Rosberg wary of Red Bull pace

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Nico Rosberg has identified Red Bull as being the team to beat in this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix following an impressive display from the defending world champions during the second free practice session at Spa-Francorchamps.

Despite suffering from a late puncture, Sebastian Vettel finished quickest ahead of teammate Mark Webber with both Red Bull drivers finishing over three-quarters of a second quicker than their nearest rival, Romain Grosjean. Rosberg could only finish ninth, and he has conceded that it will be tough for Mercedes to win for a fourth time this season at Spa.

“It’s looking a bit more difficult for us here than expected, especially when Red Bull are very strong,” Rosberg said. “It’s going to be difficult to beat them at the moment.”

However, this is a track that Rosberg likes and one that he is confident of doing well at thanks to the improvements made by Mercedes over the past twelve months.

“It’s an absolutely amazing track, and for me especially because our car is so much quicker than last year, maybe some other teams don’t have such a big difference but for us, last year we were nowhere. Now we’ve got a decent car, the difference is just incredible.”

Rosberg was surprised to hear about Vettel’s tire failure towards the end of the session, having not had any major problems with degradation himself.

“For us it was okay, but we need to look into that,” the German driver said.

In Free Practice 2, Mercedes did focus on their long-runs and their sustained pace was on par with Red Bull’s times, suggesting that a four-way fight between Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton for the win on Sunday could be on the cards. However, with rain on the cards, that could be all set to change.

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.