The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Webber fastest as Red Bull dominates 1st practice

Posted: 24 Mar 2011 11:10 PM PDT

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP): Red Bull's Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel got the better of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso's to dominate Friday's first practice session for Sunday's season-opening Formula One Australian Grand Prix.

Webber had a quickest time of 1 minute, 26.831 seconds in cool conditions at an Albert Park circuit left slick by overnight rain, though all drivers used dry-weather tires.

The Australian, in front of his home crowd, was a quarter of a second faster than teammate and reigning world champion Vettel as Red Bull continued on from its impressive championship year and form from winter testing.

Alonso was third in 1.27.749, while Mercedes lived up to its promise to challenge the top teams in Melbourne as Nico Rosberg finished fourth fastest in a session in which all drivers tried out the new adjustable rear wings allowed this season.

McLaren's last-minute decision to rebuild its exhaust system did not yield immediate dividends, with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton finishing sixth and seventh respectively.

Michael Schumacher was eighth fastest in his Mercedes, while Filipe Massa posted a disappointing 11th after losing control of his Ferrari twice - almost hitting Alonso the second time.

Williams' Rubens Barrichello was fifth, and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi posted the ninth-fastest time, a place ahead of Renault's Vitaly Petrov.

The session got off to a slow start when first man out - newly appointed Lotus test driver Karun Chandhok - spun on the third corner, damaging the front end. The incident prompted a suspension of practice and the Indian did not return to the track to post a time.

"There was no problem with Karun's car that caused his crash, just got caught out by the slippery track," Lotus said on the team Twitter feed. "That's racing, these things happen."

Hispania, which spent most of the night and early morning making modifications to its cars, also did not complete a lap, meaning its 2011 car had still not turned a wheel, with the team having used last year's car in preseason testing.

With the 107 percent rule back in place for this season - meaning cars that finish outside seven percent of the fastest time in the first qualifying session cannot enter the race - Hispania is facing an uphill task to have its car up to speed.

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N. Zealand and Japan look to lift gloom in HK Sevens

Posted: 24 Mar 2011 06:19 PM PDT

HONG KONG: New Zealand and Japan will try to ease the gloom surrounding their earthquake-hit countries with strong performances at the Hong Kong Sevens, while Samoa are aiming to repeat last year's stunning win.

Organisers said Asian power Japan and mighty New Zealand, who are nine-time winners of the vibrant annual showpiece and jointly top the standings with England, could buoy home spirits after twin disasters in the past month.

"Of course they are extremely sad about what has happened," Trevor Gregory, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, told AFP.

"But they want to have a good tournament and lift the spirits of people back home."

New Zealand's hosting of this year's Rugby World Cup was thrown into disarray by a Feb 22 quake which claimed an estimated 182 lives in rugby-mad Christchurch and forced the rescheduling of games away from the city.

But the disaster paled when Japan was rocked by a monster earthquake and tsunami on March 11, leaving more than 25,000 feared dead and prompting a major nuclear scare.

New Zealand are also vying to avenge their painful loss to Samoa in last year's dramatic Hong Kong final. They face South Korea in their first match today in a pool that also includes France and Portugal.

"It is really important to do well here," said Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens. "If you trip up early it could be a real struggle to get back on top."

The Samoans grabbed the Hong Kong crown by a nail-biting three-point margin in the Cup final last year in front of a 40,000-capacity crowd, a vital win on the way to their first IRB Sevens World Series title.

But Samoa's coach said the heat will be on as reigning title-holders, after last year's event saw three other previous Hong Kong winners - England, New Zealand and Fiji - reach the Cup semi-finals.

"It brings a lot of pressure, but it's part and parcel of what we have achieved," Stephen Betham told reporters.

Hong Kong is the fifth stop on the eight-leg Sevens World Series with further tournaments to come in Australia, England and Scotland. Thousands of foreign fans will visit the city for the three-day, 24-team tournament. – AFP

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