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IMSA: Barbosa, Cadillac dominate Rolex 24 qualifying

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new Cadillac DPi-V.R dominated proceedings on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, with top three sweeps in both practice sessions before Joao Barbosa took the Action Express-run No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac to pole position for the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Barbosa has taken the overall pole with James French (PC), Joey Hand (GTLM) and Alessandro Pier Guidi (GTD) taking the other class pole positions.

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What appeared to be a near unassailable 1:37.169 lap set by Ricky Taylor was eclipsed by the rapid Portuguese driver, with Barbosa setting a 1:36.903 lap around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway. This sees the Cadillac on pole for the debut of the new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform, which premieres alongside new-for-2017 LMP2-spec cars.

The second Action Express entry, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, ended within a tenth of Barbosa in second place. Dane Cameron shot up to second at 1:36.973 right near the end of the session, and will start second for the first race of his Prototype class title defense in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Barbosa shares his No. 5 car with longtime co-driver Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque, while Cameron is in the No. 31 car with Eric Curran, Mike Conway and Seb Morris.

Neel Jani took the No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson up to third right at the end of the session at 1:37.123, with Taylor’s early flier leaving him only fourth.

Jani shares his car with Stephane Sarrazin, Sebastien Buemi and Nick Heidfeld while Taylor will share the No. 10 car with brother Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli in his final start and Jeff Gordon in his first Rolex 24 start in 10 years.

Brendon Hartley did well to take the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi up to fifth on the grid. The best of the Mazda RT24-Ps was only ninth, while the sole Ligier JS P217 from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports was eighth and the sole Riley Mk. 30 from VISIT FLORIDA Racing was 11th. DragonSpeed will start from the rear of the Prototype field following a crash in second practice, and did not partake in qualifying.

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The lone team with one car in Prototype Challenge, Performance Tech Motorsports, saw off the two teams fielding two cars to secure the pole position for the class’ final Rolex 24.

James French clocked a 1:42.559 in the No. 38 Oreca FLM09, which was more than eight tenths quicker than veteran Johnny Mowlem. French shares the No. 38 car with Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward and Nick Boulle.

Mowlem is back for one more, final final, go-’round in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports entry. He had announced his retirement following last year’s Petit Le Mans but has come back to Brian Alder’s team. He won the 2015 and 2016 poles here.

“I can say this is officially my last race; Sebring was offered but I said no,” Mowlem told IMSA Radio after the session. “If there was no watch to win, I wouldn’t be here!”

The 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion and 2009 Rolex 24 overall co-winner, Buddy Rice, was third in the second BAR1 entry. Incidentally, Rice is set for a full-time driving return for the first time in nearly a decade.

GTLM

In GT Le Mans, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs dominated qualifying, with a 1-2-3 sweep in class.

Joey Hand, who will share the team’s No. 66 Ford with Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, took the top spot at 1:43.473. That trio was the winning lineup at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and look to follow that up with a Rolex 24 win this weekend.

The Nos. 67 (qualified by Richard Westbrook) and No. 68 (Olivier Pla) Fords were second and third, within 0.231 and 0.514 of a second, respectively.

Toni Vilander was the top non-Ford in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, fourth at 1:44.121 and 0.628 of a second back, while Patrick Pilet qualified fifth in the new No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for that car’s race debut, 1:44.251.

The top Corvette C7.R was seventh with Jan Magnussen, the top BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM in 10th in the 11-car class.

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The 27-car GT Daytona field sees a front row sweep by the Ferrari 488 GT3 in its Rolex 24 at Daytona debut, the car having only made its North American debut a race later at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last year.

Alessandro Pier Guidi took the No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari to the top spot at 1:47.099, just 0.018 of a second clear of fellow Italian Alessandro, Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 at 1:47.117.

Both times were ahead of the last dry qualifying pole time set in 2015, James Davison in an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 at 1:47.272.

Pier Guidi was part of the winning lineup at the 2014 Rolex 24 in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, part of the last-lap shootout between he and Markus Winkelhock in an Audi. Pier Guidi shares this car with Davide Rigon, Maurizio Mediani, Peter Mann and Rino Mastronardi.

After the pair of Ferraris, the first Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi and Acura came next to make it six manufacturers in the top seven. Only Lexus (best car 13th), BMW (17th) and Mercedes-AMG (18th) were outside the top 10 of the nine manufacturers entered in class. Acura did well to qualify both of the debuting NSX GT3s in the top-10 with Andy Lally and Jeff Segal.

In a weird alphabet quirk, the top-five in class featured four Italians and five drivers whose first names all end with the letter -o. After the pair of Alessandros, Marco Sorenson (No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3), Matteo Cairoli (No. 59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Mirko Bortolotti (No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completed the top-five. Those five cars were separated by 0.686 of a second.

Beyond that, the top 19 cars down to Ben Keating in 19th in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, were within two seconds. Keating was 1.957 seconds off the pace.

RESULTS

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton sees off Vettel challenge to take Australian GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton saw off challenges from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to pick up the first Formula 1 pole position of the year in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

Hamilton topped the timesheets on Friday to give Mercedes hope of continuing its impressive qualifying form from 2016, when it took 20 poles from 21 races.

However, Ferrari looked poised to strike and take its first pole position since Singapore 2015 as Vettel led final practice, setting up a close battle in qualifying.

Hamilton took provisional pole with his first Q3 run, going three-tenths faster than Vettel, and was able to find a further three-tenths on his second run to make pole all but his.

Vettel refused to back down, producing a rapid final sector to gain plenty of time on Hamilton, but it was not enough to deny the Briton his 62nd F1 pole.

On his Mercedes debut, Bottas put in an impressive display to take third on the grid, finishing three-tenths off Hamilton’s time. Fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen ended the session fourth in the second Ferrari.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge in fifth, while Haas driver Romain Grosjean put in a stellar display to take sixth on the grid. Felipe Massa will start his comeback race from seventh ahead of the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat.

Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo’s difficult home race weekend continued as he crashed out at Turn 14, wrecking the rear of his Red Bull RB13. While Ricciardo was physically unharmed, the Australian’s ego was left bruised as he was resigned to starting the race from 10th on the grid.

Sporting is bright pink livery, Force India failed to light up the gloomy conditions in Melbourne as it suffered a double-elimination in Q2. Sergio Perez qualified 11th, while rookie teammate Esteban Ocon will make his first start in Australia from 14th on the grid. Nico Hulkenberg saw his 13-race streak of Q3 appearances ended as he could only qualify P12.

One of the biggest talking points from the early part of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s titanic effort to put his McLaren-Honda 13th on the grid. Following a tough winter marred by reliability issues, Alonso dragged his car through to Q2 and did “all he could”, yet the issues faced by the team meant no Q3 berth was forthcoming.

Sauber enjoyed an impressive start to the year as Marcus Ericsson made it through to Q2, eventually qualifying 15th. Last-minute substitute Antonio Giovinazzi was poised to also get out of Q1 on debut, only for a mistake on his final lap to leave him 16th overall.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen failed to get in a late lap, leaving him 17th on the grid for his first race with the American team, while a fuel flow issue meant Stoffel Vandoorne could only qualify 18th for McLaren.

Lance Stroll’s baptism of fire in F1 continued as he finished 2.9 seconds off the pace in P19 for Williams, while Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was made to pay for his lack of track time, rounding out the grid in P20.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Lance Stroll set for Australia grid penalty after gearbox change

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Formula 1 rookie Lance Stroll has been forced into a gearbox change ahead of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix following a crash in final practice at Albert Park.

Stroll lost the back-end of his Williams FW40 car coming out of Turn 10, hitting the wall and causing damage to the right-hand side and rear of his chassis in the process.

The crash brought out a red flag that ultimately caused FP3 to end early, with Stroll returning to the pit lane on the back of a marshal’s moped.

After bringing the car back to the pit lane, Williams confirmed that it would have to change Stroll’s gearbox ahead of qualifying, which will trigger a five-place grid penalty for the Canadian.

Stroll’s crash comes after a mixed pre-season program that saw him suffer three shunts in the opening week in Barcelona, raising concerns about his readiness for F1.

Stroll bounced back in the second week of running, racking up plenty of mileage in Williams’ 2017 car to back up his extensive private test program in the team’s 2014-spec F1 car last year.

At just 18 years old, Stroll is set to become the second-youngest F1 driver on Sunday, trailing only Red Bull’s Max Verstappen whose first start came at the age of 17 in 2015.