Lauda has no concerns about race procedure in Japan

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Formula 1 legend and Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda says that he has no concerns about the way in which the FIA organized today’s Japanese Grand Prix despite some of the decisions being called into question after the race.

The lingering presence of Typhoon Phanfone threatened to stop the race from going ahead of Sunday, with race promoters Honda refusing to change the start time despite receiving a request from the FIA to do so.

In spite of these concerns, the race went ahead as planned, but did not reach its full distance of 53 laps after it was red flagged following Jules Bianchi’s accident that has left him with severe head injuries.

Williams’ Felipe Massa believes that the race should have been red flagged five laps earlier than it was due to the treacherous weather conditions, but Lauda feels that without the advantage of hindsight, the FIA must be judged to have made the right calls.

“In the end, the rain was not the real issue,” the Austrian said. “The safety cars were put out and the race was run safe more or less to the end.

“It could have been run to the end without the accident so the darkness wasn’t issue here. The Sutil accident was way off the line and under normal circumstances we would not discuss it.

“You cannot say anything was done wrong. It was started in the most sensible way and this is what they did.”

Lauda also said that he does not feel that any of the decisions taken by those in charge of the race at Suzuka contributed to Bianchi’s accident.

“Motor racing is dangerous,” he said. “We get used to nothing happening and then suddenly we all get surprised.

“If one car goes off, the truck comes out and then the next car goes off. This was very unfortunate.”

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.