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F1 qualifying postponed; Audi hybrid on Sebring pole

Published March 15, 2013

Heavy rain and darkness forced stewards to postpone qualifying for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne.

After Q1, in which Williams No. 1 driver Pastor Maldonado was eliminated, the weather was too wet and the sun was going down and it became dangerous to continue.

Qualifying will be completed Sunday morning, with the race scheduled to follow in the afternoon.

This has happened before, in Japan, because F1 caters to European audiences and schedules events late in the day local time so people in England and Germany can watch the sport in prime time.

Nico Rosberg was fastest in Q1 for Mercedes, with Fernando Alonso second for Ferrari and Romain Grosjean third in his Lotus-Renault.

Meantime, in Florida, Marcel Fassler of Switzerland, driving an Audi hybrid, will start from pole for Saturday’s 12 Hours of Sebring sports car classic.

Sebring marks the beginning of the 2013 American Le Mans Series season, which will also be its last (see below for details of the inspiring new name for the merged ALMS-Grand Am series that will start doing business next year).

Fassler’s car was only 0.009 seconds ahead of the sister Audi hybrid driven by Allan McNish. Audi, which is seeking its 11th Sebring victory, was the first manufacturer to win a major sports race with diesel power in 2006. The hybrid was the first to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans a year ago.

Gianmaria Bruni in a Ferrari won pole in the GT class. Ryan Briscoe in a Honda development car will start first in P2. Colin Braun and Andy Lally were fastest in the two Challenge classes.

Canadians: Mark Wilkins of Toronto, in the Prototype Challenge class, is on a team that will go off 12th overall; David Ostella, Maple, PC, 16th; Kyle Marcelli, Barrie, Chris Cumming, Vancouver, PC, 17th; Paul Dalla Lana, Toronto, GT, 23rd; Kuno Wittmer, Montreal, GT, 25th.

Forty-two cars will start. You can watch the action on Speed Channel, starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

– The Audi hybrid aside, the really interesting car at Sebring this weekend will be the Deltawing, which is being relaunched without the help of most of the people who developed it in the first place.

Gone are Ben Bowlby, the designer, All American Racers (Dan Gurney) who built it and Nissan, who powered it. Michelin has been replaced by Bridgestone and Mazda is providing the engines.

The only constant is Dr. Don Panoz, who has been behind it from the start.

It raced twice last year — at the Le Mans 24 hours, where it crashed out, and at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, where it finished fifth overall. After this weekend’s 12 Hours of Sebring, it is scheduled to race twice more in the ALMS this season, at Laguna Seca and Baltimore.

We should all cross our fingers and hope that Dr. Panoz, who used to own Mosport, will have a change of heart in July and bring it to the last ALMS race to be run at what is now known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

I suspect he’s using the money he made by selling Mosport to keep the Deltawing project going. So . . .

– The name of the new sports car series, which will debut at the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, is United SportsCar Racing (USR).

As well as announcing the name of the new series, the class names for 2014 were also announced. They are:

The Prototype (P) class, combining Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototypes plus the ALMS’ P2 and Deltawing cars;

The Prototype Challenge (PC), retained from the current ALMS class structure;

The GT Le Mans (GTLM), consisting of the ALMS’ current GT class;

The GT Daytona (GTD), consisting of Grand-Am’s current GT class and the ALMS’s current GTC class;

The GX, coming over from the current Grand-Am.

– Kyle Busch won the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol, setting a track record in the process. Kasey Kahne will start beside him on the front row.

– Earlier at Sebring, in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda (whew!) support races, 18-year-old Scott Hargrove of Vancouver won the opening race of the season while Garett Grist of Grimsby finished second. In the second race, Hargrove was second and Grist finished fifth.

In a release, Grist – who drives for Andretti Autosport – said he’d enjoyed Sebring but was really looking forward to next weekend in St. Petersburg where the F2000 series will be on the undercard for the IZOD IndyCar Series opener.

Speaking of the second race, Grist said: “We had a good starting spot in third, we made our way to become the leader on Lap 2. I made the pass for first, then the yellow came out. I lost some ground after the yellow flag but the last two laps, the car came in really well and really fast.

“St. Pete will be my first time on a street course so that should be an interesting learning experience. I’m already looking forward to getting back in the car.”

Hargrove leads the championship heading into St. Pete.

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