First blood to Fernando Alonso in Canadian GP practice

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Fernando Alonso has finished quickest in the first practice session for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, edging out Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timesheets by just 0.016 seconds.

The Ferrari driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:17.238 to beat Hamilton, who had looked set to finish the session fastest. His Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, slotted into third place, a further one-tenth of a second down on Alonso.

As has been commonplace in 2014, the first 30 minutes saw a number of the drivers head out early in order to use Pirelli’s extra set of tires. Predictably, Mercedes one again went fastest of all in the first part of the session, with Hamilton leading Rosberg by just 0.050 seconds after their initial efforts.

However, both drivers did have a few unstable moments at the first corner, with Hamilton taking to the run-off area at one point. Daniel Ricciardo kissed the wall coming out of the first chicane, but gently enough to not sustain any damage to his Red Bull.

American driver Alexander Rossi’s first few laps in the Caterham were tentative, which was expected given that this was his first time driving a 2014-spec car. However, he soon found his feet and was matching the times of stablemate Marcus Ericsson. He eventually finished the session in last place, though, albeit just four-tenths of a second behind the Swede.

Marussia’s Jules Bianchi was the first to push slightly too much and make contact with the wall on the exit of turn four. His right-rear kicked out and was damaged, forcing him to crawl back to the pits at a pedestrian pace.

With 30 minutes to go, Rosberg improved his time to move ahead of his teammate as a number of drivers found more pace once the track had rubbered in. Hamilton soon redressed the balance with a lap that was almost half a second faster than Rosberg’s effort, and Fernando Alonso also managed to better his time to split the Mercedes drivers.

The Spaniard then went one better, and moved to the top of the timesheets with 20 minutes to go. Hamilton looked to re-claim first place, but a lock up at the hairpin meant that he lost the chance to improve. He had been two-tenths of a second faster than Alonso through the first two sectors.

Valtteri Bottas put in a late time to move up to fifth place behind Sebastian Vettel, but at the top of the timesheets, no-one could beat Alonso’s effort. Although Mercedes still appears to be the team to beat, Ferrari will undoubtedly be pleased with the Spaniard’s early showing here in Canada.

You can watch second practice for the Canadian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2pm ET.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.