Bottas beats the field in final Austrian GP practice

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Valtteri Bottas has finished fastest in the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix, beating Lewis Hamilton into second place with his final lap.

The Finn posted a late time on the option tire to edge out Hamilton and Williams teammate Felipe Massa, whilst Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for fifth place behind Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat.

FP3 gave the drivers one final chance to get to grips with the Red Bull Ring circuit ahead of qualifying, and the majority of them headed out early in the one hour session in order to make the most of the running time. The early benchmark was set by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen, and the Dane remained at the top of the timesheets to begin with with a good lap of 1:10.998. His teammate, Jenson Button, was less fortunate, suffering a problem with his brakes that ended his session early.

Felipe Massa was the first driver to displace Magnussen at the top of the timesheets, and his example was soon followed by Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat at the front of the field. Bottas soon got the upper hand on his teammate, finishing three-hundredths of a second faster than his teammate after the first set of runs.

Fernando Alonso bided his time before heading out, and slotted into third place with his first time. Mercedes, however, opted to take it easy to begin with, as neither Hamilton nor Rosberg challenged the drivers at the head of the standings at first. With 23 minutes remaining, though, the German driver ascended to P1 by a full three-tenths of a second.

For the final part of the session, the drivers made the switch to the super-soft tire compound in order to perform a simulation qualifying run ahead of this afternoon’s pole position shoot-out. Alonso was one of the first to make the switch, and moved up into first place as a result, with Rosberg remaining in second place with his initial effort on the red-ringed tires. Hamilton and Massa both had enjoyed spates of time at the top of the timesheets, but it was Bottas who stole the show with his final lap time to finish just 0.050 seconds ahead of the Briton.

Will Williams’ good form continue in qualifying? Find out by watching the session live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET today.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”