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Penske, ECR continue Chevrolet aero testing at Texas

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Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing hit the track at Texas Motor Speedway for further manufacturer testing with the 2018 aero kit, with drivers Josef Newgarden (in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet) joining the ECR duo of Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot (in the No. 20 and 21 Fuzzys Vodka Chevrolets, respectively) for a full day of testing on the high-banked 1.5-mile oval.

The Chevrolet outing follows a similar one for Honda at the Texas oval, where Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe tested in October.

Newgarden explained that the aero package definitely makes the car feel different, but not as much as he was expecting on the Texas oval.

“It feels different; I wouldn’t say drastically different from a feel standpoint,” said the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “This type of an oval will be less change than some of the other tracks with aero configurations. There’s a small difference just running alone.”

Newgarden also added the car’s structure and aesthetics make it both look and feel like a proper racing car.

“Everything getting lower I think is preferred, the side pods getting pushed forward – those are the big aesthetic differences we really wanted,” said Newgarden. “There is more crush structure in the way of the driver with the side pods coming forward, but it looks more like an open-wheel car. The shaping of the side pod looks like a proper open-wheel car.”

Ed Carpenter echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, highlighting that the major difference in the big oval package is in the way the car produces downforce, rather than the amount it produces.

“Compared to Phoenix, it’s not as different but has a different feel. It makes downforce in a different way and (the way) you sense the feedback from the car for me is a little different,” said Carpenter.

Pigot, whose only oval races have been at the last two Indianapolis 500s – and neither with ECR – is chomping at the bit to get back to oval competition. He did test at Texas though filling in for JR Hildebrand in April, while Hildebrand recovered from a hand injury sustained at Long Beach.

“I’m excited to go oval racing again. It’s been awhile since I’ve consistently driven on ovals. I think it will only help that I will be in the car throughout the whole season rather than here and there,” he said.

Pigot added that he’s enjoying doing development work for the aero package, a role that he admits is new to him.

“It’s something I’ve never really been a part of before, developing somewhat of a new car with the team. On the road course side of things, it’s been all my feedback. Hopefully, it is a good thing and not a bad thing when we get to the first race!” he detailed about his role with helping ECR and Chevrolet develop the new bodywork.

“It’s a cool experience to step up into a full-season role and also step up in a development way as well. It’s nice to be here on the ovals and have Ed driving the car a lot. He’s got a ton of experience, someone I can ask questions to and relate to a lot more than when we’ve been doing road-course testing so far.”

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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.