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Marco Andretti fastest on Friday at Barber

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Marco Andretti put Andretti Autosport and Honda back on top in the second 45-minute free practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Round 3 of the 2017 season.

The driver of the No. 27 Honda, running in a plain red-and-white livery this weekend with United Fiber & Data only in an associate sponsor role this weekend, put down a best time of 1:07.7134, after installing a set of Firestone’s red alternate tires.

Team Penske’s pair of Simon Pagenaud and Will Power also got into the 1:07 bracket, as did initial Barber winner Helio Castroneves and six-time Barber podium finisher Scott Dixon.

Six of the top 10 were Hondas in this session after Penske and Chevrolet completed a 1-4 sweep in the morning session.

Two red flags interrupted running, a pair of lazy spins for both Max Chilton at Turn 15 and Ed Jones at Turn 5, with neither Brit (yes, Jones is Dubai-based) incurring any damage to their cars.

Meanwhile Ryan Hunter-Reay had a moment as he ran wide at Turn 2 and made light contact with the outside ARMCO barrier to his left front tire, but again sustained no visible damage. Charlie Kimball had a quick off-and-on at the end of the session but escaped unharmed.

Third practice runs tomorrow morning with qualifying coming Saturday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. CT and local time, then on air on NBCSN and online at 3:30 p.m. CT.

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F1: Valtteri Bottas urges Lewis Hamilton to clear up Mercedes future and sign

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MONACO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas is urging Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to sign a new contract, even though his own future is uncertain.

Bottas needs to convince Mercedes to give him a new deal for next year. Hamilton, meanwhile, is stalling on signing a new one even though an offer is in place. Hamilton was again asked about his contract situation on Wednesday, and maintains he’s in no hurry.

“There isn’t any sticking point. There just hasn’t been any rush,” Hamilton said. “There’s no discussion with anybody else, there’s no consideration for anybody else, it’s just (me) taking my time.”

But Bottas would like Hamilton’s future cleared up.

“For sure I would. First of all, I would like to stay here. That is my goal for the long term. It would be nice if Lewis wants to stay and finds an agreement,” Bottas said at the Mercedes motorhome. “I enjoy working with him, I enjoy the challenge he gives me. I enjoy the fact he’s four-time world champion and at the moment I’m none. It makes me try harder to be better.

“It wouldn’t change my mind that I want to stay here, but I think we work well together,” he added.

Last season was their first together. Bottas was drafted in from Williams as an emergency replacement after Nico Rosberg retired. He won three races but he stood out more as the ideal support driver as Hamilton reclaimed the F1 title.

Bottas understands Mercedes expects improvement.

“We had a chat before the season and naturally we expect performance gains compared to last year, being closer to Lewis,” Bottas said. “That’s what you need to do in the second season.”

However, Bottas says he has not been set a specific target in terms of points or where he finishes overall.

“There’s no magic number,” he said. “There’s no clause or anything, so it’s how the team feels I’m performing.”

Bottas finished third overall last year behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.

He is in the same overall position – 20 points behind Vettel and 37 adrift of Hamilton – heading into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver would be closer if not for a dramatic finish at the Azerbaijan GP last month. With victory seemingly guaranteed, he sustained a tire puncture and ended up with no points. He bounced back with a fine drive for second place in Spain two weeks ago.

“I feel like I’ve met my performance targets. Pace-wise I’m on the level I need, but result-wise I’m not happy,” Bottas said. “It’s been strange. But I know if I keep improving very good things will come.”

He has faced a considerable amount of criticism with observers questioning whether he can compete at the top level. Yet driving under the constant pressure of having a point to prove has also made him more resilient.

“For sure it makes you tougher and better,” he said. “From each difficult weekend, I feel I’ve been able to turn it (around).”