Sebastian Vettel storms to pole position for Indian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has secured his third consecutive pole position at the Indian Grand Prix following an incredible performance that saw him finish over three-quarters of a second clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel came into the weekend boasting a perfect record at Buddh International Circuit, and following his domination of practice, a similar performance in qualifying was far from surprising. Nevertheless, it was a titanic effort from the German driver as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton failed to pose any serious threat, whilst Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso both opted for alternative strategies thus throwing away the opportunity to challenge the soon-to-be four time world champion.

Qualifying got underway in India in a quiet fashion as most drivers opted to wait before setting their first times due to the level of degradation. Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was the first man to post a time, but his lap of 1:27.529 was around one second off the predicted ‘cut off’ time to get into the second session. Nico Rosberg was the first driver to come close to this theoretical time, going fastest whilst both Red Bulls remained in the pits in favor of a later run. When they did emerge, Vettel opted for the medium compound whilst Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso both elected for the softer tire to secure themselves a place in Q2. Alonso went fastest with his first timed lap, but Vettel was just 0.009 seconds slower despite the large pace difference between the compounds. Every other driver except Romain Grosjean opted to run on the soft tire, and this proved to be a costly call for Lotus as the Frenchman lost out to a final flurry of times to be eliminated in Q1. Pastor Maldonado also failed to make it through, joining both Caterhams and both Marussias in the dropzone, but Jules Bianchi finished just 0.128 seconds behind the Williams, suggesting that Marussia have made improvements of late.

Despite the obvious pace difference between the tires, Sauber opted to send Nico Hulkenberg out on the medium compound in order to make up for the time lost in FP3. However, the rest of the runners sensibly took to the soft tires with Fernando Alonso setting the first benchmark of 1:25.546 for the rest of the field, but both Mercedes drivers managed to topple the Ferrari after their first runs. Mark Webber ran very wide on his first lap but managed to go quickest, only for Vettel to beat his time by over half a second on his first soft-tire run of the day. Alonso split the Red Bulls with his final run as the rest of the field looked to get into the top ten, with McLaren running strongly to ease into the final session. However, Daniel Ricciardo was less fortunate to be eliminated in eleventh place ahead of the Force India pair of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, with Jean-Eric Vergne down in fourteenth. Valtteri Bottas also dropped out in P15 and Esteban Gutierrez’s good qualifying form came to an end as he finished down in sixteenth.

Q3 quickly became a question of strategy as the top ten drivers appeared to be unsure which tire to use as they would have to start on that compound in the race. Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren all split their strategy, sending one driver out on each compound, but Vettel looked to continue his 100% pole record in India by going out on the soft tires. Alonso set the first benchmark on the medium tire only for Vettel to go 1.7 seconds quicker on the soft tire with Vettel joining him on the provisional front row. Kimi Raikkonen followed Vettel’s example but was over one second slower. Rosberg and Hamilton were the only drivers to come close on their soft tire runs, qualifying second and third respectively ahead of Webber on the medium compound. Felipe Massa produced a great performance to finish fifth ahead of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg who also qualified on the soft tire. Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Jenson Button completed the top ten on the prime tire, hoping that their strategy will make up for their lack of pace in the race.

At the front though, there appears to be no stopping Sebastian Vettel, and it will take a remarkable performance to stop him from winning the race let alone recording the top five finish he needs to clinch his fourth title.

INDYCAR: Zach Veach ready for stronger second half of season

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If you hear Zach Veach humming or even singing The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” this weekend at Road America, there’s a jolly good reason for it, as they say in England.

Much like the way teammate Alexander Rossi has nicknamed his car “Baby Girl,” Veach has nicknamed his road and street course car “Penny Lane,” thanks in part to his girlfriend being a huge Beatles fan who has helped Veach also become a fan.

The Stockdale, Ohio native also has a nickname for his speedway car: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

Veach has had a tough rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He comes into this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, ranked 15th in the standings with 147 points, but an already massive 210 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

He could easily sing The Beatles’ “Help!”, given how the season has gone so far.

The 23-year-old Veach’s best finish – and only top-10 showing thus far in 2018 – has been fourth at Long Beach – in “Penny Lane” of course, a finish he hopes to equal, if not improve upon, Sunday in central Wisconsin.

He’s struggled since Long Beach, though, failing to finish higher than 12th in the following six races: 13th at Birmingham, 23rd in both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500, 12th and 13th at Detroit’s Belle Isle and 16th at Texas.

He also finished 16th in each of the season’s first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.

But Veach hopes to be singing another Beatles song on the 4.048-mile road course: “Twist and Shout” in hopes of having a strong finish on the twisting 14-turn kettle moraine course.

Zach Veach, driver of the #26 Relay Group 1001 Honda, practices for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2018. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Veach has a good reason to be optimistic for success at Road America.

“Road America has actually been pretty good to us in USF 2000 and Indy Lights,” Veach said. “I think we have four or five podiums there. In 2016 (racing for Belard Auto Racing), we set the track record in Lights, won the first race and finished third in the second. I’m hoping that speed continues (in Sunday’s IndyCar race).”

While he acknowledges this season’s struggles thus far, Veach also knows he’s learning and improving.

“I think the biggest thing is the braking capabilities of the Indy car,” he said. “You’re going from steel rotors (in Lights) to carbon pads. Honestly, it feels like you can brake 150 feet deeper going into a corner with an Indy car, but at the same time, you’re also going into that corner 40 to 50 mph faster in an Indy car than in a Lights car.

“Our first year in Indy Lights wasn’t anything spectacular, and then we came back and almost won a championship. I think that’s just the way I go about things. I take inches at a time instead of miles, but I feel like we’re getting to that point where we need to be in IndyCar.”

Veach is no stranger to Andretti Autosport, having raced with the team from 2010 to 2014 and then signed a three-year contract to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series last fall.

“To have the opportunity to race with Andretti is almost perfect for me as far as growth and development,” Veach said. “With the three teammates I have and the skill and experience they have, it’s allowed my learning curve to accelerate that much quicker.

“That’s the tough thing. It’s a rookie season and when I look back at it and look at numbers, you may say things didn’t look good at certain races. But when I look back at them, I say to myself where that’s when I did my best fuel save, or that’s when I figured out how to fix an issue with braking. There’s so much I’ve picked up.

“But I feel like these last two race weekends have been arguably the most comfortable I’ve felt. Detroit, I was looking so great for 12th and 13th, and Texas, racing from 16th to 3rd and then I made a mistake (finished 16th). I finally feel confident enough to say I can race these guys and can race them hard and the car is finally starting to feel small, if you want to say that, like I’m driving the car instead of being stuck behind somebody else.”

While he’s learned from all of his Andretti Autosport teammates — Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay — Veach feels he is closest to fellow young driver, Rossi.

“We’re both on the younger side of the spectrum of our teammates,” Veach said of Rossi. “And he’s the newest guy learning IndyCar, so he got that experience a little sooner than the other guys as far as time.

“For me, I’m in much the same position he was in two years ago. He’s been real helpful in helping me get up to speed.”

With eight more races remaining in the season, Veach’s primary goal is to finish his first full IndyCar season in the top-10. He’s currently 66 points behind the 10th-ranked driver, teammate Marco Andretti.

“If we could be top-10 in the championship, that’d be great, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Veach said. “We want to try and be consistently in the top-10 in the second half (of the season) in race results, too. And if we could get some top-fives, that would be fantastic.

“We just have to keep improving on qualifying, which shows how well you understand the car and how you can get the most out of it. I feel our race speed has been good, but when you’re starting at or near the back, it’s hard to move forward.”

Even so, there’s still good reason for optimism for Veach.

“Andretti always gives its drivers some of the best cars, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you learning as much as you can and learning as much as you can get out of a race-winning car,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky. This is my sixth season with Andretti if you count the ladder series, and it always has felt like a family.”

And if he has a strong finish Sunday at Road America, don’t be surprised if Veach hums or sings another Beatles song, “I Feel Fine,” as he leaves the legendary road course.

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