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F1: Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton fastest in second Brazilian GP practice

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton set the pace in practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday, keeping Mercedes with the edge in the fight for the Formula One constructors’ championship.

Bottas edged his Mercedes teammate on a warmer Interlagos track than the expected for the rest of the weekend. The Finnish driver had a lap of 1 minute, 08.846 seconds in the second practice session at the Sao Paulo circuit, with world champion Hamilton only 0.003 seconds behind.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished third, 0.073 seconds from Bottas. The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen ended in fourth and fifth places, respectively, and Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen was sixth.

Mercedes leads Ferrari in the constructor’s championship by 55 points.

Bottas could not say what made the small difference between him and five-time champion Hamilton. He insisted the two Mercedes will have to improve to secure the constructors’ title.

“We can’t be feeling satisfied going to the hotel tonight, everyone will be working,” said Bottas, currently fourth in the drivers’ championship. “It is a short track, so the margin (for improvement) is small.”

Hamilton said he expects the biggest challenge coming from Ferrari, not Red Bull. He said “the car is feeling better than in Mexico,” where he secured his title two weeks ago.

“We got through everything we needed to,” he said. “We just need to keep working on it.”

Vettel said his performance was troubled by a screw that fell between his legs during the afternoon session. “We found it in the end,” the four-time champion said. “We still have to improve the car because it doesn’t feel good yet. If we get the balance in the window tomorrow, then it can be tight (against Mercedes).”

The German driver is under pressure to deliver good performances in Brazil and in the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP after a series of mistakes that left him out of contention for the title.

Red Bull’s Verstappen led the first practice session on Friday, with Vettel and Hamilton close behind.

Ricciardo, who was fourth in both sessions, was handed a five-place grid penalty after Red Bull had to replace his turbocharger for the sixth time this season.

The Australian driver, who was on pole position in Mexico, also started from the back because of penalties in Italy and Russia.

“It sounds really simple and silly, but bad luck really is the best term I can use,” Ricciardo said.

The second session was stopped after nine minutes because Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg crashed entering the front stretch. The German driver was not injured but the car was badly damaged.

Rain is expected in qualifying on Saturday and in the race on Sunday.

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!