042213_Sofronas

PWC: Sofronas, GMG Audis off to flying start

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Two wins from the first three races of the Pirelli World Challenge season is hardly anything to scoff at. Then consider James Sofronas’ GMG Audi R8 hasn’t yet been the fastest car and the results are even more remarkable.

Sofronas, in both St. Petersburg’s second race and at Long Beach two weeks ago, has been in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the misfortune of his rivals in the GT class.

“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Sofronas told me at the Long Beach weekend. “At St. Pete we anticipated no yellows with no Touring Cars in the race. So we set the car up for long runs and tested on used tires.

“I think we had a stronger car there in the first race. We had a chance to do well but ran over too much rubber on the caution laps. Then on Sunday, we just bided our time, and then cars fell out. I’ve been on the other side of that plenty of times, and it was good to get the win without destroying the car.”

Sofronas’ GMG teammates include fellow Audi drivers Duncan Ende, Bret Curtis and Alex Welch, with Brent Holden (Porsche) and Bill Ziegler (Pontiac Solstice, GTS) in other cars. After testing the waters with the Audi a year ago, GMG is all in on the car this year.

“Our program is all customer-driven,” Sofronas explained. “They were all anxious to drive it when we started running it last year. I have five full-time race mechanics at our shop. They service the car, learn, study, prep, test, and I think it translated. We were thrown a few curveballs with upright changes, engine change, some suspension and bodywork damage. But the guys responded.

“Audi fans love the car,” he added. “They have wanted to see this thing run. Fans love it, drivers love it and the crew and team loves working on it.”

Beyond Audi, the efforts of WC Vision and the SCCA in tandem to attract GT3 machinery to the United States have made the collective car counts in GT boom this year. GTS, TC, and TCB aren’t slacking, either.

“It says a lot for the series,” said Sofronas. “There’s no question that (PWC President/CEO) Scott Bove is doing more to involve GT3 manufacturers. There’s Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, all out there. Audi started it and now Mercedes has come, hopefully McLaren and more. I’d love to see the full GT3 collection running in World Challenge.”

Kvyat comes under fire from Vettel, Ricciardo, paddock in Russia

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Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat put himself in the headlines and in the crosshairs for the second consecutive Grand Prix, although this time, his aggression appeared to get the better of him on home soil in Sochi, Russia.

Kvyat barged into Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at Turn 2, which left Vettel driving wounded for the next corner, but the German didn’t even make it much further because Kvyat hit him again at Turn 3.

The second blow took Vettel out of the race, his second first lap retirement in four races.

Kvyat was later assessed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for causing a collision. He ended his race in 15th after the messy day at the office.

While Kvyat could have been excused for going for it in Turn 1 at China two weeks ago, ultimately getting past Vettel inside to Vettel’s chagrin post-race, most agreed he was at fault on Sunday in Sochi for this incident.

Kvyat, meanwhile, was defiant when speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton post-race.

“Obviously in future days we’ll see a lot of clever comments from everyone,” the 22-year-old Russian told Buxton.

“My point of view, I locked my rear wheels. Simple as that. I didn’t brake too late. Ran into his back. Felt like someone pushed me from behind. Car was a bit of out of control.

“The main problem came in Turn 3, not Turn 2, when I think Sebastian had a problem with his car. He stopped very suddenly and I was just two meters behind him, and at that speed there was not much I can do to avoid. I apologize for ruining his race. But I’m human. His sudden deceleration was too much for me at that point at Turn 3.”

Vettel exploded on the radio in the immediate aftermath of the collision but was far more restrained and diplomatic when speaking to Buxton after he got taken out.

“Today it’s fairly obvious, he did a mistake again, obviously, it doesn’t help me now because I’m not in the car,” Vettel said.

“In the end we’re here to race. Massively pumped up. Had a super start, made progress into the second corner and got hit, then a second hit, which destroyed our race.”

Kvyat, meanwhile, continued with his point that he thought Vettel’s sudden slowing was more to blame for the Turn 3 contact.

“Exactly, yeah. Turn 3 is very fast. It wasn’t deliberate. Maybe after the first light contact in Turn 2, maybe there was problem with the car. To be sure he dropped his speed rate suddenly. I still expected to keep him. He was flat out util then.

“The stewards thought I crashed into him deliberately. The penalty was very harsh… but probably fair enough. It cost us points. These things happen and I usually learn from them.”

While Vettel was the main driver taken out in the opening turns, he wasn’t the only one who had his race compromised. Nico Hulkenberg and Rio Haryanto also retired in the melee.

And worse for Kvyat, his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo also got caught up in the scrap. Ricciardo, the usually ebullient Australian, expressed his Kvyat frustration to Buxton post-race.

“It was a first lap incident that shaped the race for us,” said Ricciardo, who finished outside the points in 11th, his first non-score (and non-fourth place) this year.

“From then we tried putting the medium (tires) on it but it didn’t work. Too much damage. I saw the right hand side of the car and there was a lot going on. First lap, and people getting a bit impatient I guess.”

Asked whether he felt Kvyat owed him an apology Ricciardo replied, “Yeah. I expect an apology. He owes it to a few people today.

“I saw a bit of a replay during the safety car. Tried to look at the screens. I have a feeling that’s what happened. I’ll watch again, but it seems, that had us over.

“We’ll see. It’s up to him.”

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner also appeared less than pleased with Kvyat, judging from quotes via Mobil 1 The Grid, and linked below:

When Kvyat was told Ricciardo wanted an apology from him, he replied thusly:

“Probably the whole paddock wants an apology from me, but we’ll speak inside the team after analyzing.

“It’s easy to attack now. Go on, attack me, no problem.”

Hamilton: No doubt I could have won Russian GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP collects his trophy for second from Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia on the podium next to Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says there isn’t a doubt in his mind that he could have won Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix had it not been for a water pressure issue on his car during the race.

Hamilton was forced to start 10th in Sochi after suffering a failure on his power unit after Q2 in qualifying on Saturday.

The Briton made a good start to run fifth at the end of a messy first lap before picking off Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas to sit second behind teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap between them stood at 12 seconds after the pit stops, but Hamilton was able to whittle this down to just 7.5 seconds with over 20 laps of the race still to run.

However, Mercedes told Hamilton to back off after a water leak emerged on his car, allowing Rosberg to ease to his seventh straight win by 25 seconds.

“Not the easiest first corner but all races have been the same so far,” Hamilton said on the podium after the race.

“Really happy for the team and I’ve got the points.”

When asked if he had the pace to win the race, Hamilton said: “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I could win it.

“I had the pace, but I had a problem with the engine again so I had to back off. Just trying to look after it.”

Hamilton heads to the start of the European season in Spain on May 15 with a 43-point deficit to Rosberg, but with 17 races remaining in the season, the championship race remains firmly alive.

Rosberg: Hamilton will come back from early season struggles

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Nico Rosberg may have extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship to 43 points in Russia on Sunday, but he remains wary of the threat posed by Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton heading into the rest of the season.

Rosberg went wire-to-wire in Sochi on Sunday to claim his seventh straight grand prix victory, a record that only three other drivers have matched in the history of F1.

Hamilton battled his way from P10 on the grid to finish second behind Rosberg, but was powerless to stop the German from extending his title advantage.

However, Rosberg is refusing to get ahead of himself, saying that there are still 17 races remaining in the season and plenty of chances for Hamilton to fight back.

“A great job from Lewis to come up to second so quickly from down in 10th,” Rosberg said.

“I was always aware of what he was doing and trying to keep the gap as big as possible.

“It’s four races from 21. Lewis is going to come back of course. He’s still on it and motivated as ever. Early days. Just taking it race by race.

“Looking forward to Spain now. We have such an incredible car that’s amazing to drive. Just want to try and win races.”

Rosberg recorded his first career ‘grand slam’ by scoring pole position, the fastest lap and the race win while leading every lap, maintaining a rapid pace to the very end despite enjoying a sizeable lead.

“I just like to do it for concentration,” Rosberg said of his late pace.

“If you slow down you make mistakes. I was enjoying it out there, just flat out to the end.

“[It] felt very special out there. Very happy. Thanks to everybody. Thanks to all of you in Russia. The sport is growing here. 60,000 of you, amazing. Great atmosphere. It’s been a great weekend.”

Rosberg goes lights-to-flag in Russia for seventh straight F1 win

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Nico Rosberg’s blistering run of form continued on Sunday in Sochi as he claimed his seventh successive Formula 1 race win by dominating the Russian Grand Prix.

Rosberg recorded his first F1 ‘grand slam’ by leading every lap of the race from pole position en route to victory while also setting the fastest lap, allowing him to extend his championship lead to 43 points.

Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton capitalized on a messy first lap to rise to second after the sole round of pit stops, only for a water pressure issue to force him to ease his pace and settle for second place.

While Rosberg went relatively unchallenged at the front, the race in the midfield offered a number of fascinating scraps at the Sochi Autodrom as Ferrari and Red Bull both came unstuck.

Rosberg made a good start to hold onto his lead on the long run down to Turn 2, with Kimi Raikkonen battling his way past Valtteri Bottas for second place. Just behind, Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat diced for position much as they did in China, this time resulting in contact.

Vettel was punted from behind by Kvyat, sending him into the wall at Turn 3 and bringing his race to an early end. Daniel Ricciardo also got caught in the incident, leaving both Red Bulls requiring repairs, while Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierez tangled further back.

Having battled his way up to fifth amid the chaos, Hamilton was able to jump up to fourth when the race returned to green on lap four. Bottas was able to re-pass Raikkonen for second, with Hamilton quickly latching onto the back of the Finnish duo. The Briton quickly disposed of Raikkonen, but struggled to get close to Bottas thanks to the straight line speed of the Williams car, allowing Rosberg to escape up the road.

By the time Bottas pitted and released Hamilton into second place, Rosberg’s lead stood at 14 seconds, putting him in total control of the race. Mercedes reacted to Williams’ move by bringing in Hamilton one lap later, only for him to emerge from the pits once again staring at Bottas’ rear wing.

This time around, Hamilton wasted little time. After taking a lap to warm his tires up, Hamilton dived down the inside of Bottas at Turn 2 to move into net second place, leaving only Rosberg ahead once the pit stop cycle was complete. Raikkonen’s decision to go four laps longer paid off as he passed Bottas once again, while Rosberg was the last of the front-runners to pit, emerging with a lead of 12 seconds over Hamilton.

Hamilton refused to back down in the battle for the win though. With tire wear being low around the Sochi Autodrom, none of the leaders had to pit again, leaving Hamilton to try and catch Rosberg without gaining time through the pits. He duly delivered a set of blistering lap times to cut the gap down to just 7.5 seconds as Rosberg lost chunks of time through the first sector on each lap.

However, Hamilton’s charge was duly stunted when Mercedes informed him of a water pressure issue on his car with 15 laps remaining. From here, the focus became getting Hamilton to the finish, leaving Rosberg to manage his pace and his car at the head of the pack.

It proved to be a hassle-free end to the race for Rosberg, who crossed the line after 53 laps to score his seventh victory in a row, a feat only matched by three drivers in F1 history.

Hamiton was informed that the issue had stabilized later in the race, but Rosberg was already too far away, leaving the Briton to settle for second place at the checkered flag. After four races, the deficit to Rosberg now stands at 43 points, leaving Hamilton with a mountain to climb heading to the start of the European season in Spain later this month.

Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium for Ferrari after opening up a comfortable gap to Bottas after his pit stop, going some way to make up for Vettel’s retirement. Bottas led Williams’ charge in P4 ahead of teammate Felipe Massa as both continued their points-scoring streaks.

Fernando Alonso chalked up his first points of the 2016 season by finishing sixth for McLaren, keeping himself out of trouble while most of the midfield got tangled up at the first corner. Jenson Button made it a doubly delightful day for the team by finishing 10th after passing Carlos Sainz Jr. for P10 with four laps remaining, marking his first points of 2015.

The result marked a significant breakthrough for the team as it finally delivered on the promise it had shown in the early races, while it also ended a pointless run dating back to last year’s United States Grand Prix.

Kevin Magnussen was another driver to pick up a ‘first’ in Russia as he claimed Renault’s maiden points since returning to F1 as a constructor in 2016. A good start followed by a consistent pace allowed him to finish seventh, while teammate Jolyon Palmer missed out on his first F1 points in P13.

Haas returned to the points after one race away courtesy of Romain Grosjean, who was another beneficiary from the early drama. Canny tire management allowed the Frenchman to finish eighth after fending off a charging Sergio Perez in the final stages of the race, leaving the Force India driver to settle for P9 at the flag.

After being caught up in the first-lap drama and gambling on medium tires, Daniel Ricciardo fought his way back to 12th at the finish despite being forced into a second pit stop. Teammate Kvyat was hit with a penalty for causing the Vettel shunt, limiting him to a 15th-place finish behind Sainz and Marcus Ericsson.

Felipe Nasr crossed the line 16th in the second Sauber ahead of Esteban Gutierrez, who was also penalized for hitting Hulkenberg at the first corner. Pascal Wehrlein was the last classified finisher for Manor in P18. Max Verstappen and Rio Haryanto joined Vettel and Hulkenberg on the sidelines, failing to finish the race.