Rosberg returns Mercedes to P1 in final Suzuka practice

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Nico Rosberg closed out practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets as teams scrambled to make up for Friday’s washout at Suzuka.

Rain in FP1 and FP2 meant placed extra importance on the final practice session on Saturday morning, forcing the teams to try and condense their regular dry running programme into just 60 minutes.

Most of the teams headed out early in a bid to get the jump on the field, with the early pace being set by the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat.

However, as the session wore on, Mercedes found its feet and managed to return to the top of the timesheets for the first time since FP1 in Singapore with Rosberg leading the way.

A fastest lap of 1:33.995 was enough to give Rosberg P1 by almost three-tenths of a second ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, who struggled to match the pace of his German counterpart as Mercedes was forced to make changes to his car throughout FP3.

Ricciardo underlined Red Bull’s strong early pace by finishing third-fastest at the end of practice, half a second down on Hamilton at the head of the field. Kvyat did not get a chance to Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa hinted that Williams could be in for a more fruitful weekend at Suzuka by finishing fourth and fifth.

Ferrari’s hopes of a second straight win appeared to take a hit as Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel could only finish sixth and eighth respectively, finishing over one second behind Rosberg’s fastest time. However, the Italian team did run an alternative programme to most of the field, and Vettel had his best lap ruined by Kvyat, suggesting that there was more pace in the tank.

Max Verstappen split the Ferraris in seventh, whilst Romain Grosjean put Lotus’ recent troubles behind him to finish ninth ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., who rounded out the top ten.

Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2am ET on Saturday.

IMSA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration: Why Sebring is so special to Bobby Rahal

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Bobby Rahal has driven in some of the biggest races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 Hours and, of course, winning the Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1986 and in 2004 as a team owner.

But winning the 12 Hours of Sebring two years in a row (1987 and 1988), Rahal feels, is right up there in terms of his greatest accomplishments as a race car driver.

As IMSA celebrates its 50th anniversary, Rahal reflected on what racing at Sebring International Raceway has meant to him:

“To me, Sebring is the ultimate endurance race. Not as long as Daytona or Le Mans, but the demands put on a car and driver at Sebring are highly unusual.

“My father raced at Sebring in the late 60’s. To win that race two years in a row really meant something to me.

“While we’ve won a lot of other races, we’ve won just about everywhere, you name it. But for me personally, winning at Sebring those two years in a row was very special.”

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