Mercedes Formula One driver Rosberg of Germany celebrates his pole position after the qualifying session of the Monaco F1 Grand Prix

Ruthless Rosberg storms to third pole in a row

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Nico Rosberg has secured his third pole position in a row during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday, edging out teammate Lewis Hamilton who completes an all-Mercedes front row.

Despite the weather threatening to rain on Rosberg’s parade, he set a fastest time of 1:13.876 late on in Q3 to finish on top, overcoming the threat of both Red Bull drivers who qualified 3rd and 4th, with Sebastian Vettel outqualifying Monaco-specialist Mark Webber. Former Monaco winners Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso finished P5 and P6, but their teammates failed to make it into the final session. McLaren enjoyed a good qualifying session to finish 7th and 9th, Perez ahead of Button, split by Adrian Sutil. Jean-Eric Vergne completed the top ten for Toro Rosso.

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Q1 got underway with most drivers going out on the intermediate compound due to the brief rain shower before qualifying. Jules Bianchi’s qualifying only lasted a few minutes, with an airbox fire forcing him to pull over at Casino Square. The early pace was set by Mark Webber, lapping well done on Rosberg’s quickest time in practice earlier in the day, but the times only became faster and faster as the track dried out. As a drying line emerged, it became a case of being on track at the right time, and Nico Rosberg returned to the top of the timesheets with around 5 minutes to go, only to be beaten by teammate Lewis Hamilton. Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean’s mechanics worked hard to try and get both cars back on track, but there wasn’t enough time for Ferrari. Grosjean enjoyed better fortune, getting out with a few minutes to spare, and the Frenchman even managed to end the session P4 behind Pastor Maldonado, Jean-Eric Vergne and Fernando Alonso. Joining Bianchi and Massa in the dropzone were Paul di Resta, Charles Pic, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton, with Giedo van der Garde making it through to Q2 for Caterham.

The rain persisted at the beginning of Q2, causing many drivers to get out early in an attempt to post a banker lap on the intermediate tires. Q1 star van der Garde made the most of his foray into the second session by running as high as 5th at one point. After the track began to dry out though, the teams opted to switch their drivers to super-soft tires, causing a flurry of action in the pits. With space being notoriously difficult to find in Monaco, the final few minutes became particularly tense as the first times were set on the dry compound. Webber, Raikkonen and Rosberg all had a spell at the top, but it was Vettel who eventually finished quickest. Alonso and Adrian Sutil both required a last-ditch lap to make it through, bumping van der Garde out, although he did finish ahead of Maldonado. Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Grosjean and Bottas also failed to make it through to the final session, paying the price for mistiming their final runs.

All ten drivers went out early in Q3 on the super-soft tire, vying for pole at a track where qualifying is important to secure a good result in the race. Both Rosberg and Hamilton went quickest early on, but Red Bull soon topped their rivals to lead after the first set of runs. With spots of rain returning to the track, it became a question of getting out early towards the end of Q3. Despite the weather, the majority of drivers managed to improve towards the end of Q3, with Mercedes re-establishing their dominance. Hamilton crossed the line to beat both Red Bulls and appear to secure pole position, only for Rosberg to go less than one-tenth quicker and secure his third pole in a row.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.