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For most F1 teams, 4th place is as good as it gets

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SHANGHAI (AP) — A week ago, Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly came from nowhere to finish in fourth place in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

He and his team treated it like a victory.

“I must say, it’s been amazing,” Gasly said of his “success” as he prepares for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, the third race of the season.

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost was just as thrilled, and credited engine maker Honda.

“I expected a place between eight and 10,” Tost said Friday in Shanghai. “And in the end it was fourth place. It was a big, positive surprise and I’m very happy.”

For seven of the 10 teams in Formula One, getting one of their drivers to finish in fourth place is about all they can hope for. Forget about first, second or third.

Three teams and their six drivers monopolize the top spots in Formula One almost every race. Last season, five different drivers won races, all from the top three teams: Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel has won both races so far this season.

It was much the same in practice Friday ahead of Saturday’s qualifying for the Chinese GP.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes was quickest in both sessions, and Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen was second quickest each time. Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was third in both sessions, which stayed dry until a light rain began to fall in the final minutes of the second practice.

Hamilton will try to win his sixth race in China, and will be after his seventh pole position.

Rain is forecast for Saturday qualifying with a dry day predicted for Sunday.

“The battle for that fourth place in the championship is going to be extremely interesting through the year,” said Robert Fernley, the deputy team principal of Force India.

Last season, Force India finished fourth in the team standings, but light years behind the top three.

New series owner Liberty Media, which took over last season from long-time Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, hopes to give the small teams a chance to be more competitive when the current rules – called the Concorde Agreement – expire after the 2020 season.

The new owners are looking to cut costs and cap spending, but the richest teams, Mercedes and Ferrari, will have to agree – or cut a deal.

The smaller teams seem mostly on board.

“I support all the points that Liberty Media presented, and I hope that they will realize it,” said Tost, the Toro Rosso principal.

Though it runs in cycles, Formula One has traditionally been dominated by a few teams and drivers. The “also-ran” teams have taken to calling themselves “the midfield,” where competition is close for the spots behind the top three. But the gap is large.

Fernley, the Force India No. 2, was asked if he had ever seen the pack in the middle this tight.

“Not in recent years, no,” he replied. “I think it’s tremendous. The battle for that fourth place in the championship is going to be extremely interesting through the year.”

Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson was ninth in Bahrain, and just as excited as Gasly – the fourth-place winner.

Ninth place in Formula One is worth two points in the season standings, far behind the 25 the winner gets. But at least it’s something.

“It was a great race for us,” said the Swede, who praised the team’s new main sponsor, Alfa Romeo. “We’re coming from two very difficult years where we’ve been always at the back as a team. I was super happy to be back in the points. It’s been a long time.”

Karam, Daly get IndyCar rides with Carlin for Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – Sage Karam returns for the second-straight race and Conor Daly is back for another race with Carlin Racing at this weekend’s Iowa 300 NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway.

For Karam, it’s his third start of the 2019 season and his second straight with Carlin. In his five starts at Iowa Speedway dating back to 2010, Karam has never finished outside of the top three, recording four wins (USF2000 – 2010, Indy Pro 2000 – 2011 and 2012, Indy Lights – 2013) and scoring his first NTT IndyCar Series podium in 2015 with a third-place finish.

“I’m really excited to be back again this weekend with Carlin and SmartStop Self Storage for the Iowa 300. Iowa Speedway has always been a good track for me in the past, so I’m really looking forward to getting back to work there,” Karam said. “Coming off of a very productive weekend in Toronto, I’m looking forward to applying everything I’ve learned and continuing to work with the team to get the best results possible. A huge thank you to everyone at Carlin and SmartStop Self Storage for a great opportunity to race at one of my favorite tracks.”

Daly is back in a second Carlin entry. Earlier this year, the popular driver finished 11th for Carlin in the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. At Iowa, he will drive the team’s No. 23 Gallagher Chevrolet.

Daly finished 10th in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge for Andretti Autosport.

Daly raced at Iowa in 2016 for Dale Coyne Racing (finishing 21st) and in 2017 for A.J. Foyt Racing (finishing 19th).

The combination gives Carlin two more drivers to gather additional feedback on the car. Max Chilton remains the team’s primary driver but announced recently that he will forego all oval races to concentrate on street and road courses.

That created opportunities for Karam and Daly.

“We were very impressed with Sage’s steady progression throughout the Toronto race weekend and his willingness to learn and adapt,” said Carlin Team Principal Trevor Carlin. “The fact that he hadn’t been on a street course since 2015 and was still able to come right out of the gate confident and constantly improving every session was extremely impressive.

“The SmartStop Self Storage Chevrolet looked great out on track and their group has been a pleasure to work with, so we couldn’t be more pleased to have them back this weekend in Iowa. Sage has done really well in Iowa in the past, so hopefully we can use his experience and our past success at Iowa Speedway to come away with a good result for the team and our partners at SmartStop Self Storage.”

The Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway will take place on Saturday, July 20th at 7:15 pm ET and will be televised on NBCSN.