Spotlight firmly on Stroll after brilliant podium in Baku

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SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) The spotlight is on teenage driver Lance Stroll at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix following his brilliant podium finish two weeks ago.

The 18-year-old Canadian produced the drive of his young career to finish third at the Azerbaijan GP, answering his critics in style.

Having secured a podium in just the eighth race of his career, he now has a strong platform to build on.

“For sure he’s young, he has a lot to learn but he proved that he’s growing,” Williams teammate Felipe Massa said, with a “much better performance than (observers) were expecting.”

At 36, Massa is twice Stroll’s age and knows all about the pressures of F1. He was agonizingly close to winning the F1 title when driving for Ferrari – losing it to Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the 2008 season.

Now in his last year in F1, Massa is committed to helping Stroll.

“I met him when he was seven or eight years old, so I really have no problem to pass on everything I can to help him,” the Brazilian said. “He’s a lot more confident.”

Stroll was once part of the prestigious driver academy at Ferrari where he first met Massa.

Although Stroll won last year’s European Formula 3 championship by a large margin, being the son of billionaire investor Lawrence Stroll allowed critics the freedom to speculate his seat at Williams was more down to financial backing than his own talent.

Failure to finish four of the first six races of his debut season gave those critics even more ammunition.

Stroll responded with ninth at his home GP in Montreal and followed that up with his brilliant performance in Baku – narrowly missing out on second place to Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.

“Before, I just did not have the confidence to push the car, because the car was just not giving me what I needed,” Stroll said. “(The car) is also getting more from me.”

Massa’s experience, Stroll says, will prove vital over the course of the year.

“At the moment I am at a stage in my career where I do not always know what I need from the car and Felipe does,” Stroll said. “I need to start feeling what needs to be done with the car. Sometimes it might go in the wrong direction, but it is a learning process.”

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

Petit Le Mans lineup
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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 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


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