Vettel aiming for seventh or higher from pit lane in Austin

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AUSTIN – Sebastian Vettel has said that finishing anywhere inside the top seven in tomorrow’s United States Grand Prix would be a good result as he will start from the pit lane due to a complete power unit change.

Red Bull confirmed earlier this week that it would be overhauling Vettel’s engine, prompting the FIA stewards in Austin to hand him a pit lane start regardless of his qualifying position.

Although Vettel was not expected to run in qualifying, the team sent him out to ensure that he finished inside the 107% time required to qualify for a grand prix. He finished the session in 17th place, marking his first Q1 exit in over five years.

However, with a good long-run pace on show in practice on Friday, the German driver could yet fight his way up into the points.

“It’s difficult to say where we are compared to the others teams,” Vettel said after qualifying. “It doesn’t seem too bad, depending on the conditions which are currently good.

“In the race tomorrow I think we can move up, our race pace seems okay, but it will be tight. It will be difficult to overtake, as we don’t have the ideal straight line speed, hopefully we can get some points tomorrow. Seventh would be a good result.”

His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, finished qualifying in fifth place behind the Mercedes and Williams drivers, and looks set to be mathematically ruled out of the drivers’ championship following this weekend’s race in the United States in light of Mercedes expected dominance.

“I’m pretty happy with the top five,” Ricciardo said after qualifying. “Realistically we’re fighting for the last spot on the podium, if Mercedes have a clean race, and we’ve put ourselves in a good position for that.

“We were close to Felipe [Massa], but hopefully the clean side of the grid will help me out a bit, so we’ll see what happens.

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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