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IMSA: Cadillac, Porsche, Lexus, Performance Tech all nab CTMP poles

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Qualifying is in the books for Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, a standard length race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in its lone trip to Canada this year in Bowmanville, Ontario.

With his third pole of the season and fifth for the Cadillac DPi-V.R, Ricky Taylor topped the overall timesheets for the overall and Prototype pole.

Both GT classes saw first-time 2017 polesitters at Porsche and Lexus, while PC as usual saw James French on top for Performance Tech.

PROTOTYPE

Ricky Taylor scored his third pole and the fifth for the Cadillac DPi-V.R in seven Prototype class races this season in qualifying for the Prototype class with a best time of 1:08.459.

Taylor shares the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac with brother Jordan and will look to resume on top after a rare off weekend at Watkins Glen, with suspension damage costing the team several laps in the opening minute of the race. After five straight wins to open 2017, the Taylors ended the sixth race in sixth place.

After barely missing the win at Watkins Glen last week, the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson was again an impressive second with Misha Goikhberg qualifying very well at a 1:08.587 in the “banana boat” car he shares with Stephen Simpson. That was first of the three LMP2-spec cars, and only 0.128 off the pole pace.

Tequila Patron ESM’s two Nissan Onroak DPis were third and fourth, with the No. 2 car qualified by Scott Sharp at 1:08.886. Sharp shares his car with Ryan Dalziel while Pipo Derani moves over to the No. 22 car this week, sharing it with Johannes van Overbeek, and JVO having done well to qualify fourth.

The first of two Mazda RT24-Ps made it all three DPi manufacturers in the top five positions, Jonathan Bomarito doing the business in the No. 55 Mazda at 1:08.959. He shares his Soul Red car with Tristan Nunez.

Impressively, all 10 cars in class were covered by only 1.5 seconds. Of note, the latest lineup in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson saw Nick Boulle do an excellent job of posting a lap of 1:09.958, one one thousandth of a second clear of Tom Long’s No. 70 Mazda. Boulle and David Ostella share the PR1/Mathiasen entry this week, both young drivers and PC class veterans in their Prototype class debuts.

GT LE MANS

Dirk Werner has returned to the Porsche family as a factory driver this year, and the experienced German has delivered the first pole for the new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR in its first season of global competition.

Werner’s best lap of 1:14.085 in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR edged his old manufacturer, BMW, with Bill Auberlen clocking in a 1:14.103 in his No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. Werner co-drives with Patrick Pilet, Auberlen with Alexander Sims, and the latter pair looks for its second straight win after winning at Watkins Glen last week.

The second Porsche (No. 912) and second BMW (No. 24) cars were next up, with the two Ford GTs ahead of the two Corvettes.

GT DAYTONA

Acura got its first pole with the new NSX GT3 last race in the hands of Andy Lally a week ago at Watkins Glen. The second new Japanese manufacturer got its first pole with its new car in the hands of another American driver today at Bowmanville, Ontario.

Sage Karam pulled off the feat for the 3GT Racing team today with the sole qualifying Lexus RC F GT3, the No. 14 Lexus he shares with Scott Pruett, following a storming lap of 1:16.563.

Teammate – and roommate – Jack Hawksworth was unable to qualify the sister No. 15 car following a heavy accident at Turn 3 in practice before qualifying. The Englishman was OK but the car has sustained heavy damage and is questionable to start the race.

With Karam on pole it makes seven drivers, from seven different manufacturers (Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ferrari, Tristan Vautier, Mercedes-AMG, Bryan Sellers, Lamborghini, Mathieu Jaminet, Porsche, Lawson Aschenbach, Audi, Andy Lally, Acura) who have been on the pole in GTD this season.

PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE

James French and Garett Grist figured to battle for the PC class pole, but unsurprisingly it was French taking the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports to his fifth pole this season and fourth consecutive. His best time was 1:11.471, 1.722 seconds clear of Grist.

French and teammate Pato O’Ward look for their sixth win in as many PC races this season for the Brent O’Neill-led team.

Grist, who along with fellow Canadian James Vance make their PC class returns after various starts in the past with Starworks Motorsport (Grist at Sebring this year) and Performance Tech (Vance, twice in 2015), are the latest pairing in the revolving door of the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports car.

Meanwhile Don Yount qualified the No. 20 BAR1 car third. He’ll share that one with Ryan Lewis, the Indianapolis-based Englishman deputizing for Buddy Rice this weekend as Rice oversees Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s GRC Lites program at Indianapolis.

Bottas feels at home at Mercedes as a challenger, not No. 2

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Valtteri Bottas feels like he finally belongs at Mercedes, and that is not as a support driver to Lewis Hamilton.

The Finnish driver has exceeded expectations since joining from Williams as an emergency replacement for Nico Rosberg, who dramatically retired days after winning last year’s Formula One championship.

“I feel very much part of the team, I feel I can definitely perform at my best level,” Bottas said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. “(There is) plenty more to come.”

The widely held perception was that Bottas, who had never won a race before this season, was clearly arriving as the No. 2 behind Hamilton, a three-time F1 champion.

Yet at the halfway point of the 20-race season, Bottas is in third place overall, 22 points behind Hamilton and 23 behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. That puts him within touching distance.

Bottas won in Russia and Austria, and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and Britain. With four straight podium finishes, he has good momentum for the Hungarian GP, the last race before a month-long summer break.

If not for his failure to finish the Spanish GP in May, Bottas could be even closer to Hamilton and Vettel.

“I feel like I am getting up to speed now. In a way I hope there wasn’t a break,” Bottas said Thursday. “I always set targets higher. I didn’t expect myself to be behind (Hamilton) all the time. I’ve shown it is possible to battle and show my skills.”

Asked if he thinks he can win the title, the 27-year-old Bottas says “everything is wide open,” adding “I believe I can fight for the pole (position) here.”

The twisting nature of the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit may favor Ferrari more than Mercedes, however.

Mercedes struggled at this season’s Monaco GP, which is a similarly tight-turning track where overtaking is much harder. Vettel won in Monaco from pole, while Bottas was fourth for Mercedes and Hamilton managed only seventh spot.

“We’ve learnt a lot since Monaco,” Bottas said. “I think it will be a good test for our car, we’re expecting a close battle.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1’s final race before the summer break takes place this weekend with the Hungarian Grand Prix from the Hungaroring in Budapest.

It’s a busy time of year and a highly important weekend on the calendar, with the two championship combatants only separated by one point and all the silly season talk about 2018 heating up – particularly with the two-day young driver test set to run on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week after the race.

And with the confirmation the Halo device is set to be introduced next year, what are the drivers thoughts on that?

All that makes for ideal timing of this weekend’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with Will Buxton checking in from the ground in Hungary.

Here’s the pre-race episode, below.

Drivers divided over F1 halo cockpit device

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) The “halo” cockpit head protection system that will be mandatory on Formula One cars next season protects drivers from the potentially fatal impact of objects like a loose wheel traveling at up to 225 kph (140 mph).

Motor sport’s governing body, FIA, has been looking at ways to improve cockpit protection and limit the risk of head injuries, after French F1 driver Jules Bianchi died in July 2015 and British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died a month later.

“The halo will become the strongest part of the car, a secondary wall structure (along with the helmet) and can take about 15 times the car’s weight,” FIA safety director Laurent Mekies said at a news conference Thursday. “We know that our resistance against small objects has stepped up.”

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – JULY 27: FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting and Laurent Mekies, FIA Deputy Race Director and Safety Director talk in a press conference regarding the halo device during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 27, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Drivers remain divided over the move.

The halo design forms a semi-circular barrier around the driver’s helmet in the front half of the cockpit, protecting against debris without completely closing the cockpit. When first tested ahead of 2016, drivers were split as to whether they liked it with some – such as three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton – criticizing it on aesthetic grounds.

Tests were done from the front and side of the car with a loose wheel weighing 20 kilograms. Researchers took in various factors: car-to-car contact, car-to-environment contact and external objects, such as a wheel. They also analyzed real-life accidents, including those with fatalities.

In terms of manufacturing design, FIA race director Charlie Whiting said “it’s going to be a one-part (piece) made by one company, so they all have to fit the same one.”

The device is expected to weigh about 8 kilograms, Whiting said. The manufacturer has yet to be decided, although several companies have been contacted. Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas both expressed concern that the extra weight will impact driving, particularly on cornering speeds.

Other safety devices were considered before the halo was approved by the FIA last week.

At the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, a transparent open canopy system constructed using polycarbonate, and known as the “shield,” was tested at Silverstone by four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Ferrari driver was critical.

“I wasn’t a big fan of the shield,” Vettel said. “For sure you need to get used to the halo, but at least it didn’t impact on the vision.”

Bianchi died at the age of 25, several months after massive head injuries sustained at the Japanese GP in October 2014.

Bianchi’s accident at Suzuka occurred at the end of the race in rainy, gloomy conditions, when his Marussia team car slid off the track and ploughed into a crane picking up the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil, who had crashed at the same spot one lap earlier.

Wilson died in August 2015, a day after being hit on the helmet by debris from another car at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

“We believe (the halo) would have changed dramatically the outcome of the accident,” Mekies said.

Vettel, who emotionally dedicated his 2015 win at Hungary to Bianchi, said the change was justified.

“We would all take it, to help save his life. We can’t turn back the clock,” the German driver said. “But knowing something is there that would help us is stupid to ignore. Overall it’s supposed to help us, so that’s what we should remember.”

While Hamilton and others have been critical of the halo’s appearance, Vettel championed it.

“Times are changing and moving forward,” Vettel said. “It helps us in the car in case something goes very wrong.”

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso is also in favor.

“If we could go back in time and save lives we would all be happy,” the Spanish driver said. “That’s the first and only thing we should talk about. The aesthetics I don’t care too much (about).”

Several drivers disagree.

“Doesn’t look too good,” Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg said. “Not sure that this additional protection is necessary because all the other areas (of safety) are improving.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, and Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are also against it.

“I didn’t like the visibility and the thing in front of you, it’s not great,” the 19-year-old Verstappen said. “I don’t think you will lose the wheel very easily (anyway) and when there are parts flying around the car it’s not going to protect you. So I don’t know why we need it.”

Magnussen took a sarcastic tone.

“F1 cars aren’t meant to be ugly. That is the reason that a Ferrari is more exciting than a Mazda,” the Danish driver said. “I think there is a limit where it becomes too safe to be exciting. We could make the cars go 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour and it would be boring.”

Grosjean said “it was a sad day for Formula 1 when it was announced, and I am still against it.”

Sergio Perez wants 2018 F1 contract secured by Spa

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Sergio Perez is keen to swiftly define his Formula 1 future and secure a contract for next season by the time the paddock reconvenes in Belgium at the end of August after the summer break.

Perez has been one of the stand-out drivers in F1 this year, sitting seventh in the drivers’ championship as the leading midfielder behind those racing for Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.

The Mexican’s future has become a regular talking point during F1’s ‘silly season’, with links to Ferrari being thrown about for 2018 as it mulls over Kimi Raikkonen’s position.

Force India has been punching well above its weight in F1 this year, much to Perez’s delight, and he hopes to have a new contract with the team sorted for next year within the next month.

“I think the team has been moving forwards every year. Although last year we achieved the same position which we have now which is fourth, I think we have consolidated that fourth place,” Perez said.

“I think the team is moving forwards; there is a lot more interest in terms of sponsorship into the team, more investment but it’s not easy to make the next step with the big boys, with the big teams, it’s not easy.

“In terms of my future, I just hope that once I come back to the next race, after the summer break, I can have a new contract.”

When asked if he meant a new contract with Force India, Perez said: “That would be good you know, but you never know what will happen.”