WATCH LIVE: Russian GP on NBCSN, Live Extra from 6:30am ET

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He may trail Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by 48 points at the top of the drivers’ championship, but Nico Rosberg showed few signs of giving up on Saturday in Russia as he stormed to his third pole position of the season.

A near-perfect first run in Q3 allowed the German to take P1 by three-tenths of a second, leaving Hamilton to settle for second place on the grid at the Sochi Autodrom.

Rosberg has not won since the Austrian Grand Prix back in June, and knows that if he is to stand any real chance of denying his teammate a third world title in 2015, victory in Russia on Sunday is a must.

With memories of their side by side battle on the first lap of last year’s Russian Grand Prix still fresh in the memory, Rosberg and Hamilton are poised to duke it out again in the shadow of the Winter Olympics city.

You can watch the Russian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Should Hamilton beat Rosberg on Sunday, the Briton will head to the next race in Austin, Texas just one win away from the championship, leaving his teammate with a mountain to climb.

Rosberg’s closest competitor in the title race is in fact Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who is breathing down the Mercedes driver’s neck in the battle for the runner-up spot. From fourth, Vettel will be hoping to make up yet more ground, but a race against the Williams of Valtteri Bottas (starting third) is perhaps more likely in Sochi.

Elsewhere, Carlos Sainz Jr. looks poised to start the race in spite of his terrifying practice crash on Saturday. The Spaniard was taken to hospital after the shunt, but scans showed that he had suffered not a scratch. He will start today’s race from P20.

You can watch the Russian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds