Hamilton tames wet conditions to seal Spa pole

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Lewis Hamilton has secured his fourth consecutive pole position after a fine performance in changeable conditions at Spa-Francorchamps during a qualifying session that turned into a day for the underdog.

Force India’s Paul di Resta had gambled on strategy in Q3 and looked poised to claim his first ever pole position as the rain grew heavier and heavier, only for the weather to change once again and allow Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Rosberg all to trump the Scottish driver on the intermediate tire.

Having been forecast all weekend, rain eventually began to fall around twenty minutes before qualifying got underway, forcing some last-minute changes to the setup of the cars and of course the use of appropriate tires. Q1 began with a rush to put in an early lap just in case conditions worsened with Pastor Maldonado leading the train of cars out of the pits on intermediate tires. All twenty-two cars were quick to put in a time and Nico Rosberg was the early pace-setter ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean. However, with conditions improving, it was largely a case of staying out and slowly speeding up. Max Chilton was the first driver to brave slicks along with Giedo van der Garde, but the Caterham’s first attempt was over three seconds slower than his previous best on inters. The times began to tumble as the track continued to dry with Hamilton going quickest as the checkered flag fell. He was eventually beaten by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, but the biggest shock was van der Garde’s stunning lap on slicks to finish P3 for Caterham.  Equally impressive were Marussia who got both of their drivers through to Q2 whilst Maldonado, Vergne, Ricciardo, Bottas, Gutierrez and Pic fell foul of the weather and were eliminated at the end of Q1.

Taking inspiration from Caterham and Marussia, the rest of the field went out on slicks at the beginning of Q2 with Mark Webber setting the first benchmark time. Once the majority of the drivers had set their first time, Raikkonen headed up a Lotus one-two ahead of Romain Grosjean but track conditions were still improving. Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel – the only three drivers to have started on pole so far this season – waited and were the last drivers to get out on track. When Hamilton did post a time, he split the Lotuses before Vettel went quickest of all with just three minutes remaining. His teammate, Webber, eventually deposed him and Alonso also followed suit. As the checkered flag fell, di Resta, Perez and Raikkonen all improved with the Finn going fastest of all as Rosberg squeezed through to Q3 with a final flying lap after a mistake earlier on. The fairytale ended for Caterham and Marussia, but making Q2 was still a fine achievement. The same cannot be said for Hulkenberg, Sutil and Perez who will be disappointed not to have made Q3.

With rain expected, all ten drivers opted to get out early in Q3. However, with rain already falling it quickly became a question of keeping it on track. Vettel immediately made the call to pit and take on intermediate tires, with the rest of the field following his lead bar Paul di Resta. The Force India driver opted to see out the shower on dry tires, putting in the first time of the session. The rest of the field began their laps on intermediates, but could not come near di Resta’s time as the rain began to intensify. Rosberg was the only driver who could come close on his first attempt, and it was the German driver who eventually topped di Resta by just 0.081 seconds with his final time as the checkered flag fell. However, with conditions improving, Webber, Vettel and Hamilton were all able to go even quicker with the British driver eventually taking pole position ahead of the two Red Bull drivers. di Resta eventually finished fifth ahead of Button, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Alonso and Massa.

It was another spectacular performance from the Briton who has been in a class of his own so far this season in qualifying, and he will be hoping to convert this result into his second win at Spa-Francorchamps in the race tomorrow.

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.