Vettel beats the weather to secure pole for Brazilian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has scored his ninth pole position of the season at the Brazilian Grand Prix after a great display of wet weather driving to get the best out of his Red Bull car despite the tricky conditions.

Vettel’s final time of 1:26.479 saw him finish well ahead of Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso who finished in second and third place respectively, and the quadruple world champion looked at ease in the rain that caused the final stage of qualifying to be delayed by forty minutes.

Qualifying got underway with light rain falling and more due, but with a drier outlook for the race on Sunday, the teams had to set up their cars anticipating a dry race. With conditions thought to be worsening in Q1, a number of drivers went out early to post a time on the intermediate tire. Lewis Hamilton was the first to get out and post a time, and it immediately paid off as he went to the top of the timesheets ahead of Vettel and teammate Nico Rosberg. With the rain growing heavier, many drivers opted to pit and hope that conditions improved, but Mark Webber had to produce a good lap to get himself out of danger after lingering near the dropzone. Conditions soon meant that it was difficult to go quicker, leaving Jean-Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez at risk of elimination. When conditions did begin to improve, only the drivers at risk ventured out in the final few minutes, and it soon became a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Vergne was able to improve to make it through to Q2, but Pastor Maldonado was less fortunate and was eliminated alongside Gutierrez and both Caterham and Marussia drivers.

Mercedes were quick out of the blocks once again in Q2 as Hamilton and Rosberg led the drivers away, but the rain made it hard to judge just when would be the best time to go out on track. Rosberg’s first time was four-tenths quicker than his teammate’s, but compatriot Sebastian Vettel soon resumed normal service to move up to top spot. Mark Webber went third-fastest with his first time only for Hamilton to take his place, and it soon became all about timing. With five minutes to go, some of the drivers pitted for a fresh set of intermediate tires and plotted their final assault. The track began to dry slightly and allowed for improvements as Romain Grosjean went fastest of all and Fernando Alonso moved up into third place. The battle to make it through to Q3 hotted up as both Toro Rossos improved but the rain of Interlagos got heavier once again to scupper any hopes those in the dropzone had of making it through to the top ten. As a result, Heikki Kovalainen and Valtteri Bottas joined both McLarens and both Force Indias in the dropzone, with Sergio Perez’s session ending in the wall after making a mistake at turn five.

Due to the conditions, Q3 was delayed by forty minutes before it was deemed safe to get the final part of qualifying underway. Once the drivers were able to get out, the wet tire was used by all initially and Mark Webber was the first to tackle the damp circuit. After the first set of times, Vettel led from Rosberg and Webber, but many of the drivers opted to head straight for the pits to take on intermediate tires. Romain Grosjean bailed from his wet lap to take on intermediates, and it paid off as he immediately went fastest with three minutes remaining. Mark Webber soon displaced the Frenchman, but Vettel charged through the spray to go over one second faster. Rosberg and Alonso exchanged times for P2, but ultimately the German driver came out on top. However, not even the weather could stop Sebastian Vettel who scored his ninth pole position of the season in Brazil, finishing a full six-tenths clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel will now be looking to continue this form on Sunday to clinch a record-equalling ninth consecutive win, but with Rosberg and Alonso – both of whom have proven themselves as adept wet weather drivers – looming large in his mirrors and the rain also set to interfere, the German driver may be forced to fight for the victory.

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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