Rosberg sweeps to Singapore GP pole ahead of Ricciardo, Hamilton

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Nico Rosberg will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole position after dominating Formula 1 qualifying under the lights at Marina Bay on Saturday night.

Rosberg arrived in Singapore trailing Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton by just two points in the drivers’ championship, having won the last two races.

The German stamped his authority on proceedings in Singapore by following up his fastest laps in FP2 and FP3 with pole position, seeing off the challenge from Hamilton and the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers.

Rosberg took provisional pole with his first run in Q3, a lap of 1:42.584 putting him seven-tenths of a second clear of Hamilton and over a second clear of the Red Bulls in P4 and P5. The gauntlet for the rest of the field had been laid down.

With none of his rivals able to improve on their second flying laps by a significant amount, Rosberg was able to revel in the 29th pole position of his F1 career.

Ricciardo found six-tenths of a second on his final lap to jump up to second ahead of Hamilton, who paid the price for a mistake at Turn 1 to finish third and missed out on his 100th front-row start in F1 in the process.

Max Verstappen qualified fourth for ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who was the sole Ferrari driver in Q3, while Toro Rosso enjoyed a hugely impressive session as Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat finished sixth and seventh.

Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez took Force India into the top 10 once again, qualifying eighth and 10th respectively, while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso split the pair in ninth.

Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were caught out by a late yellow flag in Q2, leaving them P11 and P12 respectively on the grid, ahead of Jenson Button in the second McLaren who clipped the wall on his final lap.

Romain Grosjean’s weekend from hell continued as he crashed out of Q2 during his final flying lap, losing control of his car at Turn 10. The Frenchman was left P15 in the final timesheets, just behind Haas teammate Esteban Gutierrez.

Marcus Ericsson put Sauber’s updates to good use as he made it through to Q2 for the first time since the Chinese Grand Prix, qualifying 16th. His late Q1 lap was enough to keep Renault drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer out, the pair finishing 17th and 19th respectively, split by Felipe Nasr in the sister Sauber.

Pascal Wehrlein led Manor’s charge once again in qualifying, but could not keep his streak of Q2 appearances going, finishing 20th. He arguably stole a position more suited to teammate Esteban Ocon – Saturday being his 20th birthday – leaving the Frenchman to settle for 21st on the grid.

2015 pole-sitter and race winner Sebastian Vettel saw his tough weekend continue when a broken rear anti-roll bar on his Ferrari resigned him to an early exit in Q1. Unable to improve his time that was 4.8 seconds off the pace, Vettel pitted with four minutes remaining, calling it “stupid” to continue. The German will start tomorrow’s race from 22nd on the grid.

While Rosberg may have dominated proceedings on Saturday, Sunday’s race could prove to be more difficult with both Ricciardo and Verstappen set to start on super-soft tires, giving them a longer first stint in the race.

Alas, with Mercedes’ pace impressing throughout the weekend, either Rosberg or Hamilton may have too much for the Red Bulls to handle.

The Singapore Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500