Austrian GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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Just two weeks after Mercedes’ hopes of a perfect season went up in smoke, its aspirations for a clean sweep of poles in 2014 have also evaporated after Felipe Massa sprung a surprise to claim his sixteenth career pole position.

The result was in fact Massa’s first pole in over five years, with his last coming at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. Since then, his career has seen some huge ups and downs, but today he was the star as he capitalized on the Silver Arrows’ problems in the final part of qualifying.

Unlike the political psychodrama that developed yesterday in Austria, today it was all about the on-track action. Here’s MotorSportsTalk’s round-up of Saturday at the Red Bull Ring.

SESSION REPORTS

  • The first signs of a Williams charge came in FP3, where Valtteri Bottas finished fastest ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
  • However, in qualifying, it was Massa who claimed the spoils after Bottas, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg all failed to improve their times on their final runs.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

As I touched upon in the introduction to this piece, it is good that the focus has moved back onto the on-track action. Just when you thought that the Mercedes cars were invincible, both came unstuck during Q3 to give Williams a memorable front row lock-out.

Eleven years after Frank Williams’ cars last lined up on the front row together, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas delivered when it mattered. It was a result that was extremely well received in the paddock, with everyone but the boys in silver pleased to see the team return to the front of the field, even if it is just for one day.

For Massa, the result is a particularly emotional one. After missing out on the 2008 world championship in agonizing fashion and then suffering a horrific head injury in 2009, there were doubts as to whether the Brazilian would ever re-find his form. Ferrari was also unsure, and dropped him at the end of last season in favor of re-signing Kimi Raikkonen.

Since joining Williams though, he has been in fine fettle. The Brazilian driver has been desperately unlucky in 2014, and still maintains that he could have won the Canadian Grand Prix had it not been for a problem at his pit stop. Today, he proved that he still has what it takes to light up the timesheets: P1 in qualifying. Congratulations, Felipe.

And also a hearty well done to Valtteri Bottas. His charge to second place on the grid was a fine result, all things considered. He was unfortunate not to secure his first ever pole, given that Massa beat him by less than one-tenth of a second.

All the while, we must remember that Mercedes is still the dominant force in the sport. Nico Rosberg will know that, from third place on the grid, he is still in with a great chance of winning for the third time this season. Hamilton, down in ninth, faces a fight. It should give us some great action in the race, though, seeing him fight through.

Today was all about Williams, though. There is no guarantee that Massa and Bottas will be able to win the race tomorrow, nor will they be assured of a podium finish. However, the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003 should be a fascinating spectacle.

You can watch the race live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET tomorrow.

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.