Report: Townsend Bell, Buddy Rice land Indy 500 rides

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A report from SPEED.com says that NBC Sports Network analyst Townsend Bell (pictured) and 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice have both landed rides for this year’s edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

According to the report, Bell has joined up with Panther Racing for the “500” after securing sponsorship from Dreamworks’ upcoming Indy 500-themed film “Turbo.” He had appeared set to run in a third car for Sam Schmidt’s team at Indy, but because of Schmidt’s status as a Honda-powered outfit and a pact between Chevrolet and Dreamworks, Bell has instead migrated to a second program at the Bowtie-powered Panther camp alongside J.R. Hildebrand. He finished ninth in last year’s race for Schmidt.

As for Rice, he is expected to be the one to join forces with Schmidt regulars Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier at the Brickyard this year. He last raced at IMS in 2011, finishing 18th for Panther.

Pending official announcements from the two teams, the additions of Bell and Rice to the field will put the car count at the magic number of 33. On that note, the SPEED.com report also mentions possible entries for 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier and USAC driver Bryan Clauson, who would be aiming for a second “500” start after driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in last year’s event.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.