Sam Hornish Jr.

NASCAR: Sam Hornish Jr. wins Nationwide pole at Mid-Ohio

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The locals that come out for today’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will see one of their own on the pole position.

Defiance, Ohio native Sam Hornish Jr. bagged the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 pole this morning with a final-round qualifying lap of 84.787 seconds in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Fellow ex-IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani held the provisional pole early on in the final round with an 85.092-second lap that was eclipsed by Hornish.

With less than 2 minutes to go, Tagliani went out again in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford but on his final flyer lap, a wheel hop caused him to lose control and spin out going into Turn 4 – ensuring that Hornish would win the pole on home ground.

“I was pretty happy with the [lap],” Hornish told ESPN. “We only did one lap in the first session, trying to save our tires a little bit, and felt like we were pretty close. Then we almost ended up getting bumped out there at the end [of Round 1]. It’s an interesting qualifying format for sure. To be able to go out there and put in two solid laps in the Monster Energy car felt pretty good.

“Everybody that works on this car did a great job overnight getting the engine changed, making sure that everything was put back together properly. The car handled really good this morning, and hopefully, it will continue that way into the race.”

Hornish is making his seventh Nationwide start of the year in the No. 54 car, and he really wants to bring home a trophy from a track where he watched many races while growing up.

“I remember coming here as a kid, having the opportunity – this is one of the places where I’ve seen more races probably from outside the fence then I have from the race car,” he said. “So, I always think about the memories I have from actually being here as a fan more so than a driver.”

Hornish and Tagliani will start from the front row, while a pair of Richard Childress Racing drivers in Brian Scott and Ty Dillon will go off from Row 2. The third row features Chris Buescher and Justin Marks, followed by Road America winner Brendan Gaughan and Regan Smith.

Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott will start ninth on the inside of Row 5 alongside Kenny Habul. Today’s green flag for the 90-lap event is expected around 2:45 p.m. ET.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT MID-OHIO – Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200
Qualifying Results

1. 54-Sam Hornish Jr.
2. 22-Alex Tagliani
3. 2-Brian Scott
4. 3-Ty Dillon
5. 60-Chris Buescher
6. 31-Justin Marks
7. 62-Brendan Gaughan
8. 7-Regan Smith
9. 9-Chase Elliott
10. 20-Kenny Habul
11. 99-James Buescher
12. 42-Dylan Kwasniewski
13. 11-Elliott Sadler
14. 6-Trevor Bayne
15. 01-Ryan Ellis
16. 87-Stanton Barrett
17. 14-Jeff Green
18. 40-Matt Dibenedetto
19. 51-Jeremy Clements
20. 19-Mike Bliss
21. 43-Dakoda Armstrong
22. 44-Carlos Contreras
23. 39-Ryan Sieg
24. 28-J.J. Yeley
25. 93-Tomy Drissi
26. 23-Cody Ware
27. 4-Jeffrey Earnhardt
28. 16-Ryan Reed
29. 17-Tanner Berryhill
30. 86-Tim Cowen
31. 55-Timmy Hill
32. 52-Joey Gase
33. 46-Josh Reaume
34. 74-Bobby Reuse
35. 70-Derrike Cope
36. 10-Blake Koch
37. 15-Carl Long
38. 79-John Jackson
39. 74-Roger Reuse

WATCH LIVE: USGP on NBC, NBC Sports app from 2:30 p.m. ET

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing shake hands in parc ferme  during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – After the three practice sessions were split three ways between Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen, Hamilton snatched the pole position for today’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas with a magical lap, at a circuit and in a country he pretty much loves.

The stage is then set for yet another battle between the Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates as they continue to fight for this year’s Formula 1 World Championship.

Hamilton, down 33 points to Rosberg heading into the 18th of 21 Grands Prix this season, realistically needs to make up a big chunk of points today if he is to secure a third consecutive title.

Rosberg can win the title with second-place finishes in each of the final four races, but he has said repeatedly he is going for race wins only and is not thinking about the championship. And at the moment, that strategy seems to be working for him.

But with Red Bull Racing on row two starting with a split strategy – Daniel Ricciardo on Pirelli’s supersoft tires and Max Verstappen on the slightly harder soft compounds – those two could throw a spanner in the works. Ricciardo loves the U.S. near as much as Hamilton, if not more so, and would be keen for another podium or perhaps his second win of the year.

And how will Haas F1 Team, America’s first F1 team in 30 years, fare in its first United States Grand Prix? It’s been a challenging weekend for Gene Haas’ team, but Esteban Gutierrez (14th) and Romain Grosjean (17th) will give it their all despite something of a downforce deficit.


You can watch the United States Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports App from 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, which is 1:30 p.m. CT and local time in Austin. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, and along with pit reporter Will Buxton, all are on the ground in Austin providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

2016 United States Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams
9. Felipe Massa Williams
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Sergio Perez Force India
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
15. Jolyon Palmer Renault
16. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
17. Romain Grosjean Haas
18. Kevin Magnussen Renault
19. Jenson Button McLaren
20. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
21. Felipe Nasr Sauber
22. Esteban Ocon Manor

What to watch for: United States Grand Prix (NBC, NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET)

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Sunday marks one of the biggest dates on the American motorsport calendar as Formula 1 hits the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas for the United States Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton continued his strong record in the U.S. on Saturday in Austin by taking his ninth pole position of the season, edging out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by two-tenths of a second in the Q3 shootout.

Remarkably, it was Hamilton’s first COTA pole despite being a three-time winner in Texas, giving him a much-needed boost as he looks to get his championship bid back on-track after losing ground on Rosberg in recent weeks.

Rosberg will start alongside his title rival on the grid, setting the stage for another all-Mercedes tussle for the third year in a row at COTA.

With a variety of strategies on offer, Sunday’s race should be full of unpredictability. It may have to go some way to match the madness of the 2015 edition – but at least things should be a little drier for those on the ground at COTA this time around…

You can watch the United States Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here is our complete raceday preview for the United States Grand Prix.

2016 United States Grand Prix – What to watch for

Nothing for Lewis to lose

Lewis Hamilton will know that, even with a clean sweep of victories between now and the end of the season, a fourth world title is by no means guaranteed. The damage to his title bid has already been done, placing it in Nico Rosberg’s hands.

As a result, Hamilton will go into Sunday’s race knowing he has nothing to lose. The first corner squeeze with Rosberg last year stoked tension, so keep an eye out for a similar move this time around from either party.

In reality, this should be Hamilton’s race to lose. His record at COTA is such that, barring another issue, the rest of the pack may not get close. Time for him to rediscover his form and end his win drought.

Tactics from Rosberg?

Rosberg’s ‘one race at a time’ approach to this year’s title may have been somewhat tiresome, but it appears to be doing the trick. 33 points clear with 100 left on the table – this championship is his to lose.

The German has made a habit of impressing at tracks he’d previously struggled at this year. Wins in Australia, Bahrain, China, Russia, Belgium, Italy and Singapore were all ‘firsts’ – and, bar Singapore, all tracks at which Hamilton won in 2015. They’re big gains to have been made in the title battle.

It’s unlikely Rosberg will want to settle for second at COTA, but if he isn’t ahead at the start, it may be the safest thing to do. If, however, he makes a cleaner getaway and is able to throw his car up the inside at Turn 1, he could deal yet another blow to Hamilton’s already-faint title hopes.

Verstappen a contender on strategy?

Red Bull’s long run pace on Friday was, to quote Daniel Ricciardo, “delicious”, stoking hopes that the team may be able to take the fight to Mercedes at COTA.

Realistically, its best chance of doing so lies with Max Verstappen, who followed the Mercedes drivers on strategy and will start the race on the soft compound tire. A one-stop (soft to medium) is definitely possible for the trio – throw in a safety car, and Verstappen may be able to take the fight to Hamilton and Rosberg.

Ricciardo must not be discounted though. We saw in Singapore how effective an extra stop switching to the qualifying tire can be – could he charge through and take a popular COTA victory?

Haas’ homecoming holds little promise

Hopes were high for Haas ahead of its first home grand prix weekend, but it has proven to be something of a disaster thus far. Issues on both Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez’s cars in practice hurt the team before it suffered its worst qualifying display since China on Saturday.

Gutierrez will start 14th with Grosjean 17th, leaving Haas with a mountain to climb in the day. Conditions are set to remain dry, and with the midfield battle being so tight, Haas risks being left behind.

Nevertheless, seeing an American team race on American soil will be a sight to behold.

Austin crowd numbers

Following last night’s successful Taylor Swift concert, attention will now turn to the gate figure coming out of COTA. Circuit CEO Bobby Epstein told me that the track is expecting its second-highest attendance this weekend, adding “if this one doesn’t work, nothing will”. Lofty expectations.

Expect to see an awful lot of red, white and blue – and thankfully no umbrellas – in the grandstands on Sunday. There may be no American drivers, but Americans still love their Formula 1.

2016 United States Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams
9. Felipe Massa Williams
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Sergio Perez Force India
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
15. Jolyon Palmer Renault
16. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
17. Romain Grosjean Haas
18. Kevin Magnussen Renault
19. Jenson Button McLaren
20. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
21. Felipe Nasr Sauber
22. Esteban Ocon Manor

Relive Suzuka start for Mercedes pair, side-by-side (VIDEO)

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AUSTIN, Texas – As they prepare to duel in today’s United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC), here’s a quick recap of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s respective starts from the Japanese Grand Prix a fortnight ago.

The NBC Sports Group video team put together a side-by-side comparison of the two starts, which you can see above.

Hamilton’s starts have largely been in the crosshairs this season, and the Englishman sought to address it in his visit to the Mercedes AMG Petronas factory last week.

“It has been an ongoing thing all year long,” Hamilton explained in Thursday’s FIA Press Conference. “There’s been a lot of changes, a lot of work, perhaps more than in other areas.

“I was at the factory last week and we were working very hard to cover up all areas so we hope that we have a slightly better formula this weekend. If not  then there will be a better formula next weekend, but it is something that… I definitely feel that we’re in a better position so fingers crossed for Sunday.”

Hamilton’s second home set to provide best chance to defend title

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates qualifying in pole position with actor Rosa Salazer in parc ferme during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – From his first pole position at Circuit of The Americas, and in his adopted second home, Lewis Hamilton has perhaps his best – and last – chance to ignite his bid for a third consecutive FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

A win today in Austin would close the gap to his Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate, Nico Rosberg, by at least seven points (from 33 to 26) even if Rosberg were to finish second.

A win too, if it occurs, could also be the needed shot in the arm to save his season on the whole after myriad mechanical woes and mistakes have resigned him to this position in the first place.

It’s funny to consider a year when Hamilton has won six races as a disappointment, but to this point, it is. He’s won 49 career races, with 21 of them (11 in 2014, 10 in 2015) coming in the last two years before this one. And that’s what makes six this year seem fewer by comparison.

All six of them came in an eight-race stretch from Monaco on Memorial Day weekend, through Germany to end the first half of the season prior to the summer break.

Even the six-pack of wins hasn’t all been straightforward. Monaco was perhaps a lucky first triumph of the season after Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull team threw away a near certain victory by not being ready with tires for a pit stop. Then, in Austria, Hamilton clashed with Rosberg and came out ahead only just from their bout.

But on the whole, it’s been frustration rather than glory that has defined the season.

Starts have been a perpetual struggle, most recently and notably last time out in Suzuka, when Hamilton fell to eighth from second on the grid by the first corner. He also lost his edge on the start in Monza, too, from pole. Hamilton has addressed this concern in noting he’d been to the factories in Brackley and Brixworth, and have sought to address the procedure.

Then there have been the mechanical woes. Power unit issues in qualifying have left him starting from the rear of the field, needing a comeback in a couple races (China, Baku and Spa come to mind). Then there was the near-catastrophic in-race failure in Malaysia that cost him an extra 15 points to Rosberg. So Hamilton’s lost out at several opportunities this year through no fault of his own.

But Hamilton comes to Austin knowing this is his turf, given his past history racing in the country and his own affinity for visiting here as frequently as he does on off weekends away from the paddock.

Start first with his strike rate. In five past U.S. Grands Prix, he’s won four of them, and gives him an 80 percent hit rate with a single win at Indianapolis in 2007 – when he was then a 22-year-old rookie with McLaren – to his three at COTA. For good measure, he added last year’s World Championship title at Austin.

He has five wins at both Canada and Hungary, but in both instances, those two races have been on the calendar longer. The U.S. is one of three countries – his home country of Britain and China being the others – where Hamilton has four wins.

Then add how he won here the last three times. You might remember if you’ve seen the movie American Psycho, that before Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman character unleashes fury on an unsuspecting victim, that he extolls the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News, as then their hit “Hip to Be Square” plays in the background.

Bateman offers the pre-murderous soliloquy: “I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip to Be Square’, a song so catchy, most people don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself.”

And then Bateman proceeds to drop the hammer. That’s what’s Hamilton’s done at Austin in racing terminology here: he’s made the race “Lewis and the Blues” for anyone that isn’t him.

He left Rosberg (2014 and 2015) and Sebastian Vettel (2012) utterly vanquished with great passing maneuvers to win. Rosberg was so deflated last year, it was all he could do afterwards to throw a cap back at Hamilton.

Then there’s the magnitude of his pole lap on Saturday, which at 1:34.999 was simply magical.

And somewhat surprisingly, not even as good as it could have been.

Hamilton told NBCSN’s Will Buxton that after his first sector, he was thrilled, but he couldn’t afford to let up.

“It definitely (felt that good); particularly the first sector. It was like butter,” Hamilton explained. “It wasn’t spectacular after that though! It was hold on to what I already gained. At Turn 11, I started decreasing my advantage. But at Turn 16, it went up, extraordinarily. I saw the time shift up.

“You can often see the time on TV when you cross the line, and it’s horrible after being first and you’re second. To see my name go back up there was a great feeling.”

Hamilton also hailed the crowd at his back, who has largely come to love him in the U.S. – even despite the odd hater or two.

“I feel amazing. It’s my first pole here,” he said in the post-qualifying press conference.

“It’s been many years of trying and a lot of people who’ve helped me get that. For us, I want to say a big thanks to the crowd. I could hear them cheering. The energy on the slow down lap was much appreciated.

“We’ve worked hard the last couple weeks. It’s a great feeling to be back up here. I’ll do the best I can tomorrow.

“I have had some incredible support from friends, family and the crowd. Been practicing the starts all weekend. Now we have to execute.”

Finally, there are the mental mind games at play.

Hamilton, who has three World Championships already and essentially nothing to lose, still could psychologically beat Rosberg to go along with beating him on track.

Rosberg, who continues to downplay the “championship” word at every opportunity, still has to prove he won’t crack as potential champion-in-waiting.

And their approach to the start and Turn 1 tomorrow is fascinating.

“Nevertheless, qualifying isn’t all-important. From P2, we still have a good chance tomorrow,” Rosberg said.

“I’ve shown in the past you don’t need to be first off the line or into the first corner to win this race,” Hamilton countered.

After his tough weekend in Suzuka, Hamilton looks like back to the title-winning Hamilton form-wise this weekend.

He’s riding high in the media with his Ellen appearance, Call of Duty call-up and his banter with reporters the last few days, appearing in a much more spirited mood in the weekend’s press conferences. On-track, he picked the perfect weekend to be back on form.

Hamilton may be the underdog in the points tables heading into today’s race. But couldn’t be in a better grid position or a better venue to turn the tables on Rosberg, if he can win today.