Ruthless Rosberg storms to third pole in a row

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Nico Rosberg has secured his third pole position in a row during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday, edging out teammate Lewis Hamilton who completes an all-Mercedes front row.

Despite the weather threatening to rain on Rosberg’s parade, he set a fastest time of 1:13.876 late on in Q3 to finish on top, overcoming the threat of both Red Bull drivers who qualified 3rd and 4th, with Sebastian Vettel outqualifying Monaco-specialist Mark Webber. Former Monaco winners Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso finished P5 and P6, but their teammates failed to make it into the final session. McLaren enjoyed a good qualifying session to finish 7th and 9th, Perez ahead of Button, split by Adrian Sutil. Jean-Eric Vergne completed the top ten for Toro Rosso.

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Q1 got underway with most drivers going out on the intermediate compound due to the brief rain shower before qualifying. Jules Bianchi’s qualifying only lasted a few minutes, with an airbox fire forcing him to pull over at Casino Square. The early pace was set by Mark Webber, lapping well done on Rosberg’s quickest time in practice earlier in the day, but the times only became faster and faster as the track dried out. As a drying line emerged, it became a case of being on track at the right time, and Nico Rosberg returned to the top of the timesheets with around 5 minutes to go, only to be beaten by teammate Lewis Hamilton. Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean’s mechanics worked hard to try and get both cars back on track, but there wasn’t enough time for Ferrari. Grosjean enjoyed better fortune, getting out with a few minutes to spare, and the Frenchman even managed to end the session P4 behind Pastor Maldonado, Jean-Eric Vergne and Fernando Alonso. Joining Bianchi and Massa in the dropzone were Paul di Resta, Charles Pic, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton, with Giedo van der Garde making it through to Q2 for Caterham.

The rain persisted at the beginning of Q2, causing many drivers to get out early in an attempt to post a banker lap on the intermediate tires. Q1 star van der Garde made the most of his foray into the second session by running as high as 5th at one point. After the track began to dry out though, the teams opted to switch their drivers to super-soft tires, causing a flurry of action in the pits. With space being notoriously difficult to find in Monaco, the final few minutes became particularly tense as the first times were set on the dry compound. Webber, Raikkonen and Rosberg all had a spell at the top, but it was Vettel who eventually finished quickest. Alonso and Adrian Sutil both required a last-ditch lap to make it through, bumping van der Garde out, although he did finish ahead of Maldonado. Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Grosjean and Bottas also failed to make it through to the final session, paying the price for mistiming their final runs.

All ten drivers went out early in Q3 on the super-soft tire, vying for pole at a track where qualifying is important to secure a good result in the race. Both Rosberg and Hamilton went quickest early on, but Red Bull soon topped their rivals to lead after the first set of runs. With spots of rain returning to the track, it became a question of getting out early towards the end of Q3. Despite the weather, the majority of drivers managed to improve towards the end of Q3, with Mercedes re-establishing their dominance. Hamilton crossed the line to beat both Red Bulls and appear to secure pole position, only for Rosberg to go less than one-tenth quicker and secure his third pole in a row.

With 200 IndyCar wins in the books, Penske looks for No. 201 at Indy

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The history of Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a storied one that features 16 Indy 500 wins, including a pair of four-time winners in Al Unser and Rick Mears, and number of utterly dominant performances.

Yet, they’ll head to this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 looking to avenge a pair of relatively subpar performances in each of the last two years.

Power was the only Penske driver to finish in the Top 10 in 2016, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finishing 11th and 19th after fuel strategy intervened late in the race. And last year, all the Penske cars were somewhat down on pace compared to other teams, notably the Honda cars.

Power was the only Penske driver to qualify for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout last year – he qualified ninth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were 18th and 19th in the grid, while Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were 22nd and 23rd.

And only Castroneves was in winning contention in the final laps as he battled eventual winner Takuma Sato – Montoya was sixth, while Pagenaud was 14th and the only other Penske running at the end. Both Newgarden and Power crashed out on Lap 183.

This year, however, could see a return to the dominant form we’re used to seeing from the Penske outfit. All four cars entered – Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, and Castroneves – qualified inside the top nine, with Pagenaud and Power on the front row.

They have all been near the front of the time sheets, especially in laps without a tow from another car, and the indication is that the Penske cars may be the fastest ones in the field.

All told, it leads to very high expectations for a team that already expects highly of itself.

Leading the way for Penske is current points leader and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third in 2016, but he only has one other Top 10 there – ninth in 2015.

But, with an IndyCar title now under his belt, Newgarden has his eyes set on an Indy 500 win.

Josef Newgarden looks to add an Indy 500 crown to his 2017 championship. Photo: IndyCar

“I think Indianapolis…is certainly next on the list for me,” he detailed in a press conference ahead of qualifying. “It’s not next on the list for the team, they’ve won it many times. The good thing is we have four great opportunities, especially having Helio back. I think we have one of the best opportunities in the entire field to win this race.”

Pagenaud, like Newgarden, is also looking for his first Indy triumph, though his record there isn’t quite as good. He has been fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only has two Top 10s to show for it – eighth in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and tenth in 2015 in his first year with Penske.

And a Pagenaud win would be somewhat historic – it would be only the fourth time a French driver has won the “500,” and the first since 1920 (Gaston Chevrolet).

Pagenaud explained that this race always holds a place as a top priority, and that success at Indy is all about preparation.

Simon Pagenaud looks to become only the first French driver to win an Indy 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Photo: IndyCar

“It really is our number one goal. In Roger and Tim’s heart, it’s the most important one,” Pagenaud declared. “We prepare really hard. The team does a fantastic job at just understanding every bit and component of this new aero kit, trying to extract the best out of the equipment.”

Pagenaud added, “On the driver side, there’s a lot you can do obviously to review the past races, try to focus yourself, try to put yourself into the race before it happens, try to just improve. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s the goal. That’s why this group is so good. We push each other so hard that you always try to push the limits away.”

Power, the man who delivered Penske his 200th IndyCar win, is no stranger to success at IMS, having won the Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course three times. But, he is yet to find Victory Lane on the oval, and that leaves a void in an otherwise stellar career.

Will Power has won the INDYCAR Grand Prix three times, and looks for his first win at the “500” this weekend. Photo: IndyCar

Power spotlighted the opportunity in front of him, and detailed that running in traffic has been a strength thus far through practice.

“It’s fantastic to have that opportunity. Obviously very focused on (trying to win),” he revealed. “I feel like we have a really good opportunity to win this year. I mean, I think Chevrolet has brought a really good engine. I feel like we’re really fast. Running in traffic and such, I felt like we’ve been pretty strong, especially when you get to the front.”

Castroneves is the only Penske driver with Indy 500 wins on his resume. But, with three wins to his name, Castroneves is more than familiar with IMS glory.

Now a part-time IndyCar driver who races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with the Acura Team Penske outfit, Castroneves’ sole focus is on getting that elusive fourth win.

Helio Castroneves looks to join the four-time winners club at the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

And he has momentum on his side too, coming off a debut IMSA win for the Acura Penske outfit at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A fourth Indy 500 win would put an exclamation point on the month for Castroneves.

“I think about it every day,” he said when asked about how often he ponders getting that fourth win. “It was one of those incredible ones, I have phenomenal car, the Pennzoil car was really strong last year. Obviously coming back here, first of all, I want to thank Roger and (team president Tim Cindric) for giving me the opportunity to be back at the Indy 500. It’s such a special place for so many people. Just to be back and able to continue our goal and pursue for the number four, it’s incredible.”

Pagenaud and Power will flank pole sitter Ed Carpenter on the front, starting second and third respectively. Newgarden starts fourth, while Castroneves will start eighth.

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