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Hamilton beats the heat to take pole in Hungary

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Lewis Hamilton has claimed his fourth pole position of the season during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix after a fine performance in the dying stages of Q3 saw him edge out Sebastian Vettel by just 0.038 seconds.

The British driver, who has won three times at the Hungaroring before, had shown signs of good pace in Q1 and Q2 but after Vettel took provisional pole with his first effort in the final session, many considered the result to be secured. However, as Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen all failed to beat the defending world champion’s time, Hamilton produced a fine lap to seal his third pole position in a row.

Qualifying began in a rather quiet manner as many of the teams elected to leave their runs until later on in order to save tires. However, Esteban Gutierrez was quick to get out in order to make up for missing FP3 this morning, setting this first time of 1:23.998 which was quickly beaten by Paul di Resta for Force India. Valtteri Bottas soon stormed to the top of the timesheets on the softer tire and the rest of the field soon followed his example when it came to tire choice in order to save the medium tires for the race tomorrow. It wasn’t until the final five minutes of the session that the front-runners finally began to post some competitive times as Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean both occupied P1 momentarily. Eventually though, the Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton closed out the top two positions with some good laps as pre-qualifying favorites Red Bull struggled to repeat their Friday form. Mark Webber, suffering from an electrical problem, could not improve on P13 and faced a nervous final few moments as Gutierrez and di Resta tried to get out of the drop zone. However, neither driver could improve and they joined both Caterham and Marussia drivers in the dropzone, bringing their qualifying to an early end.

Things went from bad to worse for Webber at the beginning of Q2 when his electrical problem was confirmed to be a KERS failure, giving the Red Bull driver a lack of power for the rest of qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen was the early pace setter for Lotus but Grosjean continued his good form to move ahead of his teammate along with Adrian Sutil. Mercedes once again showed their hand by moving into 1st and 3rd – Hamilton ahead of Rosberg – with Alonso slotting in 4th until Vettel became the first man to dip into the 1:19s to open up a strong lead at the top. Rosberg was quick to respond as Mercedes once again finished the session in P1 and P2, but Webber could only scrape into Q3 on his final lap along with Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo who secured his fourth consecutive top-ten start. As a result, Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg were bumped out of the top ten and subsequently eliminated alongside Sutil, Vergne, Maldonado and Bottas.

The final session saw all ten drivers quickly take to the track in order to give themselves the best possible chance of claiming pole position, but McLaren looked to play it safe with Perez by putting him on medium tires. Once again, Mercedes led the way with Hamilton and Rosberg on scrubbed soft tires ahead of Lotus and Ferrari, but Vettel soon responded to put himself on provisional pole by eight-tenths of a second. In the other Red Bull, Webber was forced to get out of his car due to the KERS failure, leaving him 10th on the grid. Raikkonen, Rosberg and Grosjean all failed to top Vettel’s time on their final laps allowing Lewis Hamilton to produce a fine lap to move 0.038 seconds ahead of the defending world champion at the top, and as Vettel failed to improve the British driver claimed his thirtieth career pole and fourth of the season.

The battle for the win tomorrow looks set to be between Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus with the three teams occupying the top three spots on the grid. However, with Ferrari also lurking in the shadows, the drivers will have to make sure that they do not let the heat (upwards of 100ºF) get to them in the race tomorrow as Hamilton chases a fourth win in Hungary.

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway