Hamilton beats the heat to take pole in Hungary

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Lewis Hamilton has claimed his fourth pole position of the season during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix after a fine performance in the dying stages of Q3 saw him edge out Sebastian Vettel by just 0.038 seconds.

The British driver, who has won three times at the Hungaroring before, had shown signs of good pace in Q1 and Q2 but after Vettel took provisional pole with his first effort in the final session, many considered the result to be secured. However, as Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen all failed to beat the defending world champion’s time, Hamilton produced a fine lap to seal his third pole position in a row.

Qualifying began in a rather quiet manner as many of the teams elected to leave their runs until later on in order to save tires. However, Esteban Gutierrez was quick to get out in order to make up for missing FP3 this morning, setting this first time of 1:23.998 which was quickly beaten by Paul di Resta for Force India. Valtteri Bottas soon stormed to the top of the timesheets on the softer tire and the rest of the field soon followed his example when it came to tire choice in order to save the medium tires for the race tomorrow. It wasn’t until the final five minutes of the session that the front-runners finally began to post some competitive times as Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean both occupied P1 momentarily. Eventually though, the Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton closed out the top two positions with some good laps as pre-qualifying favorites Red Bull struggled to repeat their Friday form. Mark Webber, suffering from an electrical problem, could not improve on P13 and faced a nervous final few moments as Gutierrez and di Resta tried to get out of the drop zone. However, neither driver could improve and they joined both Caterham and Marussia drivers in the dropzone, bringing their qualifying to an early end.

Things went from bad to worse for Webber at the beginning of Q2 when his electrical problem was confirmed to be a KERS failure, giving the Red Bull driver a lack of power for the rest of qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen was the early pace setter for Lotus but Grosjean continued his good form to move ahead of his teammate along with Adrian Sutil. Mercedes once again showed their hand by moving into 1st and 3rd – Hamilton ahead of Rosberg – with Alonso slotting in 4th until Vettel became the first man to dip into the 1:19s to open up a strong lead at the top. Rosberg was quick to respond as Mercedes once again finished the session in P1 and P2, but Webber could only scrape into Q3 on his final lap along with Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo who secured his fourth consecutive top-ten start. As a result, Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg were bumped out of the top ten and subsequently eliminated alongside Sutil, Vergne, Maldonado and Bottas.

The final session saw all ten drivers quickly take to the track in order to give themselves the best possible chance of claiming pole position, but McLaren looked to play it safe with Perez by putting him on medium tires. Once again, Mercedes led the way with Hamilton and Rosberg on scrubbed soft tires ahead of Lotus and Ferrari, but Vettel soon responded to put himself on provisional pole by eight-tenths of a second. In the other Red Bull, Webber was forced to get out of his car due to the KERS failure, leaving him 10th on the grid. Raikkonen, Rosberg and Grosjean all failed to top Vettel’s time on their final laps allowing Lewis Hamilton to produce a fine lap to move 0.038 seconds ahead of the defending world champion at the top, and as Vettel failed to improve the British driver claimed his thirtieth career pole and fourth of the season.

The battle for the win tomorrow looks set to be between Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus with the three teams occupying the top three spots on the grid. However, with Ferrari also lurking in the shadows, the drivers will have to make sure that they do not let the heat (upwards of 100ºF) get to them in the race tomorrow as Hamilton chases a fourth win in Hungary.

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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