Rosberg and Mercedes finish testing on top

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After his teammate Lewis Hamilton managed to set the timesheets alight yesterday in Barcelona, Nico Rosberg went even quicker to bring pre-season testing to a close in the best possible fashion.

The German driver finished three tenths clear of Fernando Alonso at the top, which will predictably lead many to label Mercedes favorites for when Formula One 2013 gets underway in two weeks’ time.

Rosberg and Alonso battled for much of the morning in pursuit of the quickest time. The Ferrari driver’s spell at the top lasted just two minutes until Rosberg smashed Alonso’s time, as well as that of Hamilton from the day before.

Jenson Button impressed to finish third, but the one second gap to Alonso in P2 will be cause for concern at McLaren. Sauber picked the best possible time to find form, with Nico Hulkenburg finishing fourth, just one tenth behind Button. Despite a late run, Raikkonen could only finish fifth, 0.006 seconds ahead of Force India’s Paul di Resta.

Williams failed to repeat their good Saturday form, with Maldonado and Bottas finishing seventh and ninth respectively. World champion Sebastian Vettel ended up a disappointing eighth, and after Mark Webber’s poor showing yesterday, Red Bull appear to have a lot of work to do prior to the Australian Grand Prix.

Caterham finally edged out Marussia as Charles Pic finished less than half a tenth ahead of Jules Bianchi. Daniel Ricciardo ended up a disappointing twelfth as Toro Rosso’s early testing form continues to dwindle, but he did finish ahead of Marussia’s Max Chilton. The British driver will undoubtedly be alarmed by the 0.9 second gap between himself and teammate Bianchi.

The session today marked the end of winter testing in 2013, meaning that the next chance for development comes in Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix. Mercedes may maintain that they are not in a position to claim race wins, yet their pace is impressive enough to suggest the contrary. Regardless, all will be revealed when Formula One returns in two weeks’ time.

Unofficial Times

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.130
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:20.494 +0.364
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1:21.444 +1.314
4. Nico Hulkenburg Sauber 1:21.541 +1.411
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:21.658 +1.528
6. Paul di Resta Force India 1:21.664 +1.534
7. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:22.415 +2.285
8. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:22.514 +2.384
9. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:22.524 +2.394
10. Charles Pic Caterham 1:23.115 +2.985
11. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:23.167 +3.037
12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:23.628 +3.498
13. Max Chilton Marussia 1:24.103 +3.973

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/