Vettel: No shock in Mercedes’ Suzuka resurgence

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Sebastian Vettel was far from surprised by Mercedes’ return to the front of the field in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, saying its strength was “expected”.

Vettel dominated proceedings in Singapore last weekend by claiming pole position and a lights-to-flag race win as Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton struggled for pace all weekend.

Heading to Suzuka this weekend, Mercedes believed that its issues were purely symptomatic of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, although technical boss Paddy Lowe still remained very wary of the threat posed by Ferrari.

In qualifying on Saturday, Rosberg and Hamilton resumed normal service by locking out the front row of the grid for Mercedes, marking its 13th pole position of the year.

Speaking to NBCSN after the session, Vettel said that he wasn’t at all surprised by Mercedes bouncing back, and that Ferrari had done all it could to qualify fourth and sixth at Suzuka.

“I think it was a surprise to see Mercedes struggling so much in Singapore – for the 132nd time it has been said this weekend…” Vettel wryly said.

“But yeah, obviously they are very strong here as expected. No surprises.

“Obviously it was a tricky session for myself, didn’t really get going in the beginning, and in the end I think we can be reasonably happy. Third was the maximum, we missed that by one position.

“Tomorrow I think it will be a tight race between ourselves, Red Bull, Williams, so we need to be alert.”

The drivers entered Saturday’s qualifying session with just one hour of dry running under their belts after Friday’s practice runs were both washed out by rain, but Vettel does not think this will cause too many issues for the race on Sunday.

“Yeah we didn’t get much running, we got a bit this morning,” Vettel said. “I think we should be fine in the race. We’ve trimmed the car also towards the race, let’s see. It’s difficult to impossible to predict at this stage.”

The Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 12:30am ET on Sunday.

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

Petit Le Mans lineup

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.



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