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Belardi bounces back big with Sunday Indy Lights double podium

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A day after electronic glitches bogged down a potential debut win for Felix Rosenqvist or a potential comeback win for Zach Veach, both Belardi Auto Racing drivers made up for it on Sunday in the second Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg.

The Brian Belardi-owned and John Brunner-led team, now with the added engineering services of veteran Len Paskus, had an impressive weekend all around with Veach leading the first 17 laps on Saturday and then Rosenqvist starting on pole and translating that into a win on Sunday.

For Rosenqvist, the 24-year-old Swede who will balance Indy Lights, the Blancpain Sprint Cup series and a reserve role with Mercedes in DTM this year, it was a significantly better Sunday after running Saturday’s race on an inadvertently incorrect engine mapping in his No. 14 Dallara IL-15 Mazda en route to ending seventh.

“I think having full power today was the huge difference, and being on pole is easier too,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports post-race. “You can decide when to go! I think Zach didn’t have a great start. I could just pull away. It was a perfect race.”

For Veach, who fell from second to third in the No. 5 car off the line behind Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser, it was a needed result after the mechanical heartbreak on Saturday that left him 16th and last.

“I’m always gonna be sick to my stomach thinking about yesterday. There’s not many times in racing that it just opens up and gives you a win like that,” he told NBC Sports.

“But to come back and be on the podium, first weekend back, to start off where I left off makes me feel really good. To be completely honest with you, after a year off, I didn’t know how I’d be. I was afraid people might have thought I’d lost it. But I think we showed we’re right back where we used to be.”

Both drivers are new to the team and, with two podiums in the first weekend of the year, are only one behind the total combined output turned in by Felix Serralles and Juan Piedrahita last year (Serralles had two, including a win at Milwaukee with Piedrahita having one).

“Felix is the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Veach said. “With him coming from Europe, I thought he’d be closed off. But him and I together helped to basically revamp the setups from what they had last year to make ourselves as competitive as we did. The engineers have to take a lot of credit for that as well.

“Felix and I, I think we work so well because we’re like minded. It’s refreshing compared to what I’ve had in the past.”

Added Rosenqvist, the FIA Formula 3 European champion of a year ago, “There’s nothing I’m hiding from him or him from me. That was the deal when we signed. Both the engineers and drivers are helping each other all the time. That’s the way to go if you want to win.”

Both will still look to improve upon this weekend. Veach admitted he’d made a mistake on the start on Sunday, with some extra wheel spin helping Kaiser to go past – although he noted Kaiser was strong enough that even if he was behind his countryman, he’d have had a whale of a time holding him off.

For Rosenqvist, his challenge from here is maintaining focus on whatever his next race is, regardless of series, car or continent.

“I think the biggest challenge is the time difference going overseas. It’s always 7-9 hours,” he explained. “In Europe, it’s a bigger challenge.

“But I knew that when I signed up to do it. That’s my job to be able to handle it. I might be tired by end of the year but I am in it all the way, and I’m gonna go through it.”

Three in position to capture World Rally Championship title at Rally Australia

Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Defending champion Sebastien Ogier goes into this weekend’s Rally Australia with a chance to clinch his sixth World Rally Championship in a row. Thierry Neuville, a runner-up four times but never a champion, hopes to change the world order.

Neuville led the series for much of the season but Ogier’s win in Britain and a second place in Spain has given the Frenchman 204 points, three ahead of Neuville, heading into the final rally of the championship.

“We are not the best friends but we are rivals and respect each other for our performances,” Neuville said Wednesday. “I’ve been second many times in the championship now, we are so close to the main goal.”

“If we need to take more risks because we need to pass Sebastien we’re going to try,” the Belgian driver added, “we’ll take the maximum risks.”

Ogier says the feeling is mutual when it comes to his main rival.

“We are different, definitely, but most important we’re in a great fight together and respect each other for that,” Ogier said. “It’s about trying to beat each other and do it with respect.”

Ott Tanak of Estonia sits 23 points behind and with 30 points for a win in Australia, and other results going his way, he could also capture the world title.

Ogier will be hoping for some Friday morning rain to settle the dust and gravel before he sets off first on what will be more than 300 kilometers (180 miles) of timed racing through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast, about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.

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