Valtteri Bottas edges Lewis Hamilton to take maiden F1 pole in Bahrain

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Valtteri Bottas edged out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the final stage of qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday night to take his first pole position in Formula 1.

Bottas joined Mercedes at the start of the 2017 season following Nico Rosberg’s retirement, and has wasted little time on getting on-pace with Hamilton, the pair battling for pole on Saturday in Bahrain.

With Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel struggling for pace in Q3, Mercedes drivers Hamilton and Bottas were left to sweep to a front-row lock-out, duelling for pole with their final laps in the session.

Hamilton got the upper hand on the first run, finishing five-hundredths of a second faster than his teammate, leaving him with little breathing room and in need to a strong lap if he were to continue his pole streak.

Bottas improved his lap, turning in a time of 1:28.769 to go 0.023 seconds clear of Hamilton, who was unable to better his own time to hand his Finnish teammate a maiden F1 pole.

The result comes a little over four years since Bottas’ F1 debut with Williams in 2013, and makes him the fifth Finn to take pole position for a grand prix.

Vettel finished as the best of the rest in third place, while Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen struggled for pace once again, ending up fifth behind the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Max Verstappen followed in sixth, two places behind his teammate.

Renault enjoyed a strong qualifying as both Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer reached Q3, finishing seventh and 10th respectively. The pair were split by Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, who will line up eighth and ninth respectively.

Daniil Kvyat fell just short of a place in Q3, paying the price for a mistake on his final qualifying lap as he finished just two-hundredths of a second off, qualifying P11. Williams’ Lance Stroll was unable to repeat his Q3 escapades from China as he too suffered a near miss, finishing 12th in Q2.

Pascal Wehrlein put in an impressive display in his first qualifying effort of the year, finishing 13th. The German returned to action in Bahrain after missing the opening two rounds of the season through injury, but looked to be back at full-tilt in qualifying. He will start alongside Esteban Ocon on Sunday, the Force India driver qualifying 14th.

Fernando Alonso’s difficult start to the season continued as he suffered a power unit issue in Q2, preventing him from setting a time to leave him 15th. However, he may drop down the grid due to a penalty should a part need to be changed on the Honda engine ahead of the race.

Carlos Sainz Jr’s hopes of a third straight Q3 appearance were dashed at the first hurdle in Bahrain, with a loss of power on his Toro Rosso car resigning him to 16th on the grid.

Stoffel Vandoorne was once again unable to match Alonso’s pace in the McLaren MCL32, finishing 17th ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, who was a surprise drop-out. Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen will form an all-Scandanavian last row on Sunday, having qualified P19 and P2, the latter being caught out by the late yellow flags shown for Sainz.

The Bahrain Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 10:30am ET on Sunday.

The road to the 2023 Daytona 500 is not paved for Travis Pastrana, he’ll attempt the DIRTcar Nationals

Pastrana DIRTcar Nationals
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.

In mid-January, it was announced Pastrana will attempt to qualify a third car from 23XI Racing that fields fulltime entries for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Sponsorship will come from Black Rifle Coffee, who approached him during the offseason to ask what kind of “really cool stuff” he would like to do. Pastrana replied, “the Daytona 500” with a characteristic laugh in his voice.

“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”

But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.

After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.

Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”

The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.

And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.

While Pastrana is accustomed pitching his car sideways on a combination of left and right turns in a rally car – he won the Nitro Rallycross race at ERX Motorsports Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota last October and became the first two-time winner in the 2022/23 season at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona in November – the DIRTcar Nationals will be an entirely different proposition.

It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.

“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”

Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.

Travis Pastrana will race one of Steve Arpin’s dirt modifieds during Florida Speedweeks as he prepares for the 2023 Daytona 500. – Jacy Norgaard, World Racing Group

The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.

“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”

And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.

“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.