Webber springs surprise on Vettel to snatch pole position

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Mark Webber has taken pole position for tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after denying teammate Sebastian Vettel in the dying stages of qualifying at Yas Marina Circuit.

Webber’s fastest time of 1:39.957 was enough to see him finish one-tenth of a second ahead of Vettel as Mercedes failed to mount a serious challenge to Red Bull’s dominance in Abu Dhabi. However, the big shock of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s failure to make it through to Q3 for the first time since the 2012 European Grand Prix as the Spaniard was forced to settle for eleventh place.

The start of Q1 saw the majority of the field immediately head out on the medium compound tire, but Red Bull chose to remain in the pits in favor of a single run on the quicker soft tire towards the end of the session. Jean-Eric Vergne posted the first serious time but he was soon beaten by both Mercedes drivers as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg looked to prove that they could challenge Red Bull on the medium tire. However, the world champions soon claimed the top two positions when they came out on the option tire, believing that only using the mediums was too great a risk. The rest of the field soon followed suit, and with the track at Abu Dhabi rapidly increasing in grip, it soon became a question of timing. Pastor Maldonado timed his final lap perfectly to finish fourth, whilst Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso both required late laps to get out of the dropzone and secure a place in Q2. Hamilton’s late effort saw him finish fastest of all, but Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil were less fortunate and were eliminated at the end of Q1. Giedo van der Garde proved himself to be the best of the backmarkers once again, whilst Jules Bianchi bounced back from his off in FP3 to qualify P20, but a gearbox change means that he will start from last place.

For Q2, the drivers opted to use the same tires that they had in the first session to begin with. Mercedes soon proved that they were capable of matching Red Bull by going first and second after the first set of runs ahead of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Felipe Massa also produced a good first lap to lie seventh, but his teammate could only sit P12 heading into the second runs where most fitted a fresh set of option tires. Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg all produced fine laps on their final runs to secure a place in Q3 whilst Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel all opted not to run again, having done enough. Mark Webber finished third ahead of his teammate whilst both Lotus drivers made it through. However, the big shock was Fernando Alonso’s elimination after the Spaniard could only finish the session in eleventh place, one-tenth behind teammate Felipe Massa who finished tenth, and was the only Ferrari driver in Q3 as a result.

Heading into the final session, it appeared to be a straight fight between Red Bull and Mercedes, but Sebastian Vettel quickly established his dominance by setting the fastest time in the first set of runs. He lapped the circuit three-tenths quicker than Nico Rosberg initially to give him provisional pole, but with a few minutes remaining there was still time for the German driver to be denied. Mark Webber produced a stunning lap to edge out his teammate as the checkered flag fell, and Vettel simply could not respond and was forced to settle for second place. Lewis Hamilton spun off at turn twelve on his final run, ending his faint hopes of pole position. Kimi Raikkonen could only finish fifth ahead of Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg and the Finn’s teammate, Romain Grosjean. Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten as all three drivers were forced to ease off following Hamilton’s spin.

Given that all of the signs had suggested that pole position was Vettel’s for the taking, Webber’s triumph on Saturday in qualifying will come as a pleasant surprise to many. Now the Australian driver will be focused on claiming his first win of the season as he enters the third to last race of his Formula One career before his retirement at the end of the year.

Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

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The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”