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Perez, Alonso lead midfield F1 runners onto third row in Brazil

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Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso will fill out the third row of the grid for the start of Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix after leading Formula 1’s midfield runners in a dramatic qualifying session at Interlagos.

Following Lewis Hamilton’s shock exit in Q1 after crashing at Turn 6, Perez was able to break into the top six ordinarily filled out by the Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari runners, taking P6 for Force India.

Alonso was able to drag his McLaren-Honda to P7 overall despite being some 16 km/h off the pace in the speed trap, with straight-line speed being key at Interlagos.

Both drivers will gain a position by virtue of Red Bull racer Daniel Ricciardo’s grid penalty after an engine change earlier in the weekend, leaving them P5 and P6.

“I am very pleased with today’s result, especially given how difficult the last couple of weekends have been for me in qualifying,” Perez said.

“It was a good fight to get into Q3 because our rivals were pushing us really hard, but I managed a good lap in difficult conditions to be sixth – the maximum we could hope for today.

“I have to say ‘thank you’ to the team: we went through everything to understand how the latest upgrades on the car work because I seemed to struggle a bit in qualifying at the last few races. The engineers have worked so hard and today’s result proves our pace.

“I am pleased to be back on form and I am looking forward to the race.”

“I’m happy with P7 today, particularly because it was a difficult qualifying,” Alonso said, reflecting on his session.

“Conditions were very tricky: you see drops of rain on the visor, and that takes some confidence away even when the asphalt is completely dry. So you have to trust what the car is doing, and commit to the corner even though your mind is saying something different.

“Yesterday, we weren’t completely happy with the balance of the car and with the performance, but today the car stepped up and we were more competitive.

“P6 is a fantastic starting position for scoring points, but we know that Hamilton and Ricciardo will come back very strongly tomorrow. I’ll try to defend as much as I can even though tomorrow we expect a very sunny day and completely dry conditions, so it’s not going to be easy to hold on to our position.

“A little bit of rain is always welcome for us. We seem to be more competitive in damp conditions, but being in the top 10 tomorrow is our goal. Saturday has been great, let’s see what Sunday brings.”

The Brazilian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 10am ET on Sunday.

Will Power, Roger Penske collect Indy 500 trophies

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DETROIT (AP) Last year, Will Power finally broke through and won the Indianapolis 500, so he can cross that accomplishment off the list.

Now 37, Power is reaching an age when it’s fair to wonder how much longer he’ll keep at it.

“I’m really enjoying my racing. I’ve never been so motivated. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, mentally on the game,” Power said. “I think once you get to this part of your career, you realize that you’re not going to be doing this forever. So you’ve got to enjoy it and you’ve got to go for it when you’ve got it, because, you know, probably only another five years at maximum, and you’re retired.”

Whenever Power’s career does wind down, his 2018 Indy 500 win will remain a moment to remember. He was in Detroit on Wednesday night with team owner Roger Penske for a ceremony in which they received their “Baby Borg” trophies for winning last year’s race. The Baby Borgs are replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy that honors the Indy 500 winner.

Power finished second at Indy in 2015, and his victory last year made him the race’s first Australian winner. It was Penske’s 17th Indy 500 win as an owner, part of a banner year for him. Penske also won a NASCAR Cup title with driver Joey Logano.

“When you think about 2018, we had 32 race wins, 35 poles. I think we led almost 5,400 laps, with all the series,” Penske said.

On Wednesday, Penske collected another significant trophy, and he’ll be celebrated again in a couple weeks. He’s being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 1.

“It’s amazing that a guy from the north can get into the Hall of Fame in the south,” Penske joked. “No, it’s special. … NASCAR has helped us build our brand over the years, certainly, with the reputation it has, and the notoriety we get, being a NASCAR team owner.”

Penske’s most recent Indy 500 title came courtesy of Power, who long preferred road courses to ovals but certainly looked comfortable at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year.

“The 500 was one record that he didn’t have, and I think you saw the excitement he and his wife, and the whole team, when he was able to win the race,” Penske said. “He’s probably the best qualifier we’ve ever had, as a road racer, and no question his expertise. He didn’t like ovals to start with, but I think today, he loves racing on ovals.”

Power seems content with all aspects of his racing life at the moment. The aftermath of an Indy 500 victory can be a whirlwind, and it would be understandable for a driver to be weary of it eight months later, but for Power, it’s a new experience.

“I’ve been looking forward to this event for a few months now, to actually get the Baby Borg. You have the face on it – I didn’t realize that, you actually get your own face on it,” Power said. “It makes you realize the significance of the event, when you think about all the things that come with winning the 500.”

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Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister