Photo: Porsche

Porsche secures FIA WEC pole in Mexico

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The FIA World Endurance Championship resumes its season with the first of five flyaway races to conclude its nine-race season at the 6 Hours of Mexico from Mexico City.

While the championship’s future plans were the topic of discussion earlier this weekend, on-track it was time for the 26 cars to focus for qualifying late Saturday afternoon following two practice sessions earlier in the day.


Three different cars led practice earlier in the weekend with the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, the No. 2 Porsche and No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, respectively, top of the charts in LMP1 between Friday’s lone practice, and then the No. 2 Porsche and No. 8 Toyota top of Saturday’s second and third practice sessions.

That set it up for qualifying, which was bumped up a few minutes owing to incoming bad weather, to see the latest battle between the two remaining LMP1 hybrid manufacturers for the pole spot.

In the end, it was Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley, sharing the No. 2 Porsche, who scored the pole position with a best average lap time of 1:24.562 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Those two share their car with Earl Bamber.

The sister Porsche (No. 1 of Andre Lotterer, Nick Tandy and Neel Jani) ended just behind at 1:24.710, with the Toyotas not far off either. With an average of 1:24.802, the No. 7 Toyota ended ahead of the No. 8 Toyota.

Similarly in LMP2, it was the No. 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470 and Nos. 38, then 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07s which made it three different cars leading practice prior to qualifying there.

In qualifying, it was the lone Signatech Alpine car on pole. Nicolas Lapierre and Gustavo Menezes share that car with new third driver Andre Negrao, moving over from the No. 35 car that has been withdrawn from competition. A 1:32.809 average lap time put this car atop the charts.

The No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing, No. 31 Rebellion Racing, No. 26 G-Drive Racing and No. 25 CEFC TRS Manor Orecas completed the top five here.


AF Corse secured the GTE-Pro class pole with Davide Rigon and Sam Bird in the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE at an average time of 1:39.425.

The two drivers are reunited this weekend after Bird missed the series’ most recent race at the Nürburgring in mid-July owing to his FIA Formula E Championship commitments at New York City.

This result comes after the No. 51 Ferrari, No. 95 Aston Martin Vantage V8 and No. 71 Ferrari led the three practice sessions in order. The No. 95 Aston Martin slots in second, ahead of the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GTs.

Dempsey-Proton Racing scored the GTE-Am class pole with Christian Ried and Matteo Cairoli in the No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR (1:42.166). That pair shares the Porsche with Marvin Dienst. The No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda will roll off from second in class.

Sunday’s race runs from noon to 6 p.m. local time, so 1 to 7 p.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.