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F1: Lewis Hamilton looks for luck to change amid 3-way title fight

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Lewis Hamilton needs his luck to change in Azerbaijan.

Already nine points behind Sebastian Vettel, the defending champion has yet to win a race this year.

Baku’s emphasis on straight-line speed could favor Hamilton and Mercedes this weekend, but the British driver has struggled in both previous races held at the track. In 2016, he crashed in qualifying, while last year the seemingly trivial issue of a loose headrest forced him into the pits, where he lost valuable time. He finished fifth on both occasions.

“Baku has not been a particularly great hunting ground for me,” said Hamilton, who has gone six races without a win since the U.S. Grand Prix in October.

“This year is going to be tough,” he added. “I’m hoping I’ve got a car this weekend to really battle it out with Sebastian.”

Mercedes dominated the last four seasons but is in a three-way fight with Ferrari and Red Bull this year. Hamilton’s team leads the constructors’ standings.

“The others have definitely stepped up. I think we’ve made a step forward but they’ve made a big leap,” Hamilton said, but expressed hope Mercedes could match that pace. “It’s always easier to catch up than to be a pioneer.”

Mercedes has been trying to better understand how to get the most pace out of the soft tires, especially in qualifying.

Vettel said Mercedes remained the favorite but the differences are minuscule.

“We have three cars that are a match,” Vettel said. “Whoever gets all the small issues right will be out in front.”

Vettel arrives in Azerbaijan as the championship leader with two wins, but needs to bounce back from finishing eighth in China after a collision with Max Verstappen.

Baku’s contrasting features are its long seafront straight and twisty section around the city’s Old Town. That makes it crucial to find the right degree of downforce to produce enough speed but also grip in the slower corners.

The track is also very narrow in places, making it likelier the race will be stopped if there is crash debris. Last year, there were two safety car periods before a red flag restart. Tempers flared, with Hamilton and Vettel making contact behind the safety car.

Daniel Ricciardo, who won in Baku last year and is coming off a victory in China two weeks ago, said he wasn’t yet thinking of the title and that his team needed to show it could consistently challenge Mercedes and Ferrari. That’s also a factor in Ricciardo’s musings about a possible move to Mercedes or Ferrari next year.

“It’s still early but I think we proved if we’re there we can do a lot with (the car),” Ricciardo said. “Because we’re not winning every weekend, when you have a sniff of a victory that’s all the motivation and the hunger that I need.”

Besides the tendency of Verstappen to collide with his rivals, Red Bull is also struggling to match Ferrari’s qualifying pace. Neither Red Bull has qualified higher than fourth in the three races so far this season.

“I think Saturday we’ll probably not be there, but Sunday we can turn it around,” Ricciardo said.

At the other end of the grid, misery continues for Williams.

Nearly a year after Canadian teenager Lance Stroll earned a surprise third place in a chaotic race in Baku, Williams is well off the pace.

Stroll’s three 14th-place finishes are its best results so far this year and he’s not expecting much improvement this weekend. Speed is crucial in Baku – and Williams doesn’t have the pace.

“Those long straights were our strengths last year and unfortunately a bit of a weakness this year,” Stroll said. “With a really competitive and really good race, we are P14 or P13, and last year we were comfortably in the points many times.”

IndyCar’s Vasser-Sullivan expand into IMSA for 2019

James Sullivan and Jimmy Vasser. Photo IndyCar
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Not even one year after returning to the IndyCar ranks, Vasser-Sullivan Racing is taking AIM at the IMSA world, you might say.

While team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan will continue to partner with Dale Coyne Racing on the IndyCar side, they expanded their holdings Tuesday, announcing a partnership with AIM Autosport to campaign a new two-car Lexus-backed RC F GT3 effort in IMSA’s GT Daytona class.

The new team – named AIM Vasser-Sullivan – will replace 3GT Racing, which was part of Lexus’ sports car program launch in 2016. It will announce its two drivers in the coming weeks, the team said.

“Sulli and I are excited and looking forward to entering a new chapter in our racing careers,” Vasser said in a media release. “I have driven sports cars before, but my career was pretty much limited to the 24 Hours of Daytona, including a ‘class’ win in 1992 and second overall in 2008.

“The AIM Vasser Sullivan team, with the support of Lexus and our sponsors, has the tools to get the job done and we are looking forward to this new challenge.”

Lexus has made significant progress in its first two seasons in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition, having earned a combined two race wins, five poles and finished third in the 2018 GTD Manufacturer point standings.

Vasser and Sullivan were part of the ownership group of KVSH Racing in IndyCar from 2011 through 2016 before the organization folded.

They also owned Tony Kanaan’s 2013 Indianapolis 500-winning car.

After sitting out the 2017 season, Vasser, a former CART champion, and Sullivan rejoined forces this past February, just before the start of the 2018 IndyCar season, partnering with Coyne to form a satellite team led by driver Sebastien Bourdais, who previously drove for KVSH.

Bourdais kicked off the new team’s effort with a win in the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He finished seventh in the overall season standings.

AIM Vasser Sullivan will have two home bases for its IMSA program: AIM’s current facility in Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada, as well as a new U.S. shop in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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