Williams poised to end 24-year USGP podium drought after second row lockout

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AUSTIN – Williams has made it an all-Mercedes top four for this year’s United States Grand Prix, and in no real surprise after emerging at the head of the queue behind the Mercedes factory squad earlier Saturday morning in third free practice.

Both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas have been on strong form this weekend, with Bottas finding his comfort level in fewer sessions. He sat out free practice one while Felipe Nasr was in there.

Massa and Bottas improved from fifth and 11th in FP2 – 1.3 and 1.7 seconds off the Mercedes, respectively – to third and fourth in FP3, albeit still 1.1 and 1.3 seconds in arrears.

Once the field went to Pirelli’s soft tire for qualifying, the Williams pair came in even more. Bottas, who was one of the stars this race last year in a then-Renault-powered Williams chassis, emerged third at the end of the session with Massa fourth. The gap to the Mercedes on the softs came down with Bottas within eight tenths and Massa just under 1.2 off.

“I’m really pleased with the couple of good laps I got in Q3 today actually,” Bottas said in the post-qualifying press conference. “It’s been a difficult weekend from my side for some reason, to get in a good rhythm and then finally during the qualifying I could really trust the car, like you should do.”

“But I’m really happy for us as a team. We locked out the second row, which is great for tomorrow’s race. We’re pushing in the Constructor’s Championship.”

Williams is currently 28 points clear of Ferrari for third in the Constructor’s Championship.

After this result, Bottas has now ended in the top three in six of the last eight races, whilst Massas is four for his last eight in terms of ending in the top four.

Bottas discussed how much he improved in qualifying to get within less than half a second of Lewis Hamilton in second.

“Qualifying in general from the practice, I managed to improve myself a lot during every session,” he said. “I could really trust the car a bit better in the qualifying and get those lines right and get every corner right.”

The team is seeking its first podium in the U.S. since, surprisingly, the 1990 United States Grand Prix at Phoenix, when Thierry Boutsen came third in a Williams-Renault behind Ayrton Senna’s McLaren and Jean Alesi’s Tyrrell.

Williams never podiumed in eight years at Indianapolis (2000-2007), including their BMW-powered years from 2000 through 2005, and is currently 0-for-2 at COTA.

With either Bottas or Massa, or perhaps both, perhaps that 24-year drought is poised to end this weekend.

It’s already been a weekend of celebration for the team – Williams played host to a small gathering of reporters Friday to celebrate NBCSN producer Jason Swales’ 250th Grand Prix this weekend.

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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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