Nico Rosberg

Rosberg wins inter-team battle to secure Bahrain pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix after edging out teammate Lewis Hamilton in a tight inter-team battle on Saturday night in Bahrain.

The German driver’s time of 1:33.185 was good enough to secure him pole after Hamilton made a mistake in Q3, costing him a shot at bettering his teammate’s time and forcing him to settle for second place. Rosberg’s first lap had been 0.279 seconds faster than Hamilton’s initial effort, allowing him to pit and save a set of tires.

Daniel Ricciardo put in a good performance for Red Bull to line up third, but teammate Sebastian Vettel endured a disastrous session and dropped out in Q2 for the second time in three races.

Qualifying got underway as night fell in Bahrain, and many of the drivers got out early in the first session in order to post a banker lap time. Esteban Gutierrez was the first driver to cross the line, but his initial effort was soon bettered by compatriot Sergio Perez and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, with the latter setting the first serious benchmark of 1:36.883. Daniel Ricciardo was the first to beat the German driver, edging him out by two-tenths of a second, and Fernando Alonso followed suit to move up into second place.

Predictably, Mercedes quickly took control of the session with its first lap times as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg moved into the top two positions, and enjoyed an advantage of more than one second over the rest of the field. Williams opted to keep its drivers in the pits to begin with before making a late run, and Valtteri Bottas immediately went P2 on the soft tire behind Hulkenberg, who had also made the switch to softs, and their teammates rallied to fill out the top four come the checkered flag.

As expected, the Caterham and Marussia drivers dropped out at the end of Q1, and they were joined by Adrian Sutil and Pastor Maldonado, with the latter being edged out by his teammate by 0.009 seconds. At the end of the session, Sutil appeared to deliberately block Grosjean, and earned himself a visit to the stewards’ office.

Q2 started in a quiet fashion as all of the drivers opted to sit in the pits for the first few minutes, but Bottas, Massa and Hulkenberg soon broke the silence and came out on soft tires. As this was the first dry qualifying of the season, it marked the first time that the new rule about starting the race on the Q2 tire came into force, meaning that drivers had to be extra careful not to overwork their Pirellis.

After seeing Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen trade fastest lap times, Hamilton soon restored normal service to move up to P1, but the gap was smaller this time as Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso managed to get within one second of the Mercedes driver. Nico Rosberg refused to waver in his teammate’s presence, and moved up to first place. Williams opted to run on the medium tire in its first runs, whilst Sebastian Vettel remained in the pits and rested his hopes on one run at the end of the session.

Mercedes’ advantage was so great that both Hamilton and Rosberg could stay in the pits and save a set of tires, whilst the remaining 14 drivers all headed out for a final run. Vettel’s one and only lap time was nowhere near being good enough, and he dropped out of qualifying as a result, lamenting a gearbox problem. Compatriot Nico Hulkenberg also struggled and ended up in 12th place, whilst Toro Rosso’s dry pace wasn’t good enough to get either Jean-Eric Vergne or Daniil Kvyat into the top ten. They were joined in the dropzone by Gutierrez and Grosjean.

For the final part of qualifying, most of the drivers fitted a set of the soft tires and aimed to do two runs as the conditions became cooler, but Raikkonen bided his time and sat in the pits to begin with. Valtteri Bottas posted the first lap time of the session, and remained in P1 ahead of Perez and Massa until Nico Rosberg crossed the line over one second faster than the Finn. His only realistic challenger – teammate Lewis Hamilton – was three-tenths adrift with his first run, handing provisional pole to Rosberg after the first set of runs.

The drivers returned to the pits to regroup and fit a fresh set of tires, and all ten hit the track with two minutes to go so they could put in one final time. However, a mistake by Lewis Hamilton meant that he could not improve on his previous best lap time, handing pole to Rosberg by two-tenths of a second. Ricciardo improved to move up to P3, but he will drop down ten places on the grid due to a penalty. Bottas ran well to finish fourth ahed of Perez and Raikkonen, whilst Alonso struggled immensely and finished down in 10th place for Ferrari.

Having finished with a one-two in every practice session so far this weekend, Mercedes’ dominance came as little surprise on Saturday night. The team will now need to ensure that it gets its drivers home in the same positions tomorrow, but both Rosberg and Hamilton will be desperate to claim their second win of the season.

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