What to watch for: Chinese Grand Prix (NBCSN, Live Extra from 1:30am ET)

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If Nico Rosberg’s bid for a first Formula 1 world championship looked good following his victories in Australia and Bahrain, it is now arguably stronger than it has ever been following Chinese Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.

After curbing the threat posed by Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel to take his 23rd career pole position, Rosberg is now in a prime position to claim his third win of the year and sixth in a row.

The usual battle he engages in with Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton wasn’t to be in qualifying as an engine issue sidelined the Briton before he could even post a lap time.

As a result, Hamilton will start Sunday’s race from the very back of the grid, arguably making it Rosberg’s race to lose.

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30am ET on Sunday. Here’s what to watch for in the race.

2016 Chinese Grand Prix – What to watch for

History beckons for Nico

In the 66-year history of F1, only three drivers have won six races in a row: Sebastian Vettel, Alberto Ascari and Michael Schumacher. Nico Rosberg can become the fourth on Sunday.

All three of those drivers were world champion and, to make matters even better for Rosberg, anyone who has on the opening three races of a season has gone on to win the title at its end.

History is very much on his side relying he can keep his cool. Rosberg’s biggest strength has always been capitalizing on Hamilton’s off days or – in this case – bad luck. China could be the biggest test of that yet, because given he’ll be starting on the more durable soft tire, it seems unfathomable that he cannot win.

Hamilton up for a fight

Despite being relegated to the back of the field and having his grid penalty just to add to matters, Hamilton has kept his head high after qualifying. The Briton knows that the race is about damage limitation, yet is a big result really out of reach?

The last time Hamilton failed to make it past Q1 came in Hungary 2014. In the race, he had caught up with Rosberg before lap 20 and eventually beat the German to third place. It was a remarkable comeback that goes down as one of his very best drives.

This time around, Lewis may find the midfield to be more problematic to pass, not to mention to less favorable tire picks. Strategy will be all or nothing in Shanghai, giving Hamilton and Mercedes plenty of thinking to do overnight.

Two versus one in Ferrari’s favor

Ferrari has been oh-so-close to Mercedes oh-so-often so far this season, yet we’ve never really seen it come to much in the race.

Qualifying showed another glimpse of what might be possible when Kimi Raikkonen took provisional pole after the first set of Q3 runs, only for both he and Sebastian Vettel to put in an error-strewn second lap to leave them P3 and P4 respectively.

With Hamilton out of the way, Ferrari could be clever and split the strategies of its drivers. By getting one of its runners to go longer on the first stint and get ahead of Rosberg – admittedly difficult on super-softs – said driver could then back the German up. Teamwork will be key on Sunday – as will getting both cars to the flag, something Ferrari is yet to achieve so far in 2016.

Strategy set to define the race

The addition of the third tire compound for races has so far proven to be a stroke of genius, offering excellent races in both Australia and Bahrain.

In China, it will be more key than ever. The most abrasive of the three tracks so far, Shanghai could leave teams scrambling if they get their strategy even slightly wrong.

Predictions are that the super-soft tire which most of the top 10 will be starting on will last around five laps, paving the way for a three-stop race. Rosberg got through Q2 on softs, so may have an advantage at the start, but will Mercedes go with the mediums or the super-softs as his second compound?

The race will be won or lost on strategy tomorrow. And with so much stacked in Rosberg’s favor, a defeat would be embarrassing for all involved.

A bon anniversaire for Grosjean?

Romain Grosjean enters Sunday’s race keen to continue his impressive run of points for Haas from the opening two races, having picked up a sixth and a fifth so far this year for the rookie team.

Tomorrow is a big day for him as he leaves his twenties behind and celebrates his 30th birthday. Cake has been promised in the morning, although one would imagine he isn’t going to be having too much of it before the race.

Starting 14th, it will be a big ask to continue the points streak, but the strategists at Haas haven’t put a foot wrong so far this year. You’d be wise to tip them to get China right.

2016 Chinese Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
5. Valtteri Bottas Williams
6. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
9. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
10. Felipe Massa Williams
11. Fernando Alonso McLaren
12. Jenson Button McLaren
13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
14. Romain Grosjean Haas
15. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
16. Felipe Nasr Sauber
17. Kevin Magnussen Renault
18. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
19. Jolyon Palmer Renault
20. Rio Haryanto Manor
21. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
22. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30am ET on Sunday.

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

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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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.


QUALIFYING

Results

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