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Hamilton leads Mercedes to 1-2 in opening Brazilian GP practice

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Lewis Hamilton made a rapid start to life as a four-time Formula 1 world champion by setting the pace for Mercedes through opening practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos on Friday morning.

Two weeks after clinching his fourth F1 drivers’ crown in Mexico, Hamilton returned to his Mercedes W08 car for FP1 at Interlagos and showed few signs of slowing down despite already having the championship sewn up.

Hamilton turned in a fastest lap time of 1:09.202 – a new track record at Interlagos – to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas as the Silver Arrows streaked clear at the front of the pack.

Ferrari and Red Bull failed to put up any kind of fight to Mercedes in FP1 as both teams finished over half a second off the pace, headed up by Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari SF70H.

Red Bull followed in P4 and P5 with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo respectively, while Sebastian Vettel was over seven-tenths of a second back from Hamilton in sixth place.

Felipe Massa led the midfield runners for Williams in P7, making a strong start to his final home grand prix weekend, while Stoffel Vandoorne headed up McLaren’s charge in eighth. Teammate Fernando Alonso finished two places back in P10 as Esteban Ocon managed to split the McLarens in ninth for Force India.

Mercedes youngster and GP3 champion George Russell made a strong impression on his first F1 weekend run-out, taking P12 in the second Force India. Charles Leclerc also enjoyed some running for Sauber in FP1, taking P17.

Toro Rosso had a less fruitful session as both its drivers were sidelined by engine issues. Pierre Gasly’s car was hit with an MGU-H failure, while teammate Brendon Hartley failed to post a lap time after also suffering a problem early on.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.