IndyCar’s championship contenders ready their thoughts, minds for Sonoma finale

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SONOMA, Calif. – Selected quotes follow from the six drivers eligible for championship contention at this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway:

ON TITLE HOPES

Juan Pablo Montoya: “I’m pretty excited. I’m pretty excited. I think we got everything we need to be doing to put ourselves in this position. Sunday, whatever is going to happen is going to happen with double points.”

Graham Rahal: “Well, I think we got to win. That’s the best-case scenario. We finish third, fourth, fifth, it becomes obviously a bit more difficult. You’re banking on Juan finishing 12th or worse. I don’t think that’s likely.”

Scott Dixon: “As far as the championship goes, I wouldn’t call it exactly wide open, but we need a few things to work in our favor. It’s been a bit of an odd year. We’ve had fast cars, but probably not the results that we wanted, especially early on with the first three or four races.”

Will Power: “Yeah, it hasn’t been a very smooth year, I would say, considering we’ve been quite fast, very good in qualifying. From my perspective, really basically I have to win. I need to get the bonus points. These other guys have to have a really bad day.”

Helio Castroneves: “In the end of the day, it’s another great season. But really looking forward to have one win at least. Probably I’m the only one in this group that didn’t get a win. Really want to finish this season in a good way.”

Josef Newgarden: “Well, I said it earlier in the week. We basically have to win the race. Juan has to break first. Then if Graham would break, that would be great. Then Scott can break down, Will, Helio, then we might win. It would be the craziest story in the history of racing, but it’s possible. Like Helio said, if there’s a chance, you got to go for it.”

ON QUALIFYING WELL

Montoya: “You know, I mean, with the cautions and the way the race normally plays out, we had a penalty last year in qualifying, started 19th, and finished third, so…”

Power: “I feel this year you’d be better to qualify in the back, knock your front wing off, then you have a really good chance of winning.”

ON TIRE DEGRADATION 

Rahal: “The way tire degradation is, particularly this year, I think the new tires seem to have a lot of outright pace initially and might fall off a bunch. With that being said, I mean, it pretty much opens things up.”

Dixon: “This weekend I think degradation is going to be the biggest thing. Whether it’s going to be there or not. I think two or three, maybe four years ago, the race here, we had high degradation on the red tires. They were very fast, but they fell off a little bit, which the race actually turned out phenomenal.”

ON RETURNING TO ACTION A WEEK AFTER TRAGEDY AT POCONO

Newgarden: “It’s the tough part about the sport, it almost seems wrong, but it’s the right thing to do. You got to keep going. That’s what Justin would want. That’s how I would view it, too, if something would happen to me. I don’t want anyone to slow down. Keep doing your thing, enjoy it, love it.”

Castroneves: “People don’t realize for us, we’ve been doing this a long time. It’s our most comfortable position.”

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.