Photo: Toyota

FIA WEC: Toyota captures 6 Hours of Nurburgring pole

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While Toyota Gazoo Racing took the pole owing to ultimate pace with its low downforce configuration Toyota TS050 Hybrid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, courtesy of a single lap record from Kamui Kobayashi, pole for Sunday’s FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Nürburgring in high downforce spec was a bit more of a surprise.

Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez delivered the top spot in LMP1 and overall for the team not far from its Cologne, Germany headquarters in Saturday’s qualifying session with an average best time of 1:38.118. That put it just clear of the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley at 1:38.272.

With Toyota near its team headquarters and looking to return to winning after the No. 8 car won the first two races at Silverstone and Spa, and with Porsche’s No. 2 of Bernhard, Hartley and Earl Bamber having won at Le Mans but now racing on its home soil, it’s an interesting fight ahead on Sunday.

Although the TDS Racing-run No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson took the LMP2 pole at 1:45.001, it’ll face a steep uphill battle in the race. Roman Rusinov was assessed a three-minute in-race penalty to be served Sunday for his driving infringement at Le Mans, having taken out Khaled Al Qubaisi’s Porsche 911 RSR at the Porsche Curves there.

Rusinov shares the car with Pierre Thiriet and Ben Hanley, the latter driver standing in for Alex Lynn, who himself is replacing Lopez at the FIA Formula E Championship race weekend at the New York City ePrix.

This promotes the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca to net pole at 1:45.197 in the hands of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent. The LMP2 class winners and second place overall finishers now seek their third win in four FIA WEC races this year. Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 31 Oreca of Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Filipe Albuquerque, the car having been repaired after contact with a GT car yesterday, qualified third.

Porsche’s mid-engined 911 RSR took its first FIA World Endurance Championship pole in GTE-Pro with the No. 92 car of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, one week after the new car took its first overall pole in IMSA courtesy of Dirk Werner at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Aston Martin Racing won the GTE-Am pole with Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy sharing the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8, in a car that will also feature Mathias Lauda in the lineup.

Sunday’s six-hour race begins at 7 a.m. ET.


F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.