Rosberg beats rain, red flags and Vettel for Hungary pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured his fifth pole position in six races in Hungary today after seeing off the challenge of Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas in the final stage of qualifying.

After seeing teammate Lewis Hamilton pull over in Q1 thanks to an engine fire, Rosberg then had to contend with a brief rain shower and a red flag in Q3 en route to pole position, but he eventually gapped the field by a convincing four-tenths of a second.

Q1 began in slightly cooler conditions to practice, with the track temperature dropping under a cover of cloud. Most of the drivers opted to head out early to post a banker lap time, but Pastor Maldonado’s session lasted all of two minutes. The Lotus came to a halt at the penultimate corner, meaning that he will start tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix from the back of the grid.

He will be joined there by Lewis Hamilton, who suffered yet more disastrous luck in qualifying when his engine caught fire. He was forced to abandon his car in the pit lane, and for the second weekend in a row, he will face an almighty struggle to beat Rosberg in the race tomorrow.

It seemed likely that the remaining four places in the dropzone would be taken by the Marussia and Caterham cars, but Jules Bianchi had other ideas. The Frenchman found half a second in the final sector of his lap to knock out Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who had remained in the pits and opted not to run again. The Finn was furious to have dropped out in Q1, and he will start tomorrow’s race from 17th place. Kamui Kobayashi, Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson could not make it through, though.

Bianchi was quick out of the blocks to set a time in Q2, but it was Valtteri Bottas who set the early pace for Williams. Rosberg soon took Mercedes back to the top of the timesheets by going six-tenths of a second faster than the Finn, though. Sebastian Vettel slotted into second place, a further three-tenths back from his compatriot after the first run in Q2.

Sergio Perez’s session came to an early end after a hydraulic leak on his Force India car forced him to get out of the car with just one lap time on the board. He eventually was classified in 13th place, with teammate Nico Hulkenberg sneaking into the top ten.

On the final set of runs, none of the drivers in the dropzone managed to improve, with Daniil Kvyat spinning on his final lap to qualify 11th. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez put in a good display for Sauber to qualify 12th and 14th respectively ahead of Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi.

As Q3 got underway, light rain began to fall over the Hungaroring, making it a race against time to get in a lap time and beat the weather. Rosberg was the first to head out, and was having to wrestle with his Mercedes in the slippery conditions. Just as he ran wide at the first corner, Kevin Magnussen shunted his McLaren in the wall, bringing out the red flag with ten minutes left on the clock. Thankfully, he walked away unharmed, but was disappointed to see his session end in such fashion.

The session resumed some ten minutes later with dry tires fitted to the cars despite the brief shower. Rosberg was the first to head out once again, but his first time was well off the pace. The drivers were able to push for more than one lap as the track continued to improve, seeing them trade fastest times for P1. Rosberg took to top spot with three minutes to go ahead of Vettel and Bottas, but there was still time for his effort to be bettered.

Bottas moved up to second place with his final effort, leaving the battle between Rosberg and Vettel. Although the Red Bull driver managed to move up to P1 for a few seconds, it did not last any longer as Rosberg improved through all three sectors to secure his sixth pole position of the season.

Daniel Ricciardo will start the race behind Bottas in fourth place, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa behind him on the third row of the grid. Jenson Button will start seventh for McLaren with Jean-Eric Vergne in eighth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.

It wasn’t easy for Rosberg, but once again he was the man to beat in qualifying, capitalizing on the misfortune of his rivals to secure pole position at the Hungaroring. However, he will now need to convert it into a race win on Sunday if he is to extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship over Hamilton, who may have to start from the pit lane.

Join us for the Hungarian Grand Prix live on CNBC and Live Extra tomorrow from 7:30am ET.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”