Rosberg tames wet conditions to claim Belgian GP pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in a wet qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps today.

The German driver beat his teammate by two-tenths of a second in the final session on Saturday afternoon, as Mercedes proved itself to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field come rain or shine. Sebastian Vettel was over two seconds behind Rosberg in third place, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo.

A brief rain shower in the run-up to qualifying meant that the session got underway in damp conditions, with all of the drivers fitting intermediate and wet tires accordingly. A number of them struggled to keep their cars on track in the wet, including Lewis Hamilton, who couldn’t get his Mercedes stopped at the final chicane. Despite his off-track excursion, he still managed to post the fastest time during the first runs ahead of Rosberg in the sister Silver Arrow, although the German driver did win out in the end to finish the session a tenth clear of Hamilton at the top.

Williams ran well in Q1 to finish third and fourth, whilst Jean-Eric Vergne rallied through the spray to fifth place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. Esteban Gutierrez’s session came to an early end when his Sauber ground to a halt on the exit of Stavelot, meaning that he finished in the dropzone at the end of the session.

Andre Lotterer performed well in his first F1 qualifying session to finish almost one second clear of full-time teammate Marcus Ericsson at the back for Caterham, whilst Nico Hulkenberg was the surprise casualty of the first session as he couldn’t get his brakes warm enough. Pastor Maldonado and Max Chilton also dropped out at the end of Q1.

As Q2 got underway, more rain began to fall over Spa, prompting Force India to tell Sergio Perez that his first run could actually turn out to be the fastest of the session. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both struggled to keep their cars on track on intermediates, but the latter soon found his feet to move up into first place ahead of Rosberg.

Contrary to Force India’s forecast, the times did continue to improve throughout the session. Hamilton closed out Q2 ahead of Rosberg and Alonso at the top, with the Mercedes duo enjoying an advantage of almost two seconds over the rest of the field.

The dropzone at the end of the second session was made up of the expected names. Jules Bianchi will start tomorrow’s race from 16th, but making Q2 was a considerable achievement for the Frenchman. His compatriot, Romain Grosjean, will start just ahead in 15th after being beaten in the dying stages by Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil, who were 12th and 13th behind the two Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat (P11) and Jean-Eric Vergne (P12). Kvyat then made a rather embarrassing mistake on his in-lap though, as he waved his hand in frustration before spinning his car as a result.

Q3 saw all of the drivers head out early to get in a banker lap as the sun peeked through the clouds above Spa, giving the track a chance to dry as the session wore on.

A mistake at La Source meant that Hamilton’s first timed lap was a poor one, allowing Rosberg to take provisional pole. The Briton improved with his second effort, but was still some seven-tenths adrift when they pitted for fresh tires with five minutes remaining.

Rosberg headed out early for his final run, but a slow first sector put paid to his initial timed lap on fresh intermediates. Hamilton crossed the line with 20 seconds remaining, and traded fastest sector times with Rosberg, who was now on his second lap. However, the Briton could not keep this form up, and eventually came home in second place. For good measure, Rosberg improved his final time to finish two-tenths clear of Hamilton and claim his seventh pole of the season.

Vettel managed to improve on his final lap to qualify third ahead of Alonso and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who ran wide at Blanchimont on his final lap. Valtteri Bottas qualified sixth ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Kimi Raikkonen, with Felipe Massa and Jenson Button rounding out the top ten.

This result marks Rosberg’s fourth pole position in a row, and he will be hoping to convert it into a win that would see him extend his lead over Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings. However, with the Briton qualifying inside the top five for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June, he will be pushing to wrangle back the championship lead and win for a second time in Belgium tomorrow.

You can watch the Belgian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7.30am ET tomorrow.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.