Vettel fights off Lotus challenge to win home grand prix

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Sebastian Vettel has won the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring after a stunning performance that saw him stave off Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean to claim his first win on home soil.

The German driver took the lead at the start of the race and never looked back, although Lotus’ strategy did appear to threaten Red Bull’s dominance, nor was Vettel’s cause aided by a safety car following a bizarre incident.

The start saw Red Bull display just why they are three-time world champions, launching off the line as both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber passed pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton into turn one, who immediately had to fend off Raikkonen behind. Ferrari made a good start as Felipe Massa leapfrogged Daniel Ricciardo, but Fernando Alonso could not do the same and they both began to drop back from the leaders as they ran on the medium compound. Things soon went from bad to worse for Massa though, with the Brazilian spinning at turn one and stopping on the inside of the corner, ending his race there.

Pirelli had predicted that the first round of stops would come early on, and it turned out to be the case as Hamilton pitted on lap 6 in order to try to get the jump on the Red Bulls. Vettel managed to maintain his advantage, putting Rosberg between himself and Hamilton, but there was a disaster in the Red Bull garage as a problem with Webber’s wheel saw him lose an entire lap as well as sending a Pirelli bouncing along the pit lane. Hamilton could not pass Rosberg, falling into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen whose teammate, Romain Grosjean, was setting a blistering pace at the front as Vettel also charged in P3 behind Alonso. Ferrari soon pitted their sole remaining driver despite not even meeting half of Pirelli’s prediction for the medium tire. Grosjean gave up the lead when he stopped, but the Lotus emerged an excellent P3 ahead of the Rosberg-Hamilton-Raikkonen battle, easily passing second-placed Button on his outlap. The Frenchman then set about catching Vettel; a task many have tried and failed to complete over the past few seasons.

Mercedes’ tire troubles emerged once again as Hamilton dropped behind Raikkonen and came under heavy pressure from Alonso for P5, eventually pitting for fresh rubber once his Pirelli’s had given up. Jenson Button was having no such problems, going deep into the race on his first set of mediums before finally pitting on lap 22. Jules Bianchi’s race came to an early end thanks to an engine failure, leaving plumes of smoke across the track, but his Marussia then began to roll down hill onto the circuit, requiring a safety car. This triggered the second round of stops with Vettel maintaining his lead over Grosjean and Raikkonen.

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On the restart, Webber managed to move up to P15 after unlapping himself under the safety car, but Sergio Perez faced a stiffer challenge from Pastor Maldonado in the battle for 8th. Vettel, Grosjean and Raikkonen all exchanged fastest lap times as the Lotus drivers closed on the home favorite. Struggling to find a way past, Grosjean opted to pit on lap 40 for the final time, trying to utilize the undercut but Vettel pitted just one lap later, which released Raikkonen into the lead. The Finnish driver did not react in kind, instead staying out and setting personal best after personal best in order to try and create a gap. In the meantime, Nico Hulkenberg slipped past Rosberg for P10 and the final points-paying position, bringing some delight to the troubled Sauber team. Hamilton soon followed as his teammate suffered with heavy tire wear before the Briton passed Hulkenberg and began to catch compatriot Paul di Resta.

Raikkonen eventually had to bail and pitted for fresh tires, coming out behind Vettel and Grosjean on the softer compound ahead of Alonso who also took on options. Both drivers began to put in some quick lap times, catching the leading pair lap by lap. Thanks to DRS, Raikkonen closed right up to Grosjean before passing at the chicane with five laps to go. Grosjean soon fell back, allowing Alonso to close. Raikkonen continued to cut Vettel’s lead, with the gap standing at just one second with two laps to go.

However, it was not enough as Sebastian Vettel finally broke his July curse by winning for the first time in the month, as well as winning his maiden home race. Lotus will be delighted to have completed the podium after Grosjean held on ahead of Alonso, whilst Lewis Hamilton recovered well to finish 5th ahead Button and a charging Mark Webber. Sergio Perez, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg completed the points.

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.