MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Australian GP

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With the 2015 Formula 1 season kicking off this Sunday in Melbourne, Australia, the time has come for MotorSportsTalk to revive our picks for each round of the 2015 season.

Last year, each MST writer was asked to pick a race winner, a surprise finish and who had the most to prove heading into the grand prix weekend.

This time around, we’re going to shake things up a bit, with Tony DiZinno and myself now also trying to predict the podium and pick one of main storylines that will come out of the race weekend.

With this being the first race of the year, our predictions are largely based on educated guesses and estimates from pre-season testing in Spain. Nevertheless, take a look at what we’ve predicted, and be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. It’s a pick between the two Mercedes drivers, such is the pace of the W06 Hybrid. Assuming that all is equal in the way of reliability, Hamilton should have the edge at one of his favorite circuits.

Surprising FinishRomain Grosjean. 2015 marks a new dawn for Lotus, with Mercedes now powering the British team. Grosjean should be able to make up for his miserable 2014 season this year, and what better way to start than with a good haul of points in Melbourne?

Most to ProveToro Rosso. The youngest driver line-up in the history of F1 is certainly exciting, but both Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. have plenty to prove on their debuts. If either can score points, it would be a big statement to the naysayers up and down the paddock.

Additional Storyline to Watch: Honda’s return. Just how will the Honda engine hold up in its first grand prix? McLaren will be sweating on the progress that has been made since winter testing finished, and a top-ten finish would surely be an enormous achievement for the British team.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas Williams

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. The defending World Champion kicks off his title defense by bagging a win at a race that got away from him early last year due to unreliability.

Surprising FinishMax Verstappen. I’m going to say the 17-year-old lives up to the initial hype and produces one of the more “wow!” worthy debuts in years. Magnussen’s podium last year, Hamilton’s 2007 podium, Webber’s 2002 fifth place for Minardi, Villeneuve’s 1996 pole also come to mind as others. The Toro Rosso team banged out a ton of laps in testing and I’ll go bold, saying Verstappen makes it to Q3 on debut and then scores points. Seventh or eighth seems possible for this car.

Most to ProveMcLaren-Honda. After a troubled preseason, here’s hoping the two iconic brands can at least make it to the finish and sort out the reliability issues. Rare to say a finish would be a good result, but it would be… and points would be a bonus

Additional Storyline to WatchBattle for third. If reliability doesn’t strike, Mercedes’ preseason pace has left them as clear 1-2 favorites. So who comes third? Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams all could stake reasonable claims to it, each with three different power units.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

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Join us on NBCSN and Live Extra this weekend for comprehensive coverage of the Australian Grand Prix and the start of the new F1 season. Click here for full TV times and information.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III