Foyt team returns to top spot in time for Indy

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Four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt is, obviously, very much synonymous with the legendary race. But despite his status as a Brickyard icon, his team hadn’t been atop the series championship entering Indy since 1979, when he himself was leading the USAC standings going into the 63rd running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

But thanks to his current driver, Takuma Sato, that drought has come to an end. Sato’s second-place finish on Sunday in Sao Paulo enabled him to assume the IZOD IndyCar Series championship lead by 13 points over Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti. In addition, Sato is the first Foyt driver to lead the series’ table at any point since Kenny Brack did it on his way to the 1998 title.

A team that had been condemned to back-marker status for years is now ruling the roost. It’s a sign of just how much the IZOD IndyCar Series has become an unpredictable free-for-all this season.

But it’s been a pleasure to watch from the observer’s standpoint. One can safely assume that it’s been especially fun for A.J. Foyt Racing, which is going full speed ahead into the event that made its namesake famous.

“I don’t think I’ve ever come down Gasoline Alley [at Indianapolis Motor Speedway] and had to take a left to our pit box,” said team director Larry Foyt in reference to the series’ top teams pitting near the end of pit road for the “500.”

“This team is really doing a fantastic job. Takuma is driving just amazingly. It’s been good going into the month of May. Obviously, this is a long month and anything can happen, but [it’s] always a positive to have good momentum going into Indy.”

As for A.J. himself, he was feeling well enough to attend last weekend’s Kentucky Derby following recent back surgery that had kept him from seeing Sato’s win last month at Long Beach (he watched the race on television from his home in Texas before going under the knife a few days later). He did not attend the Sao Paulo round because of the long flight’s potential for hindering his recovery, but he is set to return to his customary spot atop his team’s pit box at Indy.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.