Weekend round-up: GRAND-AM championship gets tighter

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This weekend, Formula One staged a chaotic and exciting British Grand Prix while Sprint Cup continued its charge through the summer with a visit to Kentucky. But they weren’t the only series racing this past weekend…

ACTION EXPRESS TAKES IT AT THE GLEN

The GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series got back to work at Watkins Glen International with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, and as you would expect of a long endurance race, there were plenty of twists and turns. But the battle still came down to the wire, with former open-wheeler Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette hanging on by less than three-tenths of a second over the fast-closing Michael Valiante in the No. 3 8Star Motorsports Corvette. For AXR’s No. 5 combo of Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, it’s their second consecutive victory in GRAND-AM.

As for the Daytona Prototype championship, it got even tighter than before. Opening-lap problems for the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing duo of Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor took them five laps off the pace, and while they eventually made up four of those laps in an eventual 10th place finish, they’ve now fallen into a tie for the points lead, 194-194, with the No. 2 Starworks team of Ryan Dalziel and Alex Popow (who finished eighth with IndyCar’s Sebastien Bourdais after extensive time at the front). Fittipaldi is four points back after his victory, and the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings team (Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty) have dropped to fourth in the standings at 189 points after suffering a suspension failure on Lap 38 on Sunday.

In the GT class, the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro team of John Edwards and Robin Liddell took their fourth win in the last five events, while in GX, the No. 00 Speedsource Mazda trio of Joel Miller, Tristan Nunez and Yojiro Terada earned top honors.

SEBASTIEN LOEB SHATTERS PIKES PEAK RECORD

Nine-time World Rally Championship title-holder Sebastien Loeb annihilated the old track record at Sunday’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, throwing down a run of 8 minutes, 13.878 seconds in a Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak car. That eclipsed the former mark by over a minute and a half.

“There was a lot of pressure to have to achieve a big project,” Loeb said to the Colorado Springs (Colo.) Gazette. “I love the people behind it, and I was really happy with my time.”

The previous record holder, Rhys Millen, was second to Loeb in the Unlimited Class with a time of 9 minutes, 2.192 seconds in a Hyundai PM580T, while Jean-Philippe Dayraut was third with a time of 9 minutes, 42.740 seconds in a 2011 Mini Countryman.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.