F1: Sebastian Vettel takes German GP pole; Hamilton struggles to 14th

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HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) — Sebastian Vettel secured pole position for the German Grand Prix on Saturday while Lewis Hamilton’s hopes took another blow.

Already trailing Vettel by eight points in the title race, Hamilton starts Sunday’s race from 14th place after a hydraulic failure.

A huge roar went up from German fans at the Hockenheimring as their local favorite – Vettel grew up near to the track – moved top of the leaderboard with seconds left in qualifying.

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas had only just beaten Vettel’s leading time, when Vettel produced a stunning lap to move back in front by about 0.2 seconds.

“To do it here, just minutes from where I was born and grew up, it means a lot,” Vettel said. “I’m confident for tomorrow.”

Vettel has only won the German GP once – five years ago when it was held at the Nuerburgring – but never at Hockeneim.

His 55th career pole position felt even sweeter.

“Today’s one of my best. I have a mixed relationship with this track. For some reason it has never come together,” Vettel said. “The car was really a pleasure to drive. Some days you can feel you have something in your hands. That’s the feeling I had.”

Ferrari’s good day was completed with Kimi Raikkonen third fastest, ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Earlier, German fans had cheered for a different reason when Hamilton’s Mercedes suddenly stalled on track in the first part of qualifying, known as Q1. It happened shortly after Hamilton had gone too wide into a turn, sliding off the track and then going over some rough grass and bumping over a kerb – momentarily airborne – as he came back onto the track.

The British driver desperately tried to push his car back to the pits so he could continue qualifying, but even with the help of track officials he realized it was a futile effort. Moments later, Hamilton was slumped over his car, head down for several moments.

“It was a shame to see him go out, and I mean it,” said Vettel, who is aiming for his fifth win this season and 52nd overall.

Hamilton is one win away from matching F1 great Michael Schumacher’s record of four German GP wins, but he will need an exceptional drive – and probably a little good fortune – to achieve that.

After a huge downpour drenched the track for final practice earlier Saturday, led by Monaco driver Charles Leclerc, the Hockenheimring dried out somewhat by the time qualifying started.

After veering off track, a worried Hamilton complained over his team radio that his gears would not change. Within moments, fans had the rare sight of a four-time F1 champion – who has just signed a whopping new two-year contract – pushing his own car.

After giving up, Hamilton ripped his driving gloves off in frustration as he walked away. He jumped onto the back of a scooter, taking him to the paddock area. With cameras fixed firmly on him, Hamilton walked slowly before standing completely still for several seconds, his helmet still on, seemingly unable to comprehend his misfortune.

It is the latest reliability issue to blight the once-dominant Mercedes team after Hamilton and Bottas were forced to retire from the Austrian GP three weeks ago.

There have also been communication errors and strategy mistakes.

Hamilton now faces another slog through the field after being bumped off the track by Raikkonen early into the British GP two weeks ago. In that race, he clawed back from last to finish second.

Although Hamilton is way down, he still needs to watch his back on Sunday.

Daniel Ricciardo, who has won two races for this season, starts from last place because of an engine penalty.

He incurred it because Red Bull made changes to the hybrid system, the energy store and the electronics unit for a combined total of 20 grid positions. Drivers can use two of each specific engine part during the season before penalties, but this is the third time he is using each individual element.

Hamilton and Ricciardo carving through the midfield, possibly dueling with each other, promises to be an exciting spectacle.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds