Ricciardo ready for new chapter at Red Bull post-Vettel (VIDEO)

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Daniel Ricciardo does not feel under any extra pressure heading into the 2015 season despite four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel leaving Red Bull and making the Australian the obvious team leader.

Ricciardo was the breakout star of the 2014 season, finishing third in the championship and claiming three race wins as he put his more established teammate in the shade.

Vettel announced in September that he would be leaving Red Bull at the end of the year, allowing Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat to move up into the seat.

Speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton, Ricciardo said that he did not feel any extra pressure following Vettel’s absence, saying that Red Bull is fully committed to the new chapter in the team’s history.

“I’ve been in the factory a few times since he left, and there aren’t too many boxes of tissues!” Ricciardo joked. “It’s part of the game. People move on. What he gave to Red Bull was mega, and they’ll always have a lot of respect for him and for what he brought.It’s a new chapter now, and I’m ready to try and get a few more trophies of my own in there soon.

“It’s a new chapter now, and I’m ready to try and get a few more trophies of my own in there soon.”

Despite appearing to be the new team leader at Red Bull, Ricciardo feels that it will not be until he goes head-to-head with Kvyat out on track that the roles become clear.

“A few people have already said ‘now you’re a team leader’,” he said. “Obviously I’d like my results to speak for that, but until we get going there’s no number one or number two. It’s whoever is doing the job on track.

“Again, I have confidence in myself that I’ll be getting some good results, but not much changes. I’ll keep the recipe I’ve got and just refine it.”

As for cutting the gap to Mercedes at the front? Ricciardo is unsure whether Red Bull can bridge the gap to the world champions, but thinks that Red Bull stands a better chance than many in doing so.

“Mercedes is probably the question mark,” the Australian said. “We know they’ll be strong, but are they going to remain nearly a second quicker, or can we close the gap to two-tenths or something?

“I think we can, and definitely I expect us to be chomping at their heels. I’m looking forward to some more wins, that’s what I’ve got my sights set on, and hopefully come November we’re in the championship hunt.”

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

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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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.