Carlos Munoz returns Andretti Autosport to top of Indy 500 practice

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After a day where Dario Franchitti interrupted, the Andretti Autosport contingent returned to the top of the timesheets in Thursday’s practice for the Indianapolis 500. Temperatures were cooler than Wednesday, in the 70s (ambient) and 100s (track) throughout the day.

Carlos Munoz, the rookie in the No. 26 Electric Energy Straws Chevrolet, put in the month’s fastest lap of 225.163 on his 60th of 70 laps turned. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second in the No. 1 DHL Chevrolet, at 225.006. Both laps came during the final hour of the day when the track was at its busiest and tows were frequent.

Marco Andretti (Andretti), Scott Dixon (Target Ganassi), Helio Castroneves (Penske) and E.J. Viso (Andretti) made it a “power team” dominated top six on the last day of running before IndyCar increases the boost pressure from 130 kPa to 140 kPA.

The boost increase is expected to provide 40 more horsepower, and roughly 4-5 mph per lap increase. Pole speeds are projected in either the high 229 mph range or potentially the low 230s.

JR Hildebrand (Panther), Ed Carpenter (ECR), Oriol Servia (Panther DRR) and Takuma Sato (Foyt) completed the top 10.

Thirty of the 32 drivers who ran full laps eclipsed the 220 mph barrier, with Ana Beatriz (Coyne) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (RLL) the only two who didn’t.

The thirty-third entrant, 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier in the family owned and operated No. 91 Lazier Partners Racing Chevrolet, finally made it on track for three installation laps and systems checks.

A.J. Foyt Racing rookie Conor Daly had the month’s first accident but emerged uninjured. Justin Wilson ran the most laps (100), and excluding Lazier’s three, Alex Tagliani (16) turned in the fewest total of the day.

“Fast Friday” is tomorrow with pole qualifying scheduled for Saturday.

You can see qualifying on Saturday on the NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET, and Sunday at noon ET. Qualifying will also be live streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra for mobile devices. 

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.