Lotus confident of their chances in Barcelona

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After up-and-down qualifying efforts in the first four races, Lotus came through with better “Q” form on Saturday at Circuit de Catalunya as Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean — who both hit the podium last time out in Bahrain — placed fourth and sixth respectively on the grid for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix (7:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network/NBC Sports Live Extra).

Naturally, Raikkonen (pictured), who comes to Barcelona 10 points back of championship leader Sebastian Vettel, isn’t letting himself get hyped up about the performance on Saturday. But he wonders if the Mercedes front row of pole sitter Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will be able to finally turn their one-lap mastery into something more.

If they can’t, the Finn and his other main rivals may be in prime position on Sunday.

“You can’t really say on Saturday what will happen; you just have to make a good start and then see what you can do,” Raikkonen said. “We’ve got two fast Mercedes ahead of us and we’ll have to see how strong they are over a full distance. I’m sure the Ferrari and Red Bull will be competitive, so like any race we’ll just do our best and see where we end up.”

A mistake on his flying lap in Q3 caused Grosjean to originally qualify seventh this morning, but he was elevated to sixth following a grid penalty for Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. Lotus has done well in taking care of their tires this season, and the Frenchman is banking on that to help him get another solid result.

“We saw a lot of degradation during Friday’s [practice] sessions and today, it was a bit warmer, so with the changing conditions tyre management will again be key,” he said. “Our car is quite good in this aspect; it has been well designed and prepared by our engineers to preserve the tires, so we’ll see what happens and hope to find the best possible strategy.”

Watch tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix online and on your mobile device.

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/