Andretti leads Texas Friday IndyCar first practice

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Three caution periods and fast tire wearing were the stories, more than speeds, coming out of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ lone practice session before qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway.

Marco Andretti led the 75-minute session, which had three interruptions, with a best speed of 217.950 mph in 43 laps.

Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan, in his first race with Sunoco/Turbo colors, was second ahead of Will Power, James Jakes and Simona de Silvestro. Kanaan made it in the 217 mph range with the other three in the 216s.

Five Hondas were sixth through 10th, Josef Newgarden ahead of Alex Tagliani, Target Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, and Detroit race two winner Simon Pagenaud.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ended the session 13th, said his car was particularly difficult to handle with even less downforce on the car.

“It was interesting; it’s really hot and with less downforce, there was a lot of sliding around,” Hunter-Reay told IndyCar Radio’s Nick Yeoman. “I did about 30 laps and had a cut right front tire. We stopped early and decided to not to burn a set of tires.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Jakes, the breakout star in Detroit, turned the challenges into a positive for fans.

“It’s gonna be a tough race man,” Jakes told Yeoman. “We did a lot of race running. It’s gonna be an entertaining race for you all with the (tire) drop off, and it should be really spread out.”

Tim Cindric, Penske Racing president, explained the nature of the drop off for Firestone’s compounds. After a test in February, Firestone brought a tire that features a slightly softer body construction and tread compound on the left-side tires to increase grip and a slightly harder right-side tread compound to add durability.

“(Will said) he felt a good balance, but night conditions are a lot different with traffic and trying to figure out how to gear,” Cindric told Yeoman. “Tonight will tell us more.”

Oriol Servia and Pippa Mann clocked in 19th and 20th in their first sessions in the No. 4 Panther Chevrolet and No. 18 Dale Coyne Honda. Mann’s DCR teammate Justin Wilson had a substantially loose race car and ran only 14 laps; rookie Tristan Vautier completed the most laps, 62, but only with a best lap of 208.962 to end 22nd.

Qualifying occurs at 3:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. ET) with final practice at 6:45 p.m. local time for half an hour. The qualifying order is below:

1. #5 E.J. Viso
2. #20 Ed Carpenter
3. #55 Tristan Vautier (R)
4. #19 Justin Wilson
5. #14 Takuma Sato
6. #18 Pippa Mann
7. #7 Sebastien Bourdais
8. #27 James Hinchcliffe
9. #25 Marco Andretti
10. #9 Scott Dixon
11. #11 Tony Kanaan
12. #67 Josef Newgarden
12a. #83 Charlie Kimball
14. #3 Helio Castroneves
15. #12 Will Power
16. #77 Simon Pagenaud
17. #98 Alex Tagliani
18. #78 Simona de Silvestro
19. #6 Sebastian Saavedra
20. #16 James Jakes
21. #15 Graham Rahal
22. #1 Ryan Hunter-Reay
23. #10 Dario Franchitti
24. #4 Oriol Servia

F1: Max Verstappen provides late-lap thrills at U.S. Grand Prix

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Leave it to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to provide some late-race thrills at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s key block on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton late in Sunday’s race denied Hamilton a chance to maybe chase down Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to win. And it helped deny Hamilton’s bid for the season championship.

Verstappen’s defensive skills allowed the Red Bull driver to finish second, his best result yet at the U.S Grand Prix, his fourth podium in six races. By keeping Hamilton third, it kept the season championship alive, even if just another week to the Mexican Grand Prix.

Last season, Verstappen had surged past Raikkonen on a final-lap pass to finish third. It was the kind of aggressive move that earned him the “Mad Max” nickname. Before he could even reach the podium, race officials declared Verstappen’s move illegal and bumped an angry Verstappen down to fifth.

The Circuit of the Americas this week installed a new curb on the same corner, dubbed “Verstoppen,” to punish drivers who tried anything similar this year. It worked when Verstappen hit it hard enough in qualifying to knock his car out of the session with a damaged suspension and gear box. He started Sunday’s race 18th.

The Dutch driver launched a furious attack through the field and found himself in the thick of things late Sunday. His move to block Hamilton wasn’t on the same corner with the curbs, and it came with him playing defense instead of being the aggressor.

Verstappen had to make multiple moves to keep Hamilton behind him and finally drove the Mercedes wide, forcing Hamilton to finally concede the position and the race.

“I was trying to get close to Kimi but at the same time keeping an eye on Lewis in my mirror. It was close, but we managed to hang on,” Verstappen said. “It is safe to say today went a lot better than expected.”

Knowing Verstappen’s aggressive nature, Hamilton said there was too much at stake to risk a collision.

“The key to me was to make sure I finished ahead of Seb. I don’t care when you win a championship, just that you win,” Hamilton said. “”For Max, to come back from so far, he did a great job.”

Verstappen has been just as aggressive at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In 2016, race officials ruled he improperly left the track to gain an advantage on Vettel to finish third and he was bumped from the podium. Last season, Verstappen’s strong start sent him into the lead out of the first turn, while Hamilton and Vettel bumped each other. The collision ruptured one of Hamilton’s tires.

Verstappen won the race while Hamilton limped home in ninth place, but still won the season championship.