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Hunter-Reay Shows Speed At Mid-Ohio

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, July 29 2017

Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fastest practice lap on Friday at Mid-Ohio, site of this weekend’s IndyCar Series race.

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Ryan Hunter-Reay continued his recent surge to the front of the Verizon IndyCar Series running order Friday, setting the pace during the opening day of practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The Andretti Autosport driver was fastest in the second of two 45-minute sessions on the 2.258-mile/13-turn natural terrain layout in Lexington, Ohio, with a lap of 1 minute, 4.2961-seconds/126.428 mph in the No. 28 Honda. Hunter-Reay is confident those numbers bode well for a strong result in Sunday’s race.

“Today, it was a good run. Car was good,” said the 36-year-old Floridian, whose best finish in 11 previous races at Mid-Ohio was third on two occasions, including 2003 when he logged the first of what are now 37 career podium finishes.

“We just made some improvements on it, made the right steps through the session, some (changes) session to session,” said Hunter-Reay, who has finished third (at Iowa Speedway) and sixth (Streets of Toronto) in the past two races. “We didn’t test here a week ago, so it’s nice to see we have the pace from last year, that we were able to roll in and improve from last year.”

A trio of championship contenders trailed Hunter-Reay _ the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapols 500 winner _ on the time sheet.

Josef Newgarden was second at 1:04.4375/126.150 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing was third in the No. 9 Honda at 1:04.4910/126.045 mph and reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud was fourth in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:04.5625/125.906 mph.

“I think we had a pretty good session,” said Newgarden, driving the car Pagenaud wheeled during the 2016 season. “We were quick in the first session, too. We ended up seventh. But this track is such a game of when you run, where in the tire life you are at what stage of the session. The track just keeps getting quicker and quicker as you run. You got to be the last man standing here almost. I think that’s going to be the case in qualifying. You got to try and time everything as best you can, be the last person across the line.

“For us, I think we’ve had some good success this year on road-courses. We probably could have had even more success at a couple other places that didn’t fully materialize. The whole group at Team Penske is fast. We have good cars this weekend. We have to try to capitalize on that.”

Dixon leads the point standings after 12 of 17 races. The four-time series champion is three points ahead of Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, 19 in front of 2016 Mid-Ohio winner Pagenaud and 23 up on Newgarden.

“I think it’s a good start for the No. 9 NTT Data car,” Dixon said. “Finishing P3 overall isn’t bad, but you always want to be at the top at the end of the day. I love racing here; I love Mid-Ohio and all its challenges. I hope we can continue to improve (Saturday) and put on a good show Sunday.”

Both practice sessions ran issue-free, other than light rain that brought all cars to pit lane for 15 minutes in the afternoon practice.

We were able to fine-tune a few things throughout the day,” Pagenaud said. “We had good speed in the car, but it’s a matter of getting the balance right. Our knowledge base is good for the track. We had good success a year ago. It’s nice for me to feel better physically this year. I had a little tweak of my back here last year that made it a pretty difficult weekend, but this year all is well. I’m looking forward to qualifying. It’s such a chess match here and that’s a fun challenge.”

A final pre-qualifying practice is scheduled for 9:55 a.m. (EDT) Saturday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), ahead of Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying to determine the pole-winner at 2 p.m. (live on NBC Sports Network).

Sunday’s race will be the 33rd for Indy cars on the scenic, undulating permanent road-course since 1980. Live coverage begins at 3 p.m. on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore re-air at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

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Global honors keep rolling in for reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato.

Friday in his native Japan, the Andretti Autosport driver was named recipient of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for his groundbreaking victory May 28 in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500, outlasting three-time winner Helio Castroneves of Team Penske in a thrilling battle to the finish. The 40-year-old resident of Tokyo will return home to officially be presented with the award by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Aug. 4.

“It means a lot personally but I think it’s great for the sport,” Sato said. “I really appreciate the support I am getting and this award is certainly an absolute honor to have it. I just couldn’t be happier.”

Sato is the 33rd recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award, an appropriate number since 33 cars traditionally compete in the Indy 500 at iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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INDYCAR will celebrate crowning of its 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion with an hour-long television program airing in primetime Sept. 28 on NBC Sports Network.

The show will honor the driver and team winning this year’s title, as well as other season-long award winners, and include a recap of a season that already has produced nine different winners in the first 12 races.

INDYCAR and NBCSN also are increasing promotion of the championship battle _ which currently has the top four drivers in the standings separated by 23 points _ in races leading to the season-finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in California on Sept. 18.

“The battle for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship has been decided in the final laps of the season for the past 11 years running, and we expect that to be the case again in 2017,” said C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer for INDYCAR. “We have a comprehensive promotional plan that will heighten the excitement and anticipation in the remaining few races. Our broadcast and communications strategy provides a solid platform to champion our heroes and thrill our fans.”

The Astor Cup, the century-old trophy that has been presented to the Verizon IndyCar Series champion annually since 2011, will travel to the three races before the finale _ the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 20; the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., on Aug. 26 and the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International on Sept. 3. The Astor Cup will be on display at those events for fans to see and to serve as inspiration for the contending drivers.

Additionally, the 2017 champion will embark on a national media tour at the conclusion of the season. The INDYCAR community will honor this year’s champion driver and team in a March 2018 event at St. Petersburg, Fla., that will serve to commemorate the 2017 award winners while at the same time ringing in the new season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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Oliver Askew led every lap en route to winning the first of two Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda races this weekend at Mid-Ohio and extend his points lead. Askew, driving for Cape Motorsports, won by 1.3282-seconds over Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) and 1.9339-seconds over Rinus VeeKay (Pabst Racing). Askew leads VeeKay by 29 points with two races remaining this season.

Meanwhile, Anthony Martin bolted into the lead on the opening lap and drove to victory in the first of three Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires races this weekend. Martin (Cape Motorsports) edged Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) by 0.3847-seconds at the finish, moving five points ahead of Franzoni for the championship lead.

Santi Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing) won pole position for the first of two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races this weekend with a lap of 1:11.3694-seconds/113.898 mph. Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) qualified second for Saturday morning’s race (1:12.0283).

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Friday’s combined practice results for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200 on the 2.258-mile/13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, with rank, car number in parenthesis, driver, chassis/engine/aero-kit, time/speed and total laps:

  1. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, 1:04.2961-seconds/126.428 mph, 39
  2. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:04.4375/126.150, 36
  3. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 1:04.4910/126.045, 34
  4. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:04.5625/125.906, 35
  5. (98) Alexander Rossi, Dallara/Honda, 1:04.6358/125.763, 37
  6. (12) Will Power, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:04.6828/125.672, 42
  7. (27) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, 1:04.7770/125.489, 37
  8. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 1:04.7973/125.450, 44
  9. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:04.8154/125.415, 35
  10. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Honda, 1:04.8613/125.326, 32
  11. (26) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 1:05.1008/124.865, 39
  12. (19) Ed Jones-(R), Dallara/Honda, 1:05.1411/124.788, 30
  13. (8) Max Chilton, Dallara/Honda, 1:05.1429/124.784, 44
  14. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara/Honda, 1:05.1859/124.702, 42
  15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Honda, 1:05.2065/124.662, 35
  16. (20) Spencer Pigot, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:05.2931/124.497, 40
  17. (4) Conor Daly, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:05.2975/124.489, 37
  18. (10) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Honda, 1:05.3474/124.394, 34
  19. (18) Esteban Gutierrez-(R), Dallara/Honda, 1:05.4063/124.282, 37
  20. (21) JR Hildebrand, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:05.4646/124.171, 45
  21. (14) Carlos Munoz, Dallara/Chevrolet, 1:05.4686/124.163, 32

Total Laps for Combined Sessions: 786. (R)=Rookie. All cars on Firestone Firehawk tires.

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, July 29 2017
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