Rosberg beats rain, red flags and Vettel for Hungary pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured his fifth pole position in six races in Hungary today after seeing off the challenge of Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas in the final stage of qualifying.

After seeing teammate Lewis Hamilton pull over in Q1 thanks to an engine fire, Rosberg then had to contend with a brief rain shower and a red flag in Q3 en route to pole position, but he eventually gapped the field by a convincing four-tenths of a second.

Q1 began in slightly cooler conditions to practice, with the track temperature dropping under a cover of cloud. Most of the drivers opted to head out early to post a banker lap time, but Pastor Maldonado’s session lasted all of two minutes. The Lotus came to a halt at the penultimate corner, meaning that he will start tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix from the back of the grid.

He will be joined there by Lewis Hamilton, who suffered yet more disastrous luck in qualifying when his engine caught fire. He was forced to abandon his car in the pit lane, and for the second weekend in a row, he will face an almighty struggle to beat Rosberg in the race tomorrow.

It seemed likely that the remaining four places in the dropzone would be taken by the Marussia and Caterham cars, but Jules Bianchi had other ideas. The Frenchman found half a second in the final sector of his lap to knock out Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who had remained in the pits and opted not to run again. The Finn was furious to have dropped out in Q1, and he will start tomorrow’s race from 17th place. Kamui Kobayashi, Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson could not make it through, though.

Bianchi was quick out of the blocks to set a time in Q2, but it was Valtteri Bottas who set the early pace for Williams. Rosberg soon took Mercedes back to the top of the timesheets by going six-tenths of a second faster than the Finn, though. Sebastian Vettel slotted into second place, a further three-tenths back from his compatriot after the first run in Q2.

Sergio Perez’s session came to an early end after a hydraulic leak on his Force India car forced him to get out of the car with just one lap time on the board. He eventually was classified in 13th place, with teammate Nico Hulkenberg sneaking into the top ten.

On the final set of runs, none of the drivers in the dropzone managed to improve, with Daniil Kvyat spinning on his final lap to qualify 11th. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez put in a good display for Sauber to qualify 12th and 14th respectively ahead of Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi.

As Q3 got underway, light rain began to fall over the Hungaroring, making it a race against time to get in a lap time and beat the weather. Rosberg was the first to head out, and was having to wrestle with his Mercedes in the slippery conditions. Just as he ran wide at the first corner, Kevin Magnussen shunted his McLaren in the wall, bringing out the red flag with ten minutes left on the clock. Thankfully, he walked away unharmed, but was disappointed to see his session end in such fashion.

The session resumed some ten minutes later with dry tires fitted to the cars despite the brief shower. Rosberg was the first to head out once again, but his first time was well off the pace. The drivers were able to push for more than one lap as the track continued to improve, seeing them trade fastest times for P1. Rosberg took to top spot with three minutes to go ahead of Vettel and Bottas, but there was still time for his effort to be bettered.

Bottas moved up to second place with his final effort, leaving the battle between Rosberg and Vettel. Although the Red Bull driver managed to move up to P1 for a few seconds, it did not last any longer as Rosberg improved through all three sectors to secure his sixth pole position of the season.

Daniel Ricciardo will start the race behind Bottas in fourth place, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa behind him on the third row of the grid. Jenson Button will start seventh for McLaren with Jean-Eric Vergne in eighth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.

It wasn’t easy for Rosberg, but once again he was the man to beat in qualifying, capitalizing on the misfortune of his rivals to secure pole position at the Hungaroring. However, he will now need to convert it into a race win on Sunday if he is to extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship over Hamilton, who may have to start from the pit lane.

Join us for the Hungarian Grand Prix live on CNBC and Live Extra tomorrow from 7:30am ET.

INDYCAR Preview – KOHLER Grand Prix

Photo: IndyCar
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One of the great road courses in the United States, Road America, plays host to the next round of the Verizon IndyCar Series – the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday June 24, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

A staple of IndyCar between 1982 and 2007, IndyCar returned to Road America amidst great fanfare in 2016. And the two visits since its return have not disappointed.

Will Power held off a hard-charging Tony Kanaan to win in 2016, while Graham Rahal survived a thrilling battle for third to round out the podium. And last year, Scott Dixon made an outstanding outside pass on Josef Newgarden in Turn 1 to take the lead on a late-race restart, and he held on to win from there – it was also his only victory of 2017.

And if the previous road and street courses are any indication, Sunday’s race could be another thriller on the 4.048-mile road course.

Major talking points ahead of the KOHLER Grand Prix are below.

The Rise of Dixon

Scott Dixon celebrates victory in the DXC Technology 600. Photo: IndyCar

The 2018 IndyCar season is beginning look a lot like a Scott Dixon year.

After a somewhat slow start to his season, Dixon caught fire in the month of May. He finished second at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, then third at the Indianapolis 500.

He followed that up with a ferocious first two weeks of June, winning Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit and finishing fourth in Race 2. He followed that up by dominating the second half of the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway to take his second win of the season, and his second in three races.

That stretch has put Dixon into the championship lead for the first time this season. And he is also the defending winner of the KOHLER Grand Prix, after passing then leader Josef Newgarden on a late-race restart, so he likely enters the weekend as the favorite.

“Obviously I’m happy with where the team has been running these past few weekends, but we’ve been there the whole season. We just haven’t shown the results for one reason or another,” Dixon explained. “While most had the weekend off, we had the opportunity to compete again at Le Mans, which is a very special deal. So now we’re back, and after a few short days at home, it’s Road America. We had a great car here last year picking up the win for the No. 9 team, and I’m hoping we can do it again this weekend with the PNC Bank car.”

Dixon won’t go nearly as far as to talk anything championship-related at the moment, but a fifth championship is most certainly possible.

Road America Could Become Very Tire-some

Tire strategy will likely be at the forefront in Road America. Photo: IndyCar

The primary “black” and alternate “red” Firestone tires have created genuinely intriguing racing in recent weeks.

The difference in grip levels between them saw Will Power and Robert Wickens engage in a fantastic and tactical mid-race duel at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, and it created a lot of drama across both races in Belle Isle, culminating in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s charge to victory in Race 2.

And last year’s KOHLER Grand Prix ultimately came down to tire strategy. The aforementioned Dixon passed Newgarden because he was on the alternate “red” tires, while Newgarden was on the primary “blacks” – Newgarden also took the lead earlier in the race using the same tactic, getting onto reds when other leaders were on blacks, which helped him pass Helio Castroneves for the lead.

It’s within reason to think this weekend at Road America will be more of the same.

Newgarden’s Season Slipping Away?

Josef Newgarden. Photo: IndyCar

Josef Newgarden entered the month of May on a hot streak, having won two of the opening four races to lead the championship as the series headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The wheels have metaphorically come off a bit since then. He finished 11th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix after spinning late in the race, eighth at the Indy 500, ninth and 15th in Detroit, and 13th at Texas Motor Speedway.

That stretch has dropped him from the championship lead to fifth in the standings, 68 points off Dixon for the title lead.

If he is to get himself back into title contention, he’ll need to get back on the podium this weekend. And fortunately for Newgarden, the Road America circuit ranks at the top of his personal favorites.

“I’m not shy on saying that Road America is probably my favorite track. I really love racing there. It’s a fun road course with a lot of great INDYCAR fans, so what’s not to love?” Newgarden asserted. “These cars with the new aero kit have been super exciting on road courses and this weekend will be no different. The entire No. 1 Verizon Chevy team and I are pumped to get on track there. I thought we were strong at Texas after not living up to our standards at Detroit, but we just ran out of luck. Myself and the entire team are ready to really come back strong to gain more points to continue our hunt for another championship.”

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay is quietly beginning to put together a title-contending year. Outside of a 20th at Long Beach, and 18th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, Hunter-Reay’s worst finish is fifth (three times), and he three podiums to his name, including his Detroit Race 2 victory. He sits 49 points behind Dixon, well within striking distance. This is about the time of the year when he started his title run back in 2012, which culminated in a series championship for him, and 2018 could be headed in that direction.
  • Graham Rahal sits sixth in the standings, 107 points back. His crash in Detroit Race 1 undoubtedly hurt his title chances, but he has been incredibly consistent outside of that, finishing inside the Top 10 at every other race. However, he’ll need some victories later in the year if he is to put himself back in the title picture.
  • Juncos Racing returns to the grid, with Alfonso Celis making his IndyCar debut. A standout and race winner in World Series Formula V8 3.5, he previously raced with Juncos in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Barber Motorsports Park, where he finished seventh and eighth.

The Final Word…

From Robert Wickens, who made his IndyCar debut in Friday practice last year at Road America – he subbed for Mikhail Aleshin, who was delayed in arriving at Road America following the 24 Hours of Le Mans:

“I’m really looking forward to Road America. I think, in the last few races, we’ve shown our potential. We’ve shown that we’re quick. Now we need to try to get back on the podium. Road America is always a fun track, and it’s where I got my first taste of INDYCAR with SPM so I can’t wait to actually race the Lucas Oil car here.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 22
11:00-11:45 a.m. (12:00-12:45 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:15-4:15 p.m. (4:15-5:15 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 23
11:00-11:45 a.m. (12:00-12:45 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET) – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (5:30 p.m. same-day delay)

Sunday, June 24
11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET) – NBCSN on-air
12:05 p.m. (1:05 p.m. ET) – KOHLER Grand Prix (55 laps/220.77 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s Top 10:

1. Scott Dixon
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Helio Castroneves
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Will Power
6. Charlie Kimball
7. Ed Jones
8. Graham Rahal
9. Max Chilton
10. Mikhail Aleshin

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Helio Castroneves
2. Will Power
3. Josef Newgarden
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Scott Dixon
6. Graham Rahal

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