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Bottas leads tight final F1 practice in Brazil as Ferrari steps up

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Valtteri Bottas topped a tightly-contested final Formula 1 practice session ahead of this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix for Mercedes as Ferrari made a big step forward from Friday’s running to enter the fight at the front of the field.

Four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton led Mercedes to a one-two finish in both FP1 and FP2 on Friday at Interlagos, with rivals Ferrari and Red Bull struggling to put up any kind of real fight at the front of the field.

Ferrari bounced back in FP3 after making tweaks to its cars overnight, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen sitting P1 and P3 respectively following their first qualifying simulation runs on the super-soft tire.

Mercedes responded as both Bottas and Hamilton elected to try a second push lap on the super-softs, with the Finn eventually setting the fastest time of 1:09.281 to take P1 at the checkered flag.

Hamilton was left to settle for second after lapping just 0.003 seconds slower, while Raikkonen and Vettel took P3 and P4, with the quartet covered by less than six-hundredths of a second.

With Mercedes and Ferrari poised to fight it out for pole, Red Bull had a tough session as Daniel Ricciardo finished almost a second off the pace in P5, while teammate Max Verstappen took P9 after missing half of the session due to an engine issue and spinning off the track late on.

McLaren led the midfield courtesy of Fernando Alonso, who finished P6 ahead of the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. Carlos Sainz Jr. took 10th for Renault, finishing 0.1 seconds behind former Toro Rosso teammate Verstappen.

Qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 11am ET on Saturday.

It’s official: Laguna Seca to host INDYCAR for at least next 3 seasons

Laguna Seca, from the 1991 CART race there. Photo: Getty Images
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INDYCAR made it official today: the 2019 season-ending race will move a couple of hours down the Northern California coast to WeatherTechRaceway Laguna Seca.

Sonoma Raceway, which has hosted INDYCAR since 2005 – including the last five season-ending races (that includes this year’s upcoming season finale) – will not be part of next season’s schedule.

Earlier today, the Monterey County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors, which oversees operation of the iconic racing facility, approved a three-year agreement with INDYCAR to host next year’s season finale on Sept. 20-22, 2019.

The remaining two race dates for 2020 and 2021 will be announced later, according to an INDYCAR media release.

The 2.238-mile permanent road course previously hosted CART and Champ Car World Series Indy car races from 1983 through 2004, including the season-ending races from 1989 through 1996.

“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”

Bobby Rahal, former CART/CCWS driver and current INDYCAR team co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four of the prior 22 previous Indy car races at Laguna Seca, all consecutively (1984-87).

“It’s great news, but I might be biased,” Rahal said. “I personally won four Indy car races there and won my first Can-Am race there. Our Indy car team won with Bryan Herta and Max Papis and our sports car team won IMSA races there.

“So I would almost bet you that Laguna Seca is the site of more victories for me as a driver and team owner combined of any track I’ve ever raced on.

“There is nothing better than the Monterey Bay area, and it’s a great circuit that always drew great crowds. So I’m thrilled to have Indy car racing coming back to a circuit I love so much. We will put on a good show, for sure.”

In addition to Rahal as a multiple winner, two-time winners at Laguna Seca were fellow current INDYCAR team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta, INDYCAR on NBCSN analyst Paul Tracy, Danny Sullivan and Patrick Carpentier.

“The return of INDYCAR to its spiritual road racing home of Laguna Seca is a tremendous honor and testament to the appeal of Monterey, and through the support of the County of Monterey will provide a significant economic benefit to our area businesses,” said Timothy McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, “We are looking forward to creating more memories in race fans’ minds like Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins from 1984-1987, Mario Andretti’s farewell race in 1994 and Alex Zanardi’s last-lap overtaking of Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in 1996 that simply became known as ‘The Pass.'”

NBC Sports Group has secured exclusive domestic television and digital media rights for INDYCAR races beginning in 2019. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, agreed that Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to close out the schedule.

“We commend INDYCAR for returning to Laguna Seca, a historic track and an inspired place for the 2019 season finale,” Miller said. “The 2019 season will be our first as the exclusive media rights partner of INDYCAR, and we could not be more pleased to broadcast the championship from beautiful Monterrey.”

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