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Hamilton aims to seize momentum in Hungary before F1 break

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) At the Hungaroring circuit where he secured the first of his many wins for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton will aim to seize the momentum this weekend heading into the Formula One championship’s midseason break.

After a reversal of fortunes, the British driver is only one point behind F1 leader Sebastian Vettel ahead of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. It was at the tight-turning track outside of Budapest, one of the toughest for overtaking maneuvers, that Hamilton secured the first of his 36 race wins for Mercedes in 2013. That year, Vettel totally dominated as he sealed his fourth straight F1 title when driving for Red Bull.

Hamilton’s win here, though, was the precursor to a period of Mercedes dominance. The following two years, Hamilton won the title and his former Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, won it last year before suddenly retiring.

Now Vettel is the one trying to deliver the title back to Ferrari for the first time since Kimi Raikkonen – his current teammate – won it in 2007.

Against expectations, Vettel took the early ascendancy in this year’s championship and, with Hamilton struggling with some technical issues on the car, moved 20 points clear after the Austrian GP.

But, two weeks ago, Vettel had problems at the British GP in Silverstone with his tire shredding late on. Hamilton won in style, Vettel squeezed home in seventh, and the 20-point buffer evaporated to just one.

It was Hamilton’s fourth and best win of the 2017 season, restoring his confidence after two difficult races – including a heated clash with Vettel in Azerbaijan.

Now Vettel, who has three wins, is the one needing a boost.

It would be a blow to the German driver’s morale, and to Ferrari, if he went into the month-long summer break trailing Hamilton.

Vettel’s motivation level is likely to be higher than usual, and that makes Mercedes wary of a Budapest backlash from Ferrari.

“Our rivals will be determined to fight back strongly and we have to anticipate that,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “There is no complacency at all at Mercedes, just a resolute determination to get the job done.”

While Hamilton is chasing a fourth F1 title to match Vettel’s career mark, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is proving to be much more than a reliable backup – which is initially how he was perceived after leaving Williams to replace Rosberg.

Although Bottas remains an outsider for the title, he has trimmed Vettel’s lead to 23 points after four highly consistent races. He won in Austria and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and at Silverstone.

The Finnish driver seems to be driving with a point to prove to Mercedes, which has yet to say whether he will get a new contract next year. With the drivers’ market likely to be wide open next year, Mercedes is leaving it late.

Still, the odds are improving in Bottas’ favor.

“Valtteri has a fierce work ethic, steely approach and a great natural talent,” Wolff said. “He threw himself into the challenge of switching teams and we are now starting to see his full potential. I have the feeling he is getting better with each weekend and I’m excited to imagine how he will continue to develop for the rest of the season.”

The top four in the championship have all had their moments of excellence this season.

Daniel Ricciardo, who is fourth, secured five straight podium finishes heading into the British GP. Perhaps even more impressively, he steered his Red Bull from 19th place on the grid to fifth place there. It was a fine drive and showcased the Australian driver’s speed and flair.

His teammate, Max Verstappen, had a determined fourth-place finish at Silverstone.

The 19-year-old Dutchman, arguably the most impressive driver last year in an incredible breakthrough season, will hope that his car’s troublesome issues are finally over.

For having Verstappen in top form, and with a reliable car, will add even more spice to one of the most tantalizing seasons for many years.

PWC confirms 2018 season finale at Watkins Glen

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Pirelli World Challenge will end its 2018 season at Watkins Glen International, the series confirmed Friday.

The exciting finale will feature traditional 50-minute sprints for GT and GTS classes and 40-minute features for Touring Car classes.

The last PWC event at Watkins Glen was held in 2010 with sports car greats Ron Fellows (GT) and Peter Cunningham (GTS) winning the top two events and Robert Stout claiming the Touring Car race. The Pirelli World Challenge series premiered at Watkins Glen International in 1992 and has featured eight PWC years (1992, 1996-1998, 2007-2010) at the famed New York road racing facility.

“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Pirelli World Challenge competitors, officials, leadership, and fans to Watkins Glen International in 2018,” said Michael Printup, Watkins Glen International President. “This series features fantastic wheel-to-wheel racing across a wide spectrum of sportscar classes and our fans are in for a treat on Labor Day weekend next year.”

In addition to the Watkins Glen season finale, the Pirelli World Challenge also announced its race lineup for 2018 with the GT/GTA/GT Cup divisions again being split into five GT Sprint (50 minutes) and five GT SprintX (60 minutes, two drivers) races. The GTS events, featuring GT4 machinery, will remain nine-weekends with a total of 18 50-minute Sprint rounds while Touring Car divisions will contest 40-minute Sprints in the class’ 12-race, six-weekend campaign.

The GT Sprint championships will be contested in the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif., as well as at the permanent road circuits of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road America and Watkins Glen. The GT SprintX championship will be campaigned at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), VIRginia International Raceway, Lime Rock Park, Portland International Raceway and Utah Motorsports Campus.

Details on the 2018 race regulations for GT Sprint and GT SprintX events will be announced in the near future, including the new pit stop requirements and other amendments to competition rules.

Featuring the GT3 and GT4 categories, the second annual SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge California 8 Hours is set to return to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Oct. 26-28.

2018 Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date, Track (Classes)

March 9-11, Streets of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Fla. (GT Sprint and GTS)
March 23-25, Circuit Of The Americas (COTA), Austin, Texas (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
April 13-15, Streets of Long Beach Long Beach, Calif. (GT Sprint)
April 28-30, VIRginia International Raceway Alton, Va., (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
May 18-20, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Bowmanville, Ont., CAN, (GT Sprint and GTS)
May 25-26 -28, Lime Rock Park Lakeville, Conn., (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
June 22-24 Road America Elkhart Lake, Wis., (GT Sprint and GTS)
July 13-15, Portland International Raceway Portland, Ore., (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
August 10-12, Utah Motorsports Campus Grantsville, Utah, (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
Aug. 31-Sept. 1-2 Watkins Glen International Watkins Glen, N.Y., (GT Sprint, GTS and Touring Car)

Special Event

SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge, California 8 Hours
October 26-28, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Salinas, Calif.