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Newgarden doubles up in Sonoma practice

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SONOMA, Calif. – Josef Newgarden led his second straight practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, as the points leader looks for his first series championship.

Newgarden posted an important best lap of 1:16.2485 while running on Firestone’s red alternate tires during the second 45-minute session of the day. He also led this morning’s session at 1:16.3950 in cooler conditions.

Driving the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, this time was under the official track record mark of 1:16.2530 set by teammate Simon Pagenaud last year, for pole.

“We learned a little about the tire. Definitely different from last year,” Newgarden told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “The red compound is similar to what the black was last year. We have a different black this year. Understand what you need on each of them. The track still seems pretty fast. We’ll see what we got. It’s easy to mess up in Sonoma.

“The big thing about the track is there’s a lot of wind around this place. A lot of dust and sand. There’s so much dirt and debris. One guy drops the wheel and it’s a full corner. We have the best in the business with Team Penske.”

The Team Penske quartet was 1-4, with Newgarden ahead of Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was top Honda in this session at 1:16.4829.

There was one red flag for a rather abnormal circumstance, as two fans made it out onto a grassy area beyond a fence. Despite the brief session interruption there were no other incidents of note.

Third practice runs tomorrow with live qualifying coming up at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Times from this session are below.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.