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.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”