Massa secures shock pole in Austria at Mercedes’ expense

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Felipe Massa and Williams have stunned Mercedes by securing pole position for tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The Brazilian driver scored his first pole position in over five years at the Red Bull Ring, and will have teammate Valtteri Bottas starting alongside him on the front row after the British team took advantage of Mercedes’ failure to improve its times.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamiltonwere expected to fight for pole once again, but both made mistakes in the final part of qualifying, meaning that they had to settle for P3 and P9 respectively.

Qualifying in Austria began in sunny and dry conditions, and the drivers were quick to head out on track to put in an early banker lap. In the early runs, the Toro Rosso drivers showed good pace early on with Daniil Kvyat leading Jean-Eric Vergne at the top of the timesheets. Fernando Alonso managed to displace them with his first serious effort, but Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg soon took Mercedes back to the top in first and second place.

After suffering a brake issue in FP3, Jenson Button was keen to make up for lost time during the first part of qualifying. However, his efforts were not helped when he was blocked by Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson at the first corner. Following prior warning from the FIA, a number of drivers had their lap times deleted after not adhering to track limit rules at turn eight, meaning that they had to rally and post a clean lap for it to count.

In the race to avoid elimination, a number of the drivers had to switch to the super-soft tire for the final five minutes of the session. Daniil Kvyat put in a good time to jump up into second place, whilst Kevin Magnussen went P4 to avoid an early exit. Adrian Sutil saw his time deleted, having been good enough for P13, and could only go P17 with his clean lap, meaning that he was knocked out of qualifying alongside teammate Esteban Gutierrez. The Caterhams and Marussias once again dropped out in Q1, with Jules Bianchi finishing as the best of the backmarkers ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson.

For Q2, all of the drivers opted to run on the option tire in order to give themselves the best possible chance of making it through to the top ten shoot-out. Nico Hulkenberg was the first to lay down a marker, and was soon joined by Sergio Perez, who fell just short of his teammate’s time. Kevin Magnussen managed to overhaul them, going three-tenths quicker, but he in turn was beaten by the Williams drivers.

Fernando Alonso was fortunate not to end his qualifying early after running wide at the final corner and narrowly missing the wall. Despite this scary moment, his lap time was still quicker than teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton duly returned Mercedes to the top with their first lap times, but Red Bull appeared to be struggling. After his first run, Sebastian Vettel was languishing in the dropzone, and needed to find some time with his final lap of the session.

However, the defending world champion could not improve by enough with his final effort, and qualified in 12th place. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo managed to squeeze through in ninth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, whilst Sergio Perez and Jenson Button dropped out once again in Q2. Pastor Maldonado secured his best qualifying result of the season in 14th ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean.

Having run the Mercedes drivers close in Q2, Valtteri Bottas was looking to spring a surprise and try to hassle the Silver Arrows in the final session. The Finn was quick to get out on track, and even a slight lock-up on his first lap did not prevent him from going quickest of all at first. Hamilton looked set to beat his time, but ran wide at turn eight and had his time deleted for exceeding track limits. Rosberg could not come to the rescue either, going second and handing provisional pole to Bottas.

The Finn could not improve on his final run after running wide, but nor could Lewis Hamilton after a big spin. Nico Rosberg also failed to find any extra time, allowing Felipe Massa to secure his first pole position in over five years, securing an all Williams front row – the team’s first in over ten years.

Rosberg was forced to settle for third place, with Hamilton finishing down in ninth without posting a lap time. Fernando Alonso ran well for Ferrari to finish fourth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen. Daniil Kvyat performed admirably for Toro Rosso, qualifying seventh, whilst Kimi Raikkonen finished down in eighth ahead of Hamilton. Nico Hulkenberg also failed to post a time, and was classified tenth.

After a difficult few years in Formula 1, Massa’s return to the front of the field will certainly be a popular result in the paddock. The Brazilian driver managed to capitalize on Mercedes’ mistakes when it mattered, and will be hoping for a similar result in the race tomorrow.

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.”