Hamilton keeps his cool to claim pole for Chinese GP

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix with a brilliant display during qualifying, taming the wet conditions in Shanghai on Saturday.

The British driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:53.860 to see off the challenge of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the wet conditions, whilst two mistakes from Nico Rosberg in the final session meant that he was forced to settle for fourth place on the grid.

In a session defined by the weather, Mercedes’ dominance was threatened by Red Bull and Ferrari at times, but ultimately Hamilton managed to keep his cool and secure his 34th career pole position.

As the green light went on to start qualifying for the Chinese GP, the teams faced a choice between intermediate and wet tires as rain continued to fall over the Shanghai International Circuit. However, Pastor Maldonado’s session was over before it started following an engine problem during FP3 that forced him to sit out of qualifying, thus continuing his streak of Q1 drop-outs in 2014. Nico Rosberg quickly set about proving Mercedes’ wet weather pace by setting the first serious benchmark time of 1:56.351, and teammate Lewis Hamilton slotted into second place ahead of Fernando Alonso.

The drivers continued to find their way through the spray, but some had off-track excursions due to the lack of grip. A drying line soon began to emerge though, allowing them to improve their times, and Sebastian Vettel jumped to the top of the timesheets with four minutes to go. Hamilton restored Mercedes’ advantage with one minute reamaining, and ultimately finished the first session on top ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.

At first, Caterham was the only team to fit a set of intermediate tires, but Sauber soon followed this example with Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil in an attempt to make it into Q2. With just a couple of minutes to go, Jules Bianchi posted an impressive lap on the intermediates despite losing a lot of time at the final corner, signalling to the field that it was time to make the switch. In the end, Gutierrez was the major casualty after a mistake on his final lap meant that he could not improve, and as a result dropped out of Q1 alongside the Marussia and Caterham drivers.

In the sole remaining Sauber, Adrian Sutil was the first driver out in Q2 on intermediate tires, and it looked set to be the compound of choice in the session as rain continued to fall. Hamilton and Rosberg continued to display the wet weather pace of the Mercedes W05 car to move up to P1 and P2 with their first lap times, and enjoy a comfortable gap to their rivals.

A number of drivers still continued to struggle in the wet conditions. Fernando Alonso put one wheel of his Ferrari on the slippery white line and lost time, whilst Romain Grosjean made a similar error in his Lotus. Vettel managed to keep his head and split the Mercedes drivers at the top of the timesheets, but with five minutes to go, none of the drivers appeared to be assured of their place in Q3.

In the final set of runs, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nico Hulkenberg both improved to move into the top ten, and as a result both McLarens were pushed down into the dropzone. Neither Jenson Button nor Kevin Magnussen could improve in the spray, and both dropped out in Q2 as a result. Kimi Raikkonen also languished down in 11th place for Ferrari, but Romain Grosjean produced a fine display to secure Lotus’ first top ten grid slot of the season.

Ahead of Q3, the rain grew heavier, once again presenting the teams with a dilemma between intermediate and wet tires. Sebastian Vettel set an immediate benchmark of 1:54.981 for Red Bull through the spray, and when Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso both fell short, it appeared that an upset could be on the cards. Lewis Hamilton soon redressed the balance with a spectacular lap that earned him provisional pole by six-tenths of a second ahead of the final run in Q3.

With a fresh set of tires, the drivers began to find more grip and improve their times. Rosberg’s first attempt was ruined by a lock-up, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to move up to P2. Hamilton extended his lead to move over one second clear of the field, but his rivals still had one final lap to make up the deficit. Ultimately, Ricciardo could not bridge this gap and finished some six-tenths clear, whilst a spin for Rosberg meant that he had to settle for fourth place on the grid behind Vettel.

Hamilton has broken the British record for the most pole positions with this result, moving ahead of Scottish legend Jim Clark who previously held the record with 33. It also marks Hamilton’s third pole position in four races, and he will be keen on converting it into his third win of the year tomorrow.

You can watch the Chinese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra tomorrow live from 2:30am ET.

Bourdais cleared to drive; return date still TBA

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Sebastien Bourdais was in Indianapolis on Tuesday and for good reason – not even three months after his devastating accident in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, he received medical clearance that he is cleared to return to racing action.

Bourdais posted late Tuesday night he’d had his final appointment with his doctor and has been cleared to return to action. He’d targeted mid-August as the date to get this clearance, and this lives up to that target. He sustained pelvic and hip fractures in the accident in qualifying.

The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team welcomed Bourdais back to the Indianapolis shop on Woodland Drive on Tuesday, in anticipation for what would be Bourdais’ return to sports car competition at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, Motul Petit Le Mans, Oct. 5-7.

As for his day job, back in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, the team is yet to reveal when Bourdais will be back racing. Bourdais has set Watkins Glen as a target on Labor Day weekend, following the next two races on ovals at Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Gateway Motorsports Park.

Provided the Coyne team can get through these two oval races cleanly with the rookie pair of Esteban Gutierrez and Ed Jones, that would increase the likelihood of a Bourdais return at Watkins Glen.

Bourdais tested at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the Monday after that race, which was a huge step towards his formal comeback. He spoke to NBCSN contributor Robin Miller during the Honda Indy 200 race telecast.

Montoya refreshed for full year with Penske, Acura after ‘weird’ 2017

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If the worst kept secret in racing the last several months was that Team Penske was running a sports car program with Acura, the second worst kept secret was that Juan Pablo Montoya would be one of its drivers.

With today’s announcement however, the 41-year-old Colombian can now officially talk about his new full-time ride.

Montoya’s been renowned for his career versatility and winning in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula 1. And now, how he’ll be back in action after an abnormal 2017 season where he’s tested two generations of IndyCars, will have tested two entirely different types of sports cars, raced an IndyCar twice for Team Penske in May at Indianapolis, won the Race of Champions in January, and spent some quality time karting in Europe with son Sebastian, who is beginning to blossom on that front.

It all adds up to a wild year of Juan Pablo that has been part slow, part flat out depending on the month.

“It’s been weird because at the beginning of the year, it was actually really calm until Indy,” Montoya said. “We had a little testing here or there, but it wasn’t much.

“Then two months with Indy and then kart racing in Europe. Since then it’s been non‑stop. I think the next three, four months are going to be non‑stop.

“But I don’t mind that. I really don’t mind. Doing the testing for the IndyCar has been a lot of fun for the ’18 IndyCar.  There’s no pressure. Just go there, you know, drive the wheels out of it with no compromise. That makes it fun.”

Montoya’s three days of testing in that car at Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio and Iowa have been an excellent case study in “JPM unleashed.”

Without the restrictions, as noted, his trademark unreal car control has been on display as he’s been able to push the car – in only its base setup – through all the items the INDYCAR officials want to see. Being able to drive at least seven or eight mph faster on a straight at Mid-Ohio already speaks to a good development path.

It’s a cool place for Montoya to be in, leaving a legacy as one of two test drivers for the new car. And he’ll get that same opportunity within the Penske Acura program, because he’ll have a chance to work alongside one of racing’s most experienced 28-year-olds, in Dane Cameron.

Cameron’s already raced in all four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes and has won titles in two of them (Prototype, GT Daytona), while having driven a variety of cars ranging from this year’s Cadillac DPi-V.R to the previous generation Corvette DP, the BMW Z4 GT3 he won the GTD title with in 2014, a Risi Ferrari F458 Italia (the same team Montoya tested with this spring at Sebring) and more.

That makes Cameron a natural teammate with Montoya in more ways than one; he’s excelled across a variety of cars and series at a young age. Montoya was a CART and Indianapolis 500 champion at 24, an F1 race winner by 26 and a NASCAR Cup race winner by 32.

“I think it’s very exciting for me because Dane is a young guy, is a guy that has run the series, understands the series. I think he has a lot of knowledge,” Montoya explained.

“I’ve been driving all kinds of cars. As you know, I’ve driven everything. I’ve been successful in everything.  I’m excited to bring something to the table, and at the same time as a driver, find something new, learn new things.

“I think we can work together really well and hopefully bring a ton of victories.”

Montoya will handle the bulk of the Acura ARX-05’s initial testing as Cameron won’t be available until after his current contract with Action Express Racing in its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac ends mid-October, following Petit Le Mans.

Penske Racing president Tim Cindric is optimistic the Penske Acura program, which he expects will see a combination of he, Kyle Moyer and Jeff Swartwout overseeing portions if not all of it, will be on track by the end of the month following the ARX-05’s formal reveal at The Quail in Monterey later this week.

While Montoya would still be a natural to run an extra Team Penske IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 next year provided the opportunity is there – he said “I would say yes in a heartbeat” to that – he said the sports car focus will be top of mind as he returns to full-time action in what will be a deep championship.

“I think it would be a fun car. From what everybody says, it has a ton of grip,” he said. “I always enjoyed driving the (old) Daytona Prototypes because you could throw them around a lot.  These cars seem to have a lot more downforce and a lot more power, so I’m excited. I just don’t know what to expect.

“I think it’s going to be a lot better and a lot quicker than what I’m thinking.”

John Andretti begins new round of chemotherapy treatment

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John Andretti has started another round of chemotherapy.

The former NASCAR and IndyCar driver used Twitter on Monday to provide an update on his fight against colon cancer: “Same cocktail with an added twist. Only 3 months to go.”

The 54-year-old Andretti made his diagnosis public in early May and has relied on social media to keep fans abreast of his condition.

In late June, he Tweeted that doctors found that his spleen and gall bladder were cancer free. Andretti continues to encourage others to get preventative screenings.

Andretti started 49 consecutive IndyCar races from 1990-92 before moving to NASCAR, where he made 29 or more starts every year from 1994-2003. He was the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double.

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

Montoya, Cameron confirmed in first Penske Acura DPi

Montoya (Photo: IndyCar) and Cameron (Photo courtesy of IMSA)
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Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron will share one of the two Team Penske and Acura Motorsports Acura ARX-05 entries, combining one of this generation’s greatest drivers and one of this generation’s rising talents, in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

Montoya has long been expected as a shoe-in and Cameron’s name has been top of mind for months to fill one of the Team Penske seats.

“We worked together with our partners at Acura Motorsports and Honda Performance Development (HPD) to bring together drivers that we believe will help develop our program and compete for race wins right out of the gate while also serving as great ambassadors for their brands,” said Roger Penske. “Having Juan and Dane join our program brings together two drivers that have extensive sports car racing experience in the prototype class and have already won at the top levels of the sport. This represents a great beginning to our program for 2018.”

Cameron will shift from Action Express Racing, where he won last year’s IMSA Prototype championship co-driving with Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette DP. Success has been harder to come by in their title defense year aboard the new No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

“Getting a chance to race for Team Penske is like a dream come true for a driver,” said Cameron. “To see all of the effort and resources that Acura Motorsports is putting into this new program to develop and win with the ARX-05, it’s really impressive. I’m so excited for the opportunity to become part of the team and work with a guy who has done all the things Juan has done. It’s going to be an awesome experience to add my name to the list of drivers that have driven for Team Penske. I’m looking forward to a busy off season and coming out of the gates strong at Daytona.”

For Montoya, meanwhile, this marks a return to full-time competition after a year racing in the month of May with Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then testing the 2018 Dallara universal aero kit IndyCar.

“I have really enjoyed working with Roger and Team Penske over the last four years,” said Montoya. “When Roger asked if I’d like to be part of starting this new sports car operation with Acura, it was an easy decision. I’ve always loved racing sports cars. It’s definitely a challenge and it’s going to be a lot of fun to develop a new car with Acura. I’m excited to start the testing of the ARX-05 next week. Team Penske started its winning tradition in sports cars and it’s going to be cool to be a part of a new chapter with the team.”