Perez scores first top-five of year, but Force India still with much to analyze (VIDEO)

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Coming out of the first sector on the first lap, the graphic read: 1: PER.

As, at Sector 1, Sergio Perez in the Force India-Mercedes led the Belgian Grand Prix. Perez got a monster run coming out of Eau Rouge after Lewis Hamilton didn’t fully hit his marks, and he moved to the outside of the Mercedes driver down the Kemmel Straight, but was unable to fully complete the pass around the outside into Les Combes.

He didn’t get to complete the lap in the lead, but it still marked the best moment of the season for the improving team with its updated chassis, as Perez was scored second at the end of the first lap.

An early pit stop was required to cover Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, with the two ultimately set to battle over the final podium position behind the outright quicker pair of Mercedes W06s, who would later streak off into the distance. Perez pitted at that point and switched from Pirelli’s softs to softs, then pitted a second time for new mediums for the final 23 laps of what became a 43-lap race.

Perez would later drop back and it was with some disappointment that he ended fifth at the end of the race, even though it is still both his and the team’s best result of the year by a somewhat decent margin (previous best had been seventh on three occasions, twice by Nico Hulkenberg and once by Perez).

Perez described his race afterwards, as this was in theory the closest he has come to a podium result since coming third at the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“Fifth place and ten points is a good result, but we just lacked the pace to really fight for the podium today,” Perez said.

“My start was very strong and I was close to taking the lead on lap one when I was alongside Lewis [Hamilton] after Eau Rouge.

“I settled into a good rhythm, but we had very high degradation on the soft tires in the first two stints. It was a bit better on the medium, although we struggled in the middle sector with our low downforce set-up and that hurt my pace.

“We were racing some quick cars and it was hard to fight off Grosjean and Kvyat, so it’s clear we need to analyze our performance and see where we can improve. I’m already looking forward to the next race in Monza, which is another track where I think we can be competitive.”

While Perez banked the needed 10 points to keep Force India firmly in the fight for fifth in the Constructor’s Championship, they lost a spot to Lotus, who scored 15 points by way of Romain Grosjean’s first podium since Austin 2013.

Hulkenberg’s race however ended before it even had the chance to begin. The German was sidelined off the grid with a loss of power.

Ryan Norman returns to Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport in 2019

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Ryan Norman will return to Andretti Autosport for their third season together in 2019 after scoring his first win and first pole with that organization in 2018.

I’m really excited to finally make it official that I’ll be returning to Andretti Autosport for my third season competing in Indy Lights,” said Norman in a press release. “We’ve built a solid foundation over the past two years and I’m ready to fight for wins, podiums and ultimately the championship, with such a great group of people who have become like a family to me.”

Norman finished 2018 fourth in the championship, earning his first career win in race 15 of the 17-race schedule at Gateway Motorsports Park in August.

Norman’s first pole came in the finale at Portland International Raceway in September, but he crashed on the first lap and finished last (8th).

“We’re very happy that Ryan is rejoining us for his third season of Indy Lights,” said Andretti Autosport President, JF Thormann. “We were pleased with his performance this past season, and his potential as a driver began to really shine after his win at Gateway. He’s right on track with his progression plan put together by his engineering team, and we feel strongly that he has what it takes to be a contender for the 2019 championship.”

Norman will essentially replace teammates Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta, who will race for Rookie of the Year honors in IndyCar next season.  O’Ward finished first in the Indy Lights standings last year; Herta finished second.

Norman’s 2019 campaign will begin on the streets of St. Petersburgh, Florida March 9, 2019. That will be the first of a double-header with Race 2 running the following day.