Hungarian GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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Is there such a thing as luck? “No,” grumble the cynics. “You make your own luck.” If that is the case, then I dread to think just what Lewis Hamilton has done in a past life, because at the moment, he is probably the unluckiest man in Formula 1.

Just one week on from his terrifying brake failure and crash during the first part of qualifying for the German Grand Prix, lightning struck the #44 car once again as his engine caught fire following a fuel leak. He will start tomorrow’s race from the pit lane.

On the other side of that coin, you have Nico Rosberg, who clinched his fifth pole position in six races today at the Hungaroring. However, it was by no means an easy feat even without his teammate playing a part. Sebastian Vetttel and Valtteri Bottas both put up a fight again the championship leader, but neither could stop him from capitalizing on Hamilton’s demise.

It was a thrilling qualifying session in Hungary today, with a sprinkling of rain and a red flag really spicing things up. Now we’ve cooled down, here’s the complete paddock round-up from Saturday at the Hungaroring.

SESSION REPORTS

  • Lewis Hamilton ominously topped FP3, picking up where he left off on Friday, and didn’t appear to give the rest of the field much chance heading into qualifying.
  • But then the racing gods intervened. An engine fire robbed him of a shot at pole, with Rosberg picking up the pieces to claim his sixth pole position of the season.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

After Christian Horner’s outburst during the team principals’ press conference yesterday, we turned our focus back to the on-track action today – and boy were we served up a treat. Fire, rain, red flags, shock knockouts – you name it, this qualifying session had it.

However, the end result was not so much of a surprise. Once again, it is a Mercedes on pole, with Nico Rosberg the man on top. Although he faced less of a challenge following Lewis Hamilton’s firey exit, he did still need to see off Vettel and Bottas at the end of qualifying. His final lap was perfect: three purple (quickest) sectors for pole position.

For Lewis, it is just more rotten luck that is part of being a racing driver. Nobody wants to DNF ever, but it does happen. The cries of conspiracy from the fans is completely bonkers, yet you can understand their reasoning: this was the sixth time Lewis has hit trouble in 2014 (Australia practice, Australia race, Canada race, Britain practice, Germany race, and here); Rosberg has only come unstuck once (Britain race).

So could Lewis do what he did in Germany and rally to finish on the podium? Well, it might be a bit harder given that overtaking around the Hungaroring comes at a premium. Nevertheless, a bit of rain could spice things up; Lewis will be gunning to keep the gap to Rosberg at the top of the championship as small as possible.

The battle behind should be pretty interesting between Red Bull, Williams and Fernando Alonso for the final podium position. However, you can count Kimi Raikkonen up. He did not mince his words when talking about Ferrari’s mistake that caused him to drop out in Q1. The fact that he brushed it off because it’s been that kind of season sums up where his head is at right now.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for the Hungarian Grand Prix live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7:30am ET. Once again, MotorSportsTalk will be bringing you all of the latest news, reports and analysis from the paddock in Hungary.

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.”