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Felipe Nasr explores U.S. options in visit to IndyCar at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Ex-Sauber Formula 1 driver Felipe Nasr is making the rounds at this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, as the 25-year-old Brazilian sorts out his next career move.

Nasr and Sauber parted ways late into last year’s offseason, and it’s left him looking for alternative options – one of which could be the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.

His Brazilian countryman, Helio Castroneves, has invited him to check out the scenery this weekend ahead of a potential arrival in 2018. Castroneves himself faces an uncertain future in IndyCar as he may not continue with Team Penske into 2018, and with the Team Penske and Acura Motorsports DPi program set to come online next season.

But beyond Castroneves, Nasr has also caught up with a few team members from Carlin, a team he drove for in Europe in the past.

“It was Helio that invited me! But I know the people from Carlin for many years though. Drive for British F3 and GP2 as well. So we have a good relationship and it’s good to see them doing well in Indy Lights,” Nasr told NBC Sports.

“This is my first weekend here. It’s good to have a look around. It’s a series that always caught my attention. I wanted to stay closely by. Helio will show me around. It’s interesting.”

Nasr identified IndyCar as one of a number of potential series options for next season.

“The thing is, everything was really late last year. The deal with Sauber wasn’t going to continue. That was December time,” Nasr explained.

“It was late to get in any other series. I’ve still driven other cars, other series this year. So I definitely will be racing next year, but not sure where yet. So why not have a look here? There might be something in the near future to do.

“I would say when I look at series out there, in IMSA, IndyCar, Formula E, the WEC, there’s all these series with great visibility and levels of competition.”

Although Nasr didn’t call Castroneves his mentor, per se, Castroneves has been an integral part of Nasr’s family life and upbringing.

He’s 42 while Nasr, who turned 25 last month, has only a little bit of U.S. experience – he starred with Michael Shank Racing as a Sunoco Challenge winner en route to third overall in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“Helio probably knows me since I’m young! He did South American F3 with my dad’s team. If not, he’s one of the most experienced guys in the field. It’s nice to be looking around and meet a few people,” he said.

“He was very involved in my dad’s team early on. When he moved to do IndyCar, he’s done some solid years here. He always kept a great relationship with my family. When he invited me to come along, I thought it’d be nice.

“He’s one of the guys I want to be around. Basically he knows how everything works here. It’s kind of different. It’s a very strong field with very strong teams.

“I’m just here as a nice spectator. So Helio will be showing me around, and hopefully I can get a few more details about this series.”

Hamilton, Bottas clock fastest times as F1 testing starts

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MONTMELO, Spain — Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sent an ominous signal to their challengers after clocking the two fastest lap times on the first day of Formula One’s preseason testing.

Hamilton set the top time of Wednesday’s opening session’s of 1 minute, 16.976 seconds, after he took over from Bottas behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow for the 2020 season. Bottas’ best effort was 0.337 seconds slower.

The Mercedes duo also completed the most laps of any team with 173.

Sergio Perez of Racing Point was the third fastest, followed by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Hamilton enters the season as the clear favorite as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and surpass the German’s mark of 91 career wins. Hamilton has six titles and 84 wins.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

In last year’s preseason testing, the Mercedes cars were slower than the rival Ferraris. But they beat them come the first race of the year and never lost their advantage.

Hamilton and Bottas had nine one-two race finishes last season as they dominated the field to finish first and second in the overall points standings.

Wednesday’s eight hours of running went smoothly for all teams, with no accidents or breakdowns and good weather ideal for high speeds.

The only setback was for Sebatian Vettel, who couldn’t run as scheduled because of an illness.

Charles Leclerc took Vettel’s place and settled for the 11th best time of the 15 drivers who drove.

Leclerc, who finished fourth ahead of Vettel last season, said that his team had changed strategy.

“Last year in testing we were great but the first race was a little less great, and I think we have learned a few things on this,” he said. “This year we have started trying to focus more on ourselves and on trying to learn the car as much as possible during these first few days and then focus on performance later on.”

Verstappen finished third last season and is expected to again be biggest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance along with the two Ferraris.

Verstappen focused on accumulating 168 laps as Red Bull’s sole driver on the track. Alexander Albon will get his turn with the Red Bull on Thursday.

Williams’ George Russell was the first car to take the track, ensuring his team got off to a better start than during last year’s preseason when its car wasn’t ready to run until the third day of testing.

This year’s rules have not varied much ahead of the massive overhaul of regulations set to take effect in 2021 with the goal of shaking up the pecking order and closing the gap between the three traditional title challengers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and all the rest.

This season’s tweaks feature fewer tests days to compensate for the record-breaking 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam GP and the return of the Dutch GP. Preseason testing has been reduced from a total of eight days to six, and the mid-season test has been eliminated.

Cars will now sport shark fins on the engine cover with the number of the driver to help fans identify them better. Drivers have been given more control of the go sequence at the starting line, and those large screens that crews would wheel out to shield cars from the view of snoopy rivals during tests have been banned.

Alfa Romeo and Haas unveiled their cars early on Wednesday in the pitlane to complete the presentation of the new vehicles for this season.

Testing continues on Thursday and Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish GP, and again from Feb. 26-28.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.