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Red Bulls to start on super-softs in Abu Dhabi, could have say in F1 title fight

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Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen could have a say in the Formula 1 championship showdown between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton after qualifying on super-soft tires in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Ricciardo and Verstappen both managed to get through Q2 on the red-ringed Pirelli compound, with the majority of the field favoring the quicker ultra-soft tire.

Both drivers were able to use the ultra-softs in Q3, with Ricciardo qualifying third behind Hamilton and Rosberg on the front row.

However, by starting on the super-softs, Ricciardo and Verstappen may have more strategy options on offer in Abu Dhabi, with both set to complete a longer first stint due to the increased durability offered by their chosen compounds.

“We’ve got to try something I think,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“Seems to be a bit of a trend this year, if we’re in a position to maybe qualify on a different tire then we’ll try and see if it gives us an opportunity. See what it does tomorrow, hopefully it puts us in the fight.”

Rosberg requires a top-three finish in Abu Dhabi to win his first F1 championship, but if Hamilton won the race and the two Red Bulls closed out the podium, the Briton would take a fourth crown.

Ricciardo was pleased with his qualifying display, finishing as the ‘best of the rest’ despite his lap being eight-tenths of a second slower than that of pole-sitter Hamilton.

“Pretty slow starting qualifying session for me. But we chipped away at it,” Ricciardo said.

“In Q3 when it mattered, I felt like I put in some good times. I’m happy. Third was the target, hopefully we can be somewhere up here tomorrow.”

Verstappen will start the final race of his sophomore F1 season from sixth place on the grid, paying the price for a mistake on his last lap in Q3 that sent him off the circuit at Turn 11.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.