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Hamilton fights off Vettel to secure second pole in a row

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for Mercedes at the German Grand Prix in today’s qualifying session at the Nurburgring.

The British driver will start from pole position for the second consecutive race following a fine performance, beating Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber as Red Bull were forced to settle for P2 and P3. However, it was not all good news for Mercedes as Nico Rosberg failed to make it into Q3, provisionally starting tomorrow’s race from 11th position.

Q1 got underway amidst soaring track temperatures, giving many of the teams a headache over which tire to use in the session. Eventually, every team except Mercedes and Red Bull opted for the soft tire in an attempt to secure a place in Q2. The Marussias were quick out of the blocks and moved into P1 and P2, but this soon changed as Williams hoped that an early run would pay dividends, with Pastor Maldonado leading from Valtteri Bottas at the top of the timesheets. The rest of the field soon came out to post a lap time and Daniel Ricciardo certainly impressed by going quickest; a feat made all the more impressive by Nico Rosberg’s failure to match his pace, although the Mercedes was on the medium compound. Similarly, Sebastian Vettel could only go 4th as Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen exchanged blows at the top of the leaderboard before Felipe Massa secured P1 towards the end of the session. In the dropzone, all eyes were on Sergio Perez as the Mexican driver left it late to hoist himself into safety, eventually finishing 14th. This left the two Williams in a familiar position, and their failure to beat Gutierrez’s time on the final lap saw both Maldonado and Bottas eliminated alongside Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi, Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton.

Jean-Eric Vergne was quick to emerge from the pits in Q2 in an attempt to make up for his disappointment at Silverstone by getting into Q3. He set the first time of the session which was soon beaten by Paul di Resta, with the Force India driver remaining P1 until Kimi Raikkonen set his first timed lap. Mercedes soon emerged but Nico Rosberg’s mistake at turn one cost him a shot at top spot as Lewis Hamilton succeeded where his teammate failed and went fastest. Red Bull left it late once again, but this paid off as Vettel went P1 with Webber 3rd, allowing them to pit after just one run whilst the rest of the field went out for another lap. This worked wonders for Ferrari as Massa and Alonso went 1st and 2nd, followed closely by Vettel and Grosjean. With the times so close, it was a case of setting the final lap time in order to get through. By being the final driver to see the flag, Raikkonen managed to get through and finish P2, and Jenson Button also scraped into the top ten at the expense of his teammate. Paul di Resta could not improve late on but his former Force India teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, did exactly that and won a place in the final shootout. Incredibly, Nico Rosberg dropped down the timesheets and eventually finished P11, dashing all hopes of securing pole position on home soil for the German driver.

Ferrari were quick out of the blocks in Q3 as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa looked to secure the Italian team its first pole position of the season. Surprisingly, after completing an outlap, the two drivers returned to the pits, allowing Kimi Raikkonen to set the first time of 1:29.970. Sebastian Vettel was quick to edge out the Lotus driver, going three-tenths quicker and remaining P1 until Lewis Hamilton went just 0.082 seconds faster than the Red Bull, claiming top spot at the end of the first runs. With two minutes to go, all ten drivers left the pits to have one final shot at pole position. Alonso opted to run on the medium compound tires, costing him a chance at pole and forcing him to settle for P8 behind his teammate, also on the harder compound. This left the fight between Hamilton, Vettel and Webber. The German driver took provisional pole by one-tenth as Webber could not do any better than P3, but Hamilton soon gave the Mercedes’ faithful something to shout about by securing his second consecutive pole position.

Mercedes have once again shown that the W04 car has fantastic one-lap pace, yet Rosberg’s placement in P11 means that the team will have to prove its ability to fight through the field as well as controlling the race from the front. Red Bull will be challenging Hamilton fiercely in the race tomorrow, but for now the British driver can enjoy his 29th career pole position, drawing level with Juan Manuel Fangio in the all-time list.

Spectator dies after accident on opening stage of Monte Carlo rally

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Officials have confirmed that a spectator has died following an accident on the first stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon slid off the route towards the end of the 21.25 km stage between Entrevaux and Ubraye, with his car blocking the course.

Emergency services were quickly called when it emerged that a spectator had been hurt in the accident, with rally officials confirming later in the evening that the fan had died as a result of injuries sustained.

“The Automobile Club de Monaco regrets to advise further details following incident of the car #4 (Paddon/Kennard) in SS 1,” a statement from the rally organizers read.

“The spectator was transported by helicopter from the stage to hospital in Nice. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, the spectator has sadly died.

“An investigation has commenced into the incident and all involved parties will provide assistance to the authorities.

“Everyone associated with the event extends their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and individuals affected.”

Hyundai issued its own statement soon after: “Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of a spectator during the opening stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo on Thursday evening.

“The incident occurred at the same time as the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard crashed into the mountainside, after the car hit a patch of black ice at the entry to a left-hand turn.

“The team and crew have pledged their full support to the event organisers and authorities to understand the full details.

“Hyundai Motorsport extends its condolences to the family, friends and individuals affected.”

The stage was cancelled following the incident, with the rally resuming on stage two later in the evening. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville currently leads by 7.8 seconds from defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Paddon’s car has been withdrawn from the remainder of the rally as a result of the incident on Friday.

Gateway secures deal with Bommarito Auto for IndyCar race sponsorship

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 9:  Bryan Herta drives his #27 Andretti Green Racing Honda Dallara during practice for the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series Emerson 250 at the Gateway International Raceway on August 9, 2003 in Madison, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Gateway Motorsports Park’s return to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will feature a two-year title sponsorship from Bommarito Automotive Group, it was confirmed on Thursday. The St. Louis Business Journal was first to report the news.

The largest auto dealer in St. Louis will see its name on the race, now titled the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Gateway’s return comes on August 26 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), for its first IndyCar race since 2003.

“We are pleased to announce that Bommarito Automotive Group will join Gateway Motorsports Park in the production of our inaugural INDYCAR event as the title sponsor,” Curtis Francois, Owner and CEO of Gateway Motorsports Park, said in a release.

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“This is a tremendous event for the St. Louis region and no one knows our town better than the folks at Bommarito. They are a progressive group, known for a high standard of quality and excellence. It’s the same standard of on-track action and family-friendly experience that we look forward to delivering with our landmark event.”

“We are excited to partner with Gateway Motorsports Park and the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said John Bommarito, President of the Bommarito Automotive Group. “When approached by Gateway about the return of INDYCAR to St. Louis, we felt it was important to have a major St. Louis company step forward and support the return of open wheel racing to the region.  We are extremely proud to be the title sponsor of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”

Gateway will be the sixth and last oval race of the season, following earlier races in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono.

Rahal wants to turn 2016’s unrealized potential into reality in 2017

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Graham Rahal likes to say “2016 was a year of tremendous potential.”

But it also was a year that some potential was not realized.

After a career season in 2015, when he finished fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series and earning two wins and six podium finishes, Rahal slipped back slightly in 2016, finishing fifth with just one win and only four podiums.

So what does 2017 hold in store? If things go well for the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, the tremendous potential of 2016 will morph into potential not only realized, but could result in the younger Rahal’s best year ever.

Rahal has the power, the car, the equipment and the personnel to make some major upward moves this year.

“We just have to find going forward a way to keep that performance level, enhance it a little bit,” Rahal said. “Obviously the cars aren’t really going to change at all (major changes are planned for 2018).

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance (in 2016) was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably. We just did our season reviews about a month and a half ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better.

“However, we had a lot of things that just didn’t quite go our way, whereas in 2015 we had bounces that certainly did. 2016 the bounces didn’t happen. We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship.

“I think that I probably drove better last year than 2015. But hopefully the best is yet to come. As a driver you always have to be critical of where can you improve, where were mistakes, what did you kind of let go, you know, and where did you lose points.”

The 28-year-old Rahal is particularly focused on potentially following in his father’s footsteps of winning the biggest race of all, the Indianapolis 500.

In nine starts in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, the younger Rahal has just two top-10 finishes: third in 2011 and fifth in 2015. At the opposite end of the spectrum Rahal has four finishes of 25th or worse, including two last-place showings (2008 and 2014).

“We really need to improve at Indy,” he said. “That’s our main focus of everything this off-season. And also get a little bit of those breaks. You know, that’s kind of the goal. That’s what we feel like we need.”

The younger Rahal will also reunite for at least the Indianapolis 500 and probably more races with Oriol Servia, which should help upgrade Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s testing, race preparation and data sharing.

“Oriol is a clear plug-in for us,” Rahal said. “First of all, he’s a great guy. Second of all, he will help us. He’s going to help our performance at Indy. I can tell you that right now. And third, he’s been there so many times with the organization, he’s been in and out of the team a handful of times. He knows everybody. He’s been part of the team before. So it’s a clear fit.

“We need just a very experienced guy who can help lead us down the right path, and Oriol is going to be that guy.”

Interestingly, RLL had the opportunity to bring in a full-time second driver, but chose to go with the 42-year-old Servia in a limited number of races for now.

“There were several drivers who came to the team that wanted to run full season, had budgets to do it and everything else, and they were all turned away,” Rahal said. “The team is focused on making sure if there is the addition of a second car full-time, it has to fit the right environment.

“… We really are proud of the environment that we have, and so Oriol is a guy that fits that just perfectly and won’t upset the apple cart, so to speak. … He’s a great guy, and I think he’ll do a heck of a job for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

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Kimi Raikkonen becomes ambassador for sport in Finland

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen was named as an ambassador for sport in Finland at a ceremony in Helsinki on Wednesday night.

Raikkonen won the F1 world championship with Ferrari in 2007, becoming the third Finn to achieve the feat following Keke Rosberg in 1982 and Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999.

Raikkonen was honored by Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila at an award’s ceremony, with Ferrari reporting that his presence at the event was kept secret until the last moment.

“I’m not that used to making formal speeches,” Raikkonen said, referring to his reputation for his monosyllabic nature.

“But I would like to wish all the best to the winners in every category, as well as those who missed out on the prizes this year.

“I would stress how important it has been in my case to have the support of my family and help from trustworthy colleagues and the people within the Ferrari team, with whom I have worked for so many years now.”

Raikkonen will return for a 15th season in F1 in 2017 – his seventh with Ferrari – as he looks to build on his sixth-place finish in last year’s drivers’ championship.