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IndyCar tests at reconfigured Texas test minus some Hondas

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Helio Castroneves immediately noticed the differences at the fast Texas Motor Speedway oval where he has won a record four IndyCar Series races and led more than 500 laps.

Castroneves and other IndyCar drivers, minus several Honda entries, tested there Wednesday. They got their first laps on the 1 1/2-mile track since it was completely repaved and significant changes made to Turns 1 and 2.

“Very valuable anytime you can come to a play when it’s completely new, because it’s completely new right now,” Castroneves said.

“It’s a different layout for sure,” Simon Pagenaud said.

The Texas test was supposed to be a full-field open test with 22 cars. But points leader Sebastien Bourdais and several Honda cars were held out as a precaution because their engines had higher mileage on them. Other cars not testing included entries designated for four-time series champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Ryan-Hunter Reay.

Instead of his usual No. 9, Dixon did laps in the No. 83 car of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball. Dixon had the fastest lap of the morning session at 219.362 mph, topping last year’s pole-winning speed at Texas.

While maybe preferable to have more Honda cars on track, Dixon didn’t think it would be too much of a disadvantage in the testing to gather data on the track’s new surface and configuration. Cars also ran in groups at times to help determine downforce levels for the June 10 race.

“Always valuable to get track team as a team, I believe. Multiple cars, maybe not so much,” Dixon said.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda and IndyCar had agreed for that team’s No. 5 to use a manufacturer spec engine, with James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin sharing time in the car. But the car was parked after an install lap when Chevrolet made an official complaint based on a series rule that doesn’t allow for spec engines in open tests.

Since IndyCar rules allow spec engines only for safety, engine or tire tests, Hinchcliffe will be able to run the car for a tire test Thursday.

The Firestone 600 at Texas last summer was delayed 2 1/2 months, starting June 12 and ending August 27.

The race was red-flagged because of rain after 71 of 248 scheduled laps June 12, after having been postponed a day by wet weather. The race was still under caution when it started to rain again as track officials worked to repair the safety barrier after a scary crash involving Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden.

Daly and Newgarden didn’t participate in the resumption of the race, which Graham Rahal won on a last-lap pass to beat Hinchcliffe by eight-thousandths (0.008) of a second, the closest IndyCar finish ever there.

Newgarden on Wednesday ran his first laps at Texas since breaking his collarbone and sustaining a small fracture in his right hand during that crash.

“I haven’t really thought about it much to be honest with you,” Newgarden said. “I missed the race, which sucked, but it’s great to be back. I love this track.”

Texas decided to repave the track and do extensive drainage improvements after both NASCAR weekends last year also were hampered by rain. The old asphalt had become porous, almost like sponge, making it difficult to dry in a timely matter.

As part of the project, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 degrees to 20 degrees and the racing surface widened from 60 to 80 feet in that area.

“It is actually quite different,” Will Power said. “It’s a tighter radius, less banking. But once the grip comes, once you’re wide open, it’s very similar.”

The IndyCar test came three days after Jimmie Johnson won his record seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series there. Johnson started from the back of the field when NASCAR raced on the redone surface without any previous testing.

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

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.