Vettel pulls clear in final practice for German GP

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Sebastian Vettel has sent out a statement of intent to Mercedes ahead of qualifying today by finishing quickest in the final practice session at the Nurburgring.

The German driver, who has never won his home GP, finished a full six-tenths clear of compatriot Nico Rosberg in P2 whilst teammate Mark Webber completed the top three ahead of the Ferraris.

FP3 got underway as the Nurburgring bathed in bright sunshine following rather overcast conditions for the first two practice sessions on Friday. Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg were the first drivers out on track on medium tire, followed by Sergio Perez who laid down the first marker of 1:33.684. The Mexican driver was quickly beaten by his teammate, Jenson Button, who moved one second clear before the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton emerged onto the track. They moved over half a second clear of the rest of the field, once again underlining the impressive pace of the W04 car.

Red Bull were yet to respond though, biding their time before sending Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber out onto the track. They did not hang about, sending the timesheets purple as Vettel eased into 1st place with a lap of 1:31.294, followed by Webber – winner of this race in 2009 – who was just 0.004 seconds slower than his teammate on the medium tire. Ferrari looked to take advantage of an empty track during the middle of the session, but Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa could not apply too much pressure to the leaders, going 6th and 8th respectively. Valtteri Bottas told his engineer that the wind at turns one and two was making braking difficult whilst Maldanado had an off at turn seven, but he was able to continue. Any running for Williams was a great achievement following a fire in their garage this morning.

The final ten minutes saw the teams fit the soft tire to their cars in order to run a qualifying simulation. Ferrari were the first to strike as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa went 1st and 2nd respectively but Rosberg soon re-established Mercedes’ dominance to pull four-tenths clear. Hamilton cold only lap half a second slower than his teammate as Red Bull emerged for the final time in FP3 at the Nurburgring. Despite going quickest in sectors one and two, Webber could only managed P2 on his first attempt, a mere 0.018 seconds behind Rosberg before Vettel succeeded in overthrowing the Silver Arrow at the top of the leaderboads, producing a fine lap to go 0.676 seconds clear.

The battle for pole does appear to be between Red Bull and Mercedes, with the two teams dominating qualifying so far this season. It is hard to see that trend breaking this weekend, although the stage will be set for a great race on Sunday.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.