Hamilton supreme in qualifying to secure Spanish GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg during the final stage of qualifying at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona today, marking his first pole at the race.

The British driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:25.232 to finish one-tenth clear of Rosberg, as the Silver Arrows locked out the front row of the grid for the fourth time this season.

Daniel Ricciardo finished as best of the rest in third place, albeit some nine-tenths behind the Mercedes drivers. Valtteri Bottas produced a stunning final lap to qualify in fourth place for Williams, whilst Romain Grosjean ended up in fifth place ahead of both Ferraris.

It was another difficult day for Sebastian Vettel as the German driver suffered a gearbox problem during Q3, leaving him down in 10th place.

Since the end of final practice, the track temperature had rocketed, meaning that it was immediately quicker than it had been at the end of the morning session. A number of drivers came out early in order to post a time, but the session came to an abrupt halt just 90 seconds after the green light when Pastor Maldonado crashed his Lotus at turn three. Although he walked away unharmed, a red flag was required to recover the stricken Lotus.

The restart saw most of the drivers head out, including the two Mercedes drivers who would ultimately battle for pole. Nico Rosberg immediately went fastest of all, but Hamilton’s first lap was slow after he ran onto the grass. He soon made up for it, though, by moving up into second place behind his teammate, and Sebastian Vettel slotted into third place, albeit some seven-tenths down on the Mercedes’ drivers. Daniil Kvyat put in a good lap to finish in sixth place, but Romain Grosjean was having a bit of trouble with his front tires in the sole remaining Lotus, but eventually got through.

With five minutes to go, a number of drivers switched to the quicker option tire to secure a place in Q2. Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen both improved to give themselves a bit more security, and Adrian Sutil moved up to P16 with his last lap, putting Jenson Button at risk. The 2009 world champion duly redressed the balance and moved up to P9, thus dumping Sutil out of qualifying along with the two Marussias, the two Caterhams and Maldonado in the Lotus.

Only Force India and Williams ventured out on track at the beginning of Q2, but this gave Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez a chance to go P1 and P2 early on. With around 10 minutes to go, the rest of the runners emerged from the pits to get in a first lap time, and Mercedes soon resumed normal service by going P1 and P2 with Rosberg ahead of Hamilton. Red Bull slotted in behind the Silver Arrows, whilst Romain Grosjean managed to move up to sixth with his first lap of the session ahead of Fernando Alonso.

Kevin Magnussen’s qualifying came to an early end as a technical problem forced him to get out of his car without posting a time. Jean-Eric Vergne was also sidelined, meaning that with his grid penalty he will start last tomorrow. Mercedes and Red Bull could afford not to run again, such was their advantage, but the other 10 cars on track needed to head out and post a quicker time.

Jenson Button managed to improve and squeeze into the final shoot-out, but the Force India pair were less fortunate as they qualified 11th and 12th with Hulkenberg ahead of Perez. Daniil Kvyat could not repeat his Q1 escapades and finished 13th, whilst Esteban Gutierrez finished as the top Sauber in P14.

Mercedes was the first team to come out in Q3 as both of its drivers planned for two runs in the battle for pole position. However, the session was soon stopped when Sebastian Vettel’s car lost drive, forcing the German to pull his car up at the side of the road and bringing out the red flags.

Once the session restarted, there was a rush to get back out on track and make up for the time lost under the red flag. Rosberg was the first to lay down a benchmark, but he was beaten into second place by Hamilton who went some two-tenths quicker. Daniel Ricciardo slotted into third place ahead of Fernando Alonso, but the rest of the drivers opted to wait for one run at the end of the session.

The final runs saw all of the drivers improve their times on fresh tires, and although Rosberg managed to go quicker, Hamilton went faster still to secure his fourth pole position of the season. Ricciardo slotted into third place as best of the rest ahead of surprise front-runners Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean. Kimi Raikkonen ran well to outqualify his Ferrari teammate Fernando ALonso, whilst Jenson Button and Felipe Massa finished in eighth and ninth ahead of Vettel in P10.

He’s the man in form after three straight wins, and it is hard to bet against Lewis Hamilton making it four in a row on Sunday. Once again, Rosberg simply had no answer to his teammate.

Can Lewis take the lead of the championship? Tune in from 7:30am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra tomorrow to find out.

IndyCar’s blue and white livery epidemic hits Pocono with two new ones

Photo: IndyCar
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Imagine, for a moment, a radio call of this Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) which omitted the names of the drivers and teams and instead asked those on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network to instead only call the race – and perhaps the finish – by car colors.

“There’s the blue and white car, side-by-side with another blue and white car, but a third blue and white car has entered the frame… let’s send it to Jake Query…”

“The blue and white car battle royale rolls through the Tunnel Turn, then into Turn 3, where a blue and white car makes a dive bomb on another blue and white car… Mark Jaynes, bring it home!”

“Get your cameras ready for a blue and white spectacular, photo finish as count ’em, one, two, three, maybe four blue and white cars run side-by-side to the line at Pocono!”

Such a scenario sounds fanciful… and then you look at the spotter guide for this weekend’s race and realize it’s not far fetched. At all.

There are very few gripes I have with the current Verizon IndyCar Series, but one thing that has consistently irked me all year – among others in the paddock – is the preponderance and overkill of blue and white (and red, white and blue) liveries gracing the Chevrolets and Hondas that make up the 21 or 22-car field.

Granted, this is what happens when the partners involved with most teams have blue and white in their corporate colors. And this isn’t a bad thing because teams need all the partners they can get.

However, there’s something to be said for variety in color schemes up and down the grid and when you have a third to half the field, on average, looking identical or close – it makes it very hard to distinguish and stand out, as well as a nightmare for the spotters or the people tasked with calling the race. Mistakes are far from inevitable and it’s not because the person would get it wrong intentionally; it just happens.

Just for Pocono alone, there are five more new or revived blue and white liveries to add to the litany of blue and white liveries this year.

The pair of NTT Data Hondas from Chip Ganassi Racing take on a new predominately white and blue hue for both Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan to look close to identical, after Dixon’s had a blue and white color scheme while Kanaan’s has been predominately blue only this year.

Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, and Gabby Chaves, meanwhile, see their cars look nearly identical. Expedite Home Loans, an online division of Ruoff Home Mortgage, will be on Sato’s No. 26 Honda which makes it a light blue and white scheme, super close to Andretti’s No. 27 light blue and white United Fiber & Data Honda, which is close to Chaves’ light blue (can we call it teal?) and white No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet, back for the first time since Texas.

Since words are meaningless by this point, we thought it a good idea to instead post a picture of every blue and white car that’s raced in 2017. As you can see, this epidemic has spread throughout the grid and is not limited to just one team.

So, without further adieu, here’s a roundup of all the predominately blue, blue and white, or red, white and blue cars that have seen a green flag this year, before the new ones get added this weekend (All photos: IndyCar).

TEAM PENSKE

Simon Pagenaud, No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, St. Petersburg
Josef Newgarden, No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, Mid-Ohio
Helio Castroneves, No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, Long Beach, Barber, Texas

CHIP GANASSI RACING TEAMS

Max Chilton, No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, full season
Scott Dixon, No. 9 GE LED Honda, St. Petersburg
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (all blue, gold trim), Long Beach through Indianapolis 500 qualifying
Scott Dixon, No. 9 Camping World Honda, Indianapolis 500 and Detroit
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (gold trim), Texas
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda (red trim), Road America through Mid-Ohio
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 NTT Data Honda, most of season
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 NTT Data Honda (blue and chrome), Mid-Ohio
Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Novo Nordisk/Diabetes Canada Honda, Toronto

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

Takuma Sato, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, most of season
Takuma Sato, No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda, Indianapolis 500, Detroit and Mid-Ohio
Marco Andretti, No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda, most of season
Marco Andretti, No. 27 Magneti Marelli Honda, Detroit

*We should also note Andretti-Herta Autosport driver Alexander Rossi has had a blue car all season, but with either yellow (NAPA Auto Parts/Curb) or red (ShopAndretti.com) secondary colors alongside the primary blue, the No. 98 Honda doesn’t fall into the all blue or blue and white trap.

A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES

Conor Daly, No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, all season
Carlos Munoz, No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, all season

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING

Graham Rahal, No. 15 SoldierStrong/TurnsforTroops.com Honda, INDYCAR GP and Detroit
Oriol Servia, No. 16 Fifth Third Bank Honda, Detroit

DALE COYNE RACING

Esteban Gutierrez, No. 18 UNIFIN Honda, Detroit through Mid-Ohio (except Texas)
Ed Jones, No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, most of season (except Indianapolis 500, raced with yellow accents)

ED CARPENTER RACING

JR Hildebrand, No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet, multiple races
JR Hildebrand, No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet, Road America

SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS

Jay Howard, No. 77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda, Indianapolis 500

HARDING RACING

Gabby Chaves, No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet, Indianapolis 500, Texas, Pocono

NASCAR America: Shayna Texter on American Flat Track’s growth

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Richie Morris Racing rider Shayna Texter has been in the spotlight this year as a regular winner on the American Flat Track circuit (coverage of which airs Thursday nights on NBCSN, in ‘Overdrive’ block).

The 26-year-old became the first female to win a main event in the series’ history, capturing the AFT Singles win in Knoxville Raceway in 2011. She’s led the points throughout the season in the AFT Singles division.

She provided an update on both her own growth and development and the rise of the series itself on Thursday night’s episode of NBCSN’s NASCAR America.

How much higher — and faster — can NHRA Funny Car driver Robert Hight go?

Photo courtesy John Force Racing
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At the rate he’s been going, Robert Hight is going to keep going higher and higher.

During the week, Hight is the President of John Force Racing (and son-in-law of the legendary drag racer). On weekends, Hight transforms into one of JFR’s three Funny Car drivers.

But he’s been standing out above the rest of the NHRA Funny Car crowd of late – boy, has he ever.

As the NHRA heads to Minnesota for this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, Hight has been hotter than the flames that shoot out of the exhaust pipes on his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro.

He captured two of the last three NHRA national events – also known as the Western Swing – at Denver and Seattle (and reached the quarterfinals at Sonoma).

Robert Hight

And during last week’s off-weekend from the NHRA 24-race schedule, Hight kept his hot hand … err, foot … going, winning the Night Under Fire match race at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.

“When you’re on roll like we’ve been on and the car’s running so well, this is what you want,” Hight said in a media release. “Even though last week was a match race, we still got the win, and we ran great.

“You don’t want this to ever end. It’s going to at some point, but we want to roll into Brainerd and get right back in there.”

If Hight’s good fortune continues at Brainerd, the next race on the schedule is the biggest race of the year each season, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana on Labor Day weekend.

In addition to his two wins, Hight has made a dramatic jump upward in the Funny Car point standings, climbing from eighth to third place.

He’s 166 points behind Funny Car points leader and defending series champ Ron Capps, but is just eight points behind second-ranked Matt Hagan.

But wait, there’s more:

* In addition, Hight has qualified No. 1 in three of the last four national events, and has qualified third or better in the last nine consecutive national events.

* He also made major news three weeks ago when one of those No. 1 qualifiers was the fastest speed ever seen in Funny Car annals: 339.87 mph at Sonoma.

Now he’s looking for even more speed this weekend – and maybe even more records to fall.

“If conditions are good, Brainerd can be a fast race track,” said Hight, the 2015 Brainerd winner. “I’m looking forward to going there, having a successful weekend.

“We have a good shot at getting up to second points, and going into Indy No. 2 would be pretty cool. We’re looking for another win.”

Hight also is on the verge of becoming part of another NHRA milestone. If he gets past the first round in Sunday’s final eliminations, it will be his 400th career round victory.

Only five other Funny Car drivers have ever earned 400 or more round wins, led by Hight’s boss and father-in-law, John Force, with 1,278 career round wins.

“That’s big,” Hight said. “You’ve got to get round wins before you get race wins, and that’s how you get race wins. John has 1,278 round wins, so 400 doesn’t seem like very much.

“I don’t know how 400 stacks up to other guys who have raced the similar amount of time, but I’m happy that the round wins are coming more frequently than there were for us. That’s encouraging, and that’s exciting.”

The first two rounds of qualifying at Brainerd on Friday are at 4:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET.

The final two rounds are Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET.

Final eliminations begin at Noon ET, with live coverage on Fox Sports 1 from 2-5 p.m. ET.

Want to learn more about Hight? Check it out:

  • Hight won the 2009 NHRA Funny Car championship. He’s going for his second title this year, being one of six Funny Car drivers that have already qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
  • Hight has competed in 12 races at Brainerd, and has qualified for 11 races and every race since 2010.
  • Hight has advanced to the finals once at Brainerd, in 2015. He won that race, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr.
  • Hight is 9-10 all-time in 19 elimination rounds at Brainerd.
  • Hight’s best qualifying effort at Brainerd has been No. 3, which he has achieved three times – 2007, 2008 and 2010. Brainerd is one of two current tracks in which Hight is still looking for a No. 1 qualifier (Bristol being the other).
  • Hight has won five of his 11 first-round elimination matchups at Brainerd.
  • Hight’s 39 victories are the fourth most in Funny Car history, behind John Force (148); Ron Capps (55); and Tony Pedregon (43). He is tied with Del Worsham for 21st on the all-time professional victories list; Worsham has 31 wins in Funny Car and eight in Top Fuel.
  • Hight is one elimination round victory away from 400. His 399 round wins are 24th all-time in NHRA history. Angelle Sampey currently has 400 round wins.
  • Hight has been the No. 1 qualifier four times this season, and three times in the last four races. His 53 No. 1s are third most in Funny Car history, and he is tied for 11th with Larry Dixon across all professional categories. Only Force (155) and Cruz Pedregon (61) have more in the category.
  • In 2017, Hight has two victories, a 26-14 record in elimination rounds, and four No. 1 qualifiers. He holds a season-best 38 elimination-round wins in a season, in 2014. He has surpassed 30 elimination-round wins in a season seven times in 12 previous seasons.
  • Hight has set the fastest event speed a career-best nine times this season, which exceeds his previous season-best of seven set in his rookie season, 2005. He now has 50 fastest event speeds in his career, the 50th coming last month at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where he set the NHRA record at 339.87 mph.
  • Hight has four final rounds this season and 61 in his career.
  • Hight has competed in 158 consecutive races, tied for 17th all-time with Doug Kalitta, dating back to the second race at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., in 2010.
  • Hight’s most recent NHRA victory – 2017 Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.
  • Hight’s most recent No. 1 qualifying effort – 2017 Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.
  • Hight’s best time/speed at Brainerd – 3.885 seconds (2016 E1); 330.31 mph (2016 Q1)
  • Hight’s best time/speed of career – 3.807 seconds (2017 Sonoma Q2; third quickest elapsed time in history); 339.87 mph (2017 Sonoma Q2; fastest speed in history)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

Newgarden thankful to be leading, not chasing, in IndyCar title push

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As the Verizon IndyCar Series prepares for its final four-race stretch of the 2017 season over the next five weeks, new points leader Josef Newgarden is thankful he’s made up a big deficit in the last two races rather than chasing as he pursues his first series championship.

Newgarden moved into the points lead for the first time in his career after winning the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course three weeks ago, his third win this season and second in a row. Heading into Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), he has his first chance to win three races in a row in his career, and also to get his first Pocono win after banking three top-five finishes there in four past starts.

Just three races ago at Iowa, before he won at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, Newgarden was 56 points behind then-leader Scott Dixon, in fifth in points. He’s now leading, seven clear of Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, eight clear of Dixon and 17 clear of defending series champion Simon Pagenaud.

Naturally, Newgarden’s happy to be leading, but wary of any slip-ups at Pocono while in the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet that could see him lose this slim gap.

“I think with the way I view it, I always prefer to be in the lead,” he said. “I don’t know why you ever wouldn’t want to be the leader. If you can be in a position where you’re leading the championship, I always think it’s better than having a deficit because to me, I don’t really approach a race weekend different if I’m leading or if I’m trying to catch up.

“I think for us it’ll be hard to hold on to it because everyone is so close, so you have one little mistake or one little mess-up in the next race and it’s very easy to slip back. So we’ve just got to try and stay out front if we can, and like I was saying before, the more that we can build a points gap, that only helps to Sonoma, so if we can’t do that, I think we need to just stay at least in touch with the lead as much as possible and make sure that we have a shot at winning the championship on our own terms when we go to Sonoma.”

Moving into the lead at Mid-Ohio puts Newgarden in an interesting position in recent IndyCar history.

Last year, Pagenaud’s decisive win against Will Power was a net 20-point swing in the championship and moved him into a 58-point lead over him with four races to go. That same 58-point spread now covers the top six entering this weekend’s race.

In 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya led Mid-Ohio winner Graham Rahal by nine points after that race, with two races to go. Eventual champion Dixon was third in points, 34 back.

Power led Castroneves by four after Mid-Ohio in 2014 with three races to go, and a dominant win the next race for him at Milwaukee helped seal his maiden championship win by Fontana a few weeks later.

There were still five races after Mid-Ohio in 2013. Castroneves led Dixon by 31 points, and Dixon came back to win that year’s title.

In 2012, Newgarden’s rookie season, Power led Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points out of Mid-Ohio with three races to go. Despite Power building the gap, he lost that year’s title in the last race to Hunter-Reay.

The 2015 title combatants… swap Pagenaud for Montoya and that’s all 2017’s title combatants. Photo: IndyCar

So how does Newgarden, who’s contending for a title in his first season at Team Penske, focus on the task at hand now that he’s thrust into a his first real title-contending scenario? Although he’s been on the fringes of it each of the last two years with Ed Carpenter Racing, he’s never quite been in this position.

Pagenaud seized his chance last year to win the 2016 title. It took Power three straight crushing end-of-year, last-race losses from 2010 to 2012 before he won his first and only title in 2014. Castroneves, despite an eternal number of runner-up finishes, has still never won a title. And Ryan Briscoe’s one shot at a title with Penske came unglued courtesy of an unforced error in 2009.

This is Newgarden’s first real chance at a title and as he explained, something he was hoping for once he joined the team.

“I definitely think I hoped I would be in a championship position. How could you not?” he said. “When joining Team Penske, I think you hope you’re going to just dominate.

“I didn’t know how the championship was going to unfold. I knew that we were going to have work in front of us.

“I feel like we’re still gelling, we’re still learning. So I’m a little bit surprised at how quickly we’ve hit the ground running, but I guess there’s also been moments where we could have been better and I could have been better and maybe as a team we could have been better, and I think with experience that will come.”

Newgarden (left) and Power (right) flank Rahal. Photo: IndyCar

Newgarden said he hasn’t drawn on his teammates for any advice in how they’ve handled other title-contending situations, and that makes sense because he’s also racing each of them for the title at the same time. The strength in numbers at Team Penske means the odds of one of the four drivers winning is strong, with only Dixon or Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal poised to steal it otherwise.

“It’s an interesting question,” Newgarden admitted. “I haven’t really spoken much to the other teammates specifically about their mindset or where it was at or where the team was at with regard to the championship.

“It’s actually kind of oddly quiet. You know, it’s almost like we’re just expected to be able to do our job. It’s not that we don’t get spoken to by various people within the teams to make sure we have what we need or make sure we understand what the game plan is, it’s just most of the big broad brush strokes.

“I think they’re just — for them they view it as it should be understood by us. We’re all pretty experienced within the series, and I think everyone that’s come into Team Penske has always had some level of experience.

“I think they expect for you to do the right thing. Penske wants us to work well together. They allow us to race. They allow us to do whatever we want to try and beat each other, but it’s just most important that we work together and take care of each other at the end of the day.

“We try and help the whole group be better, and if it’s not me winning a race or winning the championship, then we focus on trying to get at least one of the Penske cars to do that. You always hope it’s you. You want to be the best within the team. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to have one of the Team Penske cars succeeding, and that’s what we all work for.”