Sainz Jr. continues to stake his claim for Toro Rosso seat

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Carlos Sainz Jr. has continued to make his case for replacing Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in the near future after claiming pole position and winning today’s World Series by Renault race in Spain today.

The Red Bull junior driver and son of World Rally Championship legend Carlos Sainz went unchallenged during the first of two races at Motorland Aragon today, having started on pole position by just 0.018 seconds. He ultimately won by 12 seconds ahead of Russian driver Nikolay Martsenko.

Sainz Jr. won the second race at Monza in the first round two weeks ago, and with this victory, he appears to be leading the race to replace Vergne at Toro Rosso.

Vergne has by no means failed to deliver for Toro Rosso, but following his snubbing for the Red Bull seat last season, it appears that there is not much of a future for him within the team’s set up.

Red Bull’s junior programme has been rather brutal over the years, chewing up and spitting out the likes of Christian Klien, Robert Doornbos, Scott Speed, Sebastian Buemi, Sebastien Bourdais, Jaime Alguersuari and Vitantonio Liuzzi. The only two drivers to have successfully made the step up to Red Bull are Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, whilst none of the other drivers listed remain in the sport.

When Ricciardo moved to Red Bull last season, the vacant seat at Toro Rosso was thought to be between Sainz Jr. and fellow Red Bull junior Antonio Felix da Costa. However, GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat was the shock choice, but he has since proven that it was indeed the right call.

However, this did not shut the door for da Costa or Sainz Jr. Given that Vergne has only recorded a best finish of sixth during his two full seasons of F1 and failed to turn many heads in the sport, it could be that he is dropped in the next twelve months to make way for one of these drivers.

Sainz Jr. is certainly doing a fantastic job to stake a claim, though. da Costa is spending 2014 racing in the German DTM championship, and although he is still associated with Red Bull, he is no longer an ‘official’ junior driver unlike Sainz Jr.

Should Sainz Jr. continue to win races and impress in the Renault-backed feeder series, the team may opt to act sooner rather than later and draft him in for Vergne.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.