LEXINGTON, Ohio (Friday, July 28, 2017) – Ryan Hunter-Reay continued his recent surge, setting the pace on the first day of practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

The Andretti Autosport driver was fastest in the second of two 45-minute sessions on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a lap of 1 minute, 4.2961 seconds (126.428 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda. Hunter-Reay is hopeful it bodes well for a strong showing 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 place on two occasions, including 2003 when he logged the first of what are now 37 career podium finishes.

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO: Practice 1Practice 2 Combined practice results

“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 (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.”

Three Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders trailed Hunter-Reay on the day’s time sheet. Josef Newgarden was second at 1:04.4375 (126.150 mph) in the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing was third in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda (1:04.4910, 126.045 mph) and Simon Pagenaud fourth in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet (1:04.5625, 125.906 mph).

Dixon leads the standings after 12 of 17 races. The four-time series champion is three points ahead of Helio Castroneves, 19 in front of reigning series champion and 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 today 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 tomorrow 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. A final pre-qualifying practice is scheduled for 9:55 a.m. ET 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 NBCSN).

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.

Sato named recipient of prestigious Prime Minister’s Award in Japan

The honors keep coming for Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato.

Today in his native Japan, the Andretti Autosport driver was named the recipient of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for his groundbreaking victory May 28 in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500, outlasting three-time winner Helio Castroneves in a thrilling battle to the finish. The 40-year-old 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 just the 33rd recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award, an appropriate number since 33 cars traditionally compete in the Indianapolis 500.

Season champion to be honored in NBCSN prime-time telecast

INDYCAR is helping its loyal fans share in the celebration crowning the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion with an hour-long program airing in prime time Sept. 28 on NBCSN.

The show will honor the driver and team who win this year’s title, as well as other award winners, and include a recap of this riveting season that has already seen nine different drivers win in the first 12 races. It is part of an extensive INDYCAR plan to properly fete the 2017 champion.

INDYCAR and NBCSN are also increasing promotion of the championship battle – which currently sees the top four drivers in the standings separated by a mere 23 points – in the races leading to the season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma 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 on Aug. 26, and the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on Sept. 3. The Astor Cup will be on display at those events for fans to see and to serve as an inspiration for the contending drivers.

The 2017 champion will also 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, Florida, that will serve to commemorate the 2017 award winners while at the same time ringing in the beginning of the exciting new season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Mazda Road to Indy recap

Oliver Askew led every lap to win 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.

Anthony Martin grabbed the lead on the opening lap and drove on 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 of a second at the finish, moving five points ahead of Franzoni for the championship lead in the procress.

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