Megennis (left) and Fischer (right). Photos: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Pelfrey retains Megennis, Fischer for second seasons

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Team Pelfrey has confirmed its first two drivers for its Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires programs in 2017, with Robert Megennis (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) and TJ Fischer (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) set for their second seasons in each of the respective championships. The team has moved its operations for both to Indianapolis over the winter.

Megennis was perhaps the revelation of the 2016 USF2000 campaign, as the series’ top rookie at just age 16. He has the potential to win races and contend for a title this year, as the USF2000 championship shifts to the debut of the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis.

“I am delighted to be returning to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda with Team Pelfrey. The revitalized team, relocated to Indianapolis, will be hard to beat,” said Megennis, who will drive the No. 80 Palo Alto Networks entry. “After the awesome rookie season we had in 2016, I’m super excited to see what we can do in our second year in the series and my third year in yellow!”

Fischer moved up midseason from USF2000 into Pro Mazda. The Californian was consistent, frequently finishing between fifth and sixth, and has potential to become a podium regular this year.

“It’s clear, they have won the past two Pro Mazda titles, and the demeanor within the team shows why they’ve been so successful. Last year, I got a taste of what racing in the Pro Mazda Championship was like and now I am able to learn from the 2016 season and apply it to a full proper year,” said Fischer, who during the year will work to increase awareness on his Project O2 initiative. Fischer created the O2 campaign, which is designed to inform, inspire, and innovate a new path to asthma awareness.

These two signings should kick off a flurry of Mazda Road to Indy announcements for Pro Mazda and USF2000 over the next month or so, before the official preseason test takes place in Homestead, Fla. at the end of February.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.