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Vettel still confident despite Hamilton’s win at Spanish GP

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Sebastian Vettel lost the battle, not the Formula One title.

Despite a great start in individual duels with Mercedes, Ferrari’s top driver finished Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix exactly where he started: in second place behind Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel can take heart, however, from the fact that the difference between the winner and runner-up came down to a choice of team strategy that went Mercedes’ way. Hamilton finished the race on a faster set of tires than Vettel, passing the German on Lap 43 of 66 and conserving his tires as he sped away to victory.

“I think we can be very happy, but today we’re not entirely happy because the win was there,” Vettel said. “The car was quick enough but the way the race happened, it wasn’t meant to be. The most important thing is that we were there. Once again fighting, hanging in there, not much missing at the end.”

Vettel remained in the series lead, now reduced to six points from 13 over Hamilton, with his third second-place finish to go with two wins in five races.

Equally as important, Ferrari showed that the upgrades brought by both title contenders to Spain canceled one another out.

Vettel’s Ferrari was a mere 0.051 seconds slower than Hamilton in Saturday’s qualifying. He finished the race less than four second behind Hamilton, and Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo was nowhere close finishing a distant third.

Vettel also won three of the four jousts he had with Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

His excellent jump from the start allowed him to pass Hamilton at the first turn.

Next, Vettel engaged Bottas in an exhilarating lap-long chase before finally getting past the Finn on the third try, even though the effort slowed down Vettel and let Hamilton shave off valuable seconds from behind.

“I was really happy, but then I looked down and (saw) I’d lost an awful lot of time, so I wasn’t that happy because the real fight was with Lewis,” Vettel said. “We lost four seconds.”

Those seconds meant that when Vettel emerged from a second pit stop he was neck-and-neck with a hard-charging Hamilton. But Vettel defended his inside position on a curve, sending Hamilton off as they came close to touching.

Vettel had kept his lead, but Hamilton waited for a straightaway to blow past him on his faster tires and never looked back.

Vettel said the race was there for the taking.

“The car is good, the team is in great form,” he said. “We’re very happy when we have the chance to race Mercedes. They have been proving over and over in the last few years that they are the team to beat. We are giving them, so far, a good run for their money.”

Vettel’s and Hamilton’s teammates both abandoned the race. Bottas bumped Kimi Raikkonen on the first turn, sending his Ferrari into Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, damaging both cars’ front suspension. Bottas was later forced to stop his Mercedes when it started spouting smoke midway through the race.

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said the knock by Bottas that cost Raikkonen an early exit was just part of F1.

“Shame for the end result, but we leave Spain knowing that we can count on a car that is solid and very quick,” Arrivabene said. “The championship is still a long way and we are already focusing on the next race at Monaco.”

After spending three years battling retired teammate Nico Rosberg for the title, Hamilton said he was enjoying taking the fight outside Mercedes’ garage.

“To have that close battle with him, with a four-time champ, is awesome,” Hamilton, himself a three-time champion, said about Vettel. “I think it was the rawest fight I can remember having for some real time, which I loved. This is why I race and this is what got me into racing in the beginning.”

Hamilton will get another chance to tangle with Vettel in two weeks at the Monaco GP.

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.