Brake issue thwarts Hamilton’s pole quest in Austin

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AUSTIN – All the signs and momentum had pointed to Lewis Hamilton securing pole position for the United States Grand Prix. He’d led all three practice sessions and was poised to secure what would have been his eighth 2014 pole – level with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

But the Englishman will line up second following a trying qualifying, as he battled a left front brake issue throughout the entirety of the day. Rosberg seized the advantage in securing his ninth pole of the year.

“I struggled with the brake temperatures,” Hamilton explained during the post-qualifying press conference. “The left was off from the right. It just kept catching. Even if I tried to save it, that really made it off.”

Asked whether it would be a further problem for race day if not fixed, Hamilton responded, “Potentially, yes.”

The primary issue, Hamilton said, is locking. There’s a handful of heavy braking zones at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas – particularly on the runs into Turn 1 and Turn 12 – which are both left-handers.

“The vibration isn’t so bad, and we had a minor flat spot. The issue is locking,” he said. “If I can’t fix the left brake, that will be a continuing issue without the race. Flat spots lead to blistering and more.”

It’s a delicate situation for Hamilton heading into tomorrow as it could well be a case of damage limitation for him. Finishing second to Rosberg would reduce Hamilton’s current 17-point World Championship lead to 10. Third to Rosberg would see the gap drop by 10, to seven. It gets worse the further down Hamilton would finish.

There’s still plenty of motivation for Hamilton to get the win though. As we’ve chronicled throughout the week, the U.S. is as good as a second home race for Hamilton, and he’s been busy speaking up the race as much as possible – including on NBC’s TODAY Show earlier in the week.

He’ll also be celebrating the six-year anniversary of his sole World Championship on Sunday, when he famously beat Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to the 2008 title by a single point.

The title isn’t specifically on the line Sunday, but how Hamilton and Mercedes manage this brake issue could go a long way towards determining which of the team’s two drivers is crowned World Champion later this year.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen’s two-man battle in Motocross provides surprises

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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The 2019 Motocross season is one-third in the books and the title battle may have already come down to a two-man contest, while the pair of contenders might just be a little surprising in their own way.

Strictly by the numbers, no one can count Eli Tomac’s early season charge of first- and second-place finishes shocking, but threepeating in Motocross is such an incredibly difficult feat that no one would have been surprised to see him struggle out of the gates either. And in fact, that is precisely what happened.

Tomac came out of the gates slow in Round 1 and was seventh by the end of Lap 1 of Moto 1 – hardly the auspicious start he hoped for. He rebounded only as far as fourth and that ultimately cost him a chance to win the overall. Tomac won Moto 2 to claim second overall.

In Round 2, Tomac found his rhythm and won both Motos and grabbed the red plate. For the moment, he had the momentum with three consecutive Moto wins.

Tomac stumbled again in Round 3 – this time finishing only fifth in Moto 1 and earning only 16 points to dig a deep hole that eventually surrendered the red plate to Ken Roczen.

It was at Thunder Valley in Round 3 that a pattern emerged. Tomac would not make it easy on himself early in the day, but was more than capable of winning the second Motos to overcome his deficit.

That Roczen has won this season is also not a surprise in itself. Many believed his ascent to the top step of the podium was way overdue.

That he has run so well, however, was not entirely expected at the start of the season. Since injuring both arms in a pair of accidents, Roczen came tantalizingly close to snapping his winless streak a dozen times. He won heat races during the Supercross season and finished second at Anaheim I, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle earlier this year.

He just couldn’t secure the overall win.

Roczen’s Moto 1 victory at Hangtown might have been the precursor to another disappointing weekend, but once Tomac got into the lead, Roczen zeroed in on the Kawasaki’s back tire and finished second in route to the overall victory.

Roczen lost the overall and the red plate to Tomac in Round 2 at Pala, but he stood on the podium in both Motos. Roczen podiumed twice again in Round 3 while taking that overall victory to regain the red plate in what has become a seesaw affair in the early part of the 2019 season.

Last week, Roczen looked more like Tomac with his desperate struggle in Moto 1 and sixth-place finish. That was the first (and so far only) time this season that he failed to stand on the podium.

Roczen’s Moto 2 win last week was just enough to put him second overall with barely enough points to force a tie at the top of the leaderboard with 176 points apiece.

Meanwhile, Tomac failed to win either Moto with a third in the first race and runner-up finish in the second.

The moral victory and advantage may shift to Roczen this week.

As they have swapped the victory in the first four rounds with Roczen winning the odd-numbered events, he sees this weekend’s Round 5 as an opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s race,” Roczen said in a team press release. “The track is sandy. It’s very similar—actually almost identical—to what I ride on a regular basis at home.”

Tomac and Roczen enter Round 5 with a 32-point advantage over two riders tied for third in the standings.

So far Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson have not been in the same league as the leaders, but it only takes one slip of the wheel to fall out of the points in in a race and allow these racers to close the gap.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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