IndyCar: Pagenaud ends Friday fastest in Houston

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As speculation surrounding his future begins to heat up this weekend in Houston, Simon Pagenaud isn’t letting it affect his day job.

The driver of the No. 77 Oculus Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda ended fastest on the day after the second Verizon IndyCar Series 45-minute practice session, at 1:00.1415 around the 1.7-mile M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park.

“I feel really good. This car is a pleasure to drive,” Pagenaud said post-practice. “The track has been improved quite a bit in Turn 1, which is quite pleasant. It looks pretty strong right now. We just need to keep up with the track because the car was pretty much perfect today. If we’re good tomorrow on the red Firestone tires, we should be in good shape.”

Second and third were Ryan Briscoe and Luca Filippi in the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, respectively. This marks Filippi’s first day in an IndyCar since he raced at Houston in October last year.

Helio Castroneves and Mikhail Aleshin rounded out the top five. Scott Dixon and Will Power, who won the two races in Houston last year, were eighth and ninth in this session. Power led the morning 45-minute practice.

This 45-minute practice session ended a few minutes early when Jack Hawksworth hit the curbing at the Turns 1 and 2 complex, with the latter curb launching the driver of the No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda airborne and then into the outside retaining wall. Hawksworth was OK but the Bryan Herta Autosport team will have a bit of work to do this evening.

Additionally, the curbing at Turn 2 is set to be ground down later today, to reduce the likelihood of liftoffs.

Aleshin (Turn 4) and Tony Kanaan (Turn 2) also had spins in the session but resumed without damage. Teams then completed standing start practice after the second practice session ended.

Here’s practice two times:

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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.