INDYCAR: Alexander Rossi roars to pole for Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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Alexander Rossi was a man on a mission, wasting little time to capture the pole for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach during Saturday’s qualifying on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course on the streets of Long Beach.

But then again, there wasn’t really a lot of time left to waste for Rossi and his Honda to record the top elapsed time of the field (1:06.5528).

While other drivers went out on-track earlier in the Firestone Fast Six session, Rossi waited until less than two minutes to go to take to the track for his pole attempt, hoping to capitalize on the track cooling off in the later stages of the afternoon – and that strategy worked.

It was Rossi’s second career IndyCar pole position. In his previous pole (at Watkins Glen last year), he went on to win the race. Will history repeat itself on Sunday?

“The team’s just doing a great job,” the Andretti Autosport driver told NBCSN. “Hats off to all of them, to Honda, to everyone who’s put in so much effort. The big job is tomorrow, so we have to execute that. We feel like we’ve given up two potential wins (in the first two races of the season), so let’s not to try and do that tomorrow.”

Will Power qualified P2 (1:06.9054), followed by teammate Simon Pagenaud (1:06.9107), Scott Dixon (1.07.0483), Graham Rahal (1:07.1275) and Josef Newgarden (1:07.1922).

“I’m happy to be on the front row,” Power said. “You almost have to scrape the wall on every exit to get the most out of the car. It’s a lot of fun, the car’s moving around, who needs downforce (he said with a chuckle).”

Added Pagenaud, “That’s the first time I’ve had the car I want it to be (in the first three races). We’re creeping up and slowly learning the limits. I think there’s a little bit more lap time in there. We’re right there. If we take care of the tires in race time, I think it’ll be an exciting race.”

Dixon said, “It’s been a tough weekend for us. We started really well and then had a few issues through the other sessions and made some pretty big wholesale changes to the car. … I think we were looking good for second, maybe shooting for the pole, but locked up going into (Turn) eight and lost all the time and had to abort the lap. I’m looking for a good result tomorrow.”

Rahal had a much better qualifying effort than his last-place start in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg last month. His effort Saturday gave him his best qualifying start at Long Beach since his first-ever race there back in 2007, when he also started fifth.

“Yeah, it’s been a while,” Rahal told NBCSN. “We obviously were awful at St. Pete. If that’s your last baseline on a street course, you never know what you’re going to get when you come into a weekend like this. We didn’t have the ultimate pace like others did, but we have tires for days tomorrow.

“Strategy-wise, I think the race will be a lot more fun for fans to watch. This isn’t going to just be a fuel mileage race as it historically has been. This new car is so much more fuel efficient, you’re going to be able to do this thing on two stops. So I think it’s going to be a lot more fun and we’ll be able to go to battle right away.”

Late in the final Fast Six session, Newgarden hit the wall ahead of Rossi, bending his suspension, but wisely moved out of the way to allow Rossi to go by.

“I just ran out of talent momentarily,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “I was trying to maximize that first lap, even though I knew the second lap was really the lap we needed to hit. I got a bit of a slide in the entry and tried to stay in it, which was a mistake, and then I clipped the left rear. The toe was bent and we had to pit.

“It’s tough making mistakes. We just have to try and work a little bit harder tomorrow. I made it a little bit tougher for where we have to start. … As long as we’re smart at the start and execute our pit stops, I think we’ll be fine.”

Also during the qualifying rounds:

* Rookie Robert Wickens fell short of making the final six for the Firestone Fast Six after grazing the wall. “I just pushed a little too hard and pressed the wall at the exit of Turn 4 and bent the rear toe-link, so we had to bring it back in,” Wickens told NBCSN. “It’s a shame but when you’re pushing on the limit trying to get into the Fast Six, you risk everything. We went a little bit too far on that one.”

* During qualifying for the Firestone Fast Six, veteran driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has had one of the quickest cars of the weekend, received a penalty for failure to go over a transponder for the timing loop while exiting pit lane.

* During Group 2 qualifying, rookie Kyle Kaiser hit the Turn 9 wall and caused significant damage to his suspension, including leaving debris on-track.

* At the end of Turn 1 during his qualifying turn, Marco Andretti spun with less than a minute to go and failed to make the 12-car field to run for the Firestone Fast Six. Former Andretti Autosport teammate Takuma Sato was not happy with Andretti, blaming him for Sato being unable to make the 12-driver field for the Firestone Fast Six qualifying.

* During the start of qualifying for the Firestone Fast Six, Will Power was not happy at how Rossi appeared to jump the crowd to get out on-track. Power and Team Penske reportedly called for a penalty, but none was issued.

The 44th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach takes place Sunday. The final driver warmup occurs at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT.

The green flag for the event is expected to drop around 4:40 p.m. ET/1:40 p.m. PT.

Catch all the action on NBCSN, starting with the pre-race show at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.

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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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