improvements that we have made this year and the relationships that I have built within the team over the past two seasons created the foundation for a very exciting future.

“NAPA is pleased to continue its partnership with Andretti Autosport and Alexander Rossi,” said Gaylord Spencer, NAPA’s Senior Vice President of Marketing. “As you know, this partnership began in May 2016 taking the NAPA colors into the winner’s circle at the 100th Running of the Indy 500, what an incredible experience.Moving into 2017, the partnership expanded and is now continuing to grow. We’re excited to continue this relationship with Alexander, the Andretti organization and the IndyCar fan base.”

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.