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Hamilton claims pole position for Japanese Grand Prix

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SUZUKA, Japan — Championship leader Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, leading a 1-2 finish for Mercedes and taking a step closer to securing his fifth Formula One title.

With rain threatening, Hamilton clocked a lap of 1 minute, 27.760 seconds to lead teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.299. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was third.

Mercedes read the weather conditions perfectly, ensuring that both drivers recorded their best laps early in the third part of qualifying, before the rain increased to secure their fifth consecutive one-two at Suzuka.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying run did not go as well with the German hitting a wet patch and spinning off the course. Vettel finished ninth, further damaging his slim chances of catching Hamilton in the championship race.

With five races to go, Hamilton leads Vettel by 50 points in the standings. Race winners get 25 points.

Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen was fourth in Japan, ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who ended up 15th after failing to set a time in the second qualifying, heading into the pits at the end of his outlap with what appeared to be an engine problem.

Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley claimed his best ever grid position in sixth, one place ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly.

Esteban Ocon was eighth, ahead of Vettel, with his Force India teammate Sergio Perez rounding out the top 10.

Marcus Ericsson crashed at Turn 7 early in the session.

The Sauber driver ran wide onto the grass and spun into a barrier, leading to a six-minute red flag.

IMSA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration: Why Sebring is very special to Bobby Rahal

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Bobby Rahal has driven in some of the biggest races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 Hours and, of course, winning the Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1986 and in 2004 as a team owner.

But winning the 12 Hours of Sebring two years in a row (1987 and 1988), Rahal feels, is right up there in terms of his greatest accomplishments as a race car driver.

As IMSA celebrates its 50th anniversary, Rahal reflected on what racing at Sebring International Raceway has meant to him:

“To me, Sebring is the ultimate endurance race. Not as long as Daytona or Le Mans, but the demands put on a car and driver at Sebring are highly unusual.

“My father raced at Sebring in the late 60’s. To win that race two years in a row really meant something to me.

“While we’ve won a lot of other races, we’ve won just about everywhere, you name it. But for me personally, winning at Sebring those two years in a row was very special.”

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