Vettel cuts it fine in securing pole position for Singapore GP

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Sebastian Vettel has continued his good form at the Singapore Grand Prix by securing pole position for tomorrow’s race, but he was very nearly pipped to the post by fellow countryman Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes.

Vettel had dominated practice earlier today, but the advantage he enjoyed in qualifying was just 0.091 seconds come the checkered flag in Q3. However, it was enough to hand him his fifth pole position of the season at a track where he has won twice before.

Title rivals Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton could not match the pace of the defending champion, with teammate Mark Webber also falling three-tenths short of Vettel’s pace. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both enjoyed good days as they both made the top ten, but Paul di Resta will undoubtedly be disappointed to have dropped out in Q1 once again.

Despite the gap between the prime and option tires being over 1.5 seconds per lap, the majority of the field ventured out on the slower medium compound at the beginning of Q1. Pastor Maldonado was the first to post a time, but he was soon overthrown by both Mercedes drivers with Nico Rosberg establishing his dominance by going eight-tenths faster than his teammate early on. Fernando Alonso’s struggles continued with a big lock-up at turn one before going P2, whilst Kimi Raikkonen looked to do as well as possible despite suffering from back pain. Lower down the grid, Sauber, Caterham and Marussia all went straight onto the super-soft tire in an attempt to secure a place in Q2, with Nico Hulkenberg immediately going fastest by almost a whole second. Red Bull bided their time, eventually sending Webber and Vettel out with just eight minutes remaining in the session, but they proved their pace to go P1 and P3 respectively. Hamilton was having none of it though, responding to go fastest of all on the option tire, followed by Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez at the head of the field. Felipe Massa was the big name in the dropzone as the checkered flag fell, but he improved late on to secure a place in Q2 and dump Paul di Resta out of qualifying along with Maldonado, both Caterhams and both Marussias.

Fighting through the pain, Raikkonen was the first to set a time in Q2, but he was soon edged out by both Mercedes drivers, Alonso and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, with the latter hoping to repeat his run to P3 at Monza. Once again, Red Bull played the waiting game, eventually sending Vettel and Webber out on the super-soft tire for the first time in qualifying. The defending world champion immediately stamped his authority on proceedings, going almost a second quicker than previous leader Rosberg. Webber joined him at the front, albeit eight-tenths down on his teammate. In the final flurry of times following the checkered flag, Esteban Gutierrez was the surprise name in the top ten, finishing an excellent seventh for Sauber. His teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, was less fortunate, dropping out in Q2 along with the injured Raikkonen. McLaren’s decision to go for just one timed run worked for Jenson Button as he made it through in P10, but Perez could only finish fourteenth. Jean-Eric Vergne, Adrian Sutil and Valtteri Bottas filled out the dropzone.

Red Bull bucked their own trend in Q3 by sending their drivers out early. Vettel laid down the first marker, a full six-tenths quicker than closest-rival Rosberg whilst Button completed an outlap and two sectors before returning to the pits. With two minutes remaining, nine of the ten runners came out to set a lap with Vettel getting out of his car, believing that he had done enough. However, his confidence nearly proved costly, with Rosberg coming within just 0.091 seconds of his compatriot. Romain Grosjean put in an impressive lap to finish P3 ahead of Webber and Hamilton. Felipe Massa will undoubtedly have a chip on his shoulder, having outqualified teammate Fernando Alonso with the Ferrari’s lining up P6 and P7 ahead of Button, Ricciardo and Gutierrez, with the Sauber driver failing to set a time.

Vettel has given himself the best possible chance of securing his third consecutive win in Singapore, and following dominant performances in Belgium and Italy, picking up a seventh win of the season under the lights at Marina Bay would surely put him out of reaching distance in the drivers’ championship.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”