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MotorSportsTalk’s F1 2013 mid-season review – part two

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Following on from part one of MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season review, in part two the Formula One writers detail and dissect their top three stories from the season so far – be it for the right or wrong reasons.

Tony di Zinno’s top three

Tiregate. Unfortunately the dominant story throughout the first half of the season.

Mercedes’ one-lap pace vs. tire falloff. They’ve been great in qualifying all year but not able to sustain in the races. Still, Rosberg’s been great and Hamilton’s made us all look dumb for deriding his move from McLaren.

Webber retiring. One of the great one-liners in the sport, and the oldest driver on the grid, heads to the WEC with Porsche. Personally, I’ll miss his candor.

Christopher Estrada’s top three

Pirelli’s problems. Formula One’s tire manufacturer was charged with making a tire that could liven up the proceedings on Sundays. That indeed happened, but in a way that nobody expected or wanted. Their issues peaked with multiple failures in the British Grand Prix, which led to a rollout of new tires that married this year’s compounds with last year’s design. One hopes that, as a result, the second half of the F1 calendar will feature more emphasis on where it ought to be: the racing.

Mercedes’ evolution. Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel are still chugging along, but I’d say that what’s been happening for the Silver Arrows in 2013 has made them the most fascinating team to watch. Mercedes came in with high hopes after attaining the services of Lewis Hamilton. But for a good part of the first half, the headlines were instead focused on the ascension of teammate Nico Rosberg. However, Hamilton’s win in Hungary may have proven that the team’s finally neutralized the tire problems which had blunted their qualifying prowess. This story is most definitely, to be continued…

Who will replace Webbo? Mark Webber’s move to sports car racing in 2014 spells the end of a solid F1 career that has seen some considerable triumphs. It also opens up a prized seat at Red Bull alongside the ruthless Vettel, and that’s led to lots of talk as to who will get the call – Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have all found themselves dubbed as potential candidates. Who’s it going to be?

Luke Smith’s top three

The curious case of Pirelli. It’s been quite a year for Pirelli and we’re only half way through the season. Firstly they were deemed guilty of producing a tire that was ‘too bad’ for the drivers. So, to correct this, they held a private test with Mercedes which was eventually deemed illegal. Then, the safety of the drivers was put at risk at Silverstone, prompting another tire revision in Germany before eventually bringing back last year’s constructions. What next?

The demise of McLaren and Williams. The two dominant teams of the late ’80s and early ’90s have both faltered greatly so far this season thanks to two terrible cars. It has certainly spiced up the racing in the midfield, and it gives their drivers extra impetus to impress in the second half of the year. A winless year for McLaren would be bad, but a podium-less year? Unthinkable.

Marussia and Caterham’s battle. If you have read my work on MST, you will know that I’m a big fan of the backmarkers. Caterham and Marussia’s battle is raging on throughout the season, and both Bianchi and Pic have the makings of fine drivers in the future. With nine races to go, Caterham need to work hard if they are to finish tenth in the constructors’, while Marussia need to bounce back as soon as possible.

Keith Collantine’s top three

The team orders row in Malaysia. I thought there was a lot of hypocrisy in some of the coverage of Vettel refusing to heed Red Bull’s instructions for him not to pass Webber in the closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix. The fact that two years ago at Silverstone Webber conducted himself in exactly the same way Vettel did (albeit unsuccessfully) was widely ignored. That said, Vettel did himself few favours by first appearing to repent his actions, then insisting Webber didn’t deserve to win the race. He should have stuck to the latter view from the start.

Webber leaving F1. I don’t doubt that Webber’s frustration with life at Red Bull has played some role in his desire to move on to pastures new. But don’t underestimate the sincerity of his misgivings over the direction F1 is heading in with designed-to-degrade tires and, next year, tight restrictions on fuel use. I expect he’ll be more vocal about it once he’s joined Porsche in the World Endurance Championship, which is largely free of the gimmicks F1 has got itself hooked on.

Ecclestone indicted. Bernie Ecclestone himself has admitted Formula One owners CVC Capital Partners may have to replace him if he were found guilty in his bribery case in Germany. With the news of Ecclestone being formally indicted, his four-decade spell in charge of F1 is not yet at an end, but this could be the beginning of the end.

IMSA: PR1/Mathiasen, The Heart of Racing score PC, GTD Monterey wins

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Sunday’s second of two two-hour Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix events was a calmer, cleaner affair at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona classes, featuring both polesitting entries scoring the wins in the latest IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.

The PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team took its first win since winning last year’s Petit Le Mans, and first in a sprint race since incidentally, the last PC/GTD combined race at Lime Rock Park in July.

Robert Alon scored the pole in the team’s No. 52 Oreca FLM09 entry and ran consistently in second behind James French in the opening stint. Once Tom Kimber-Smith took over the car at pit stops, “TKS” controlled the race despite the advances of Renger van der Zande from Starworks Motorsport.

“Very early on Bobby (Oergel, team principal) said, ‘Start saving fuel,'” Kimber-Smith told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam post-race. “It was hard to save with someone trying to chase down. If he was close enough he would have given me a go. We held on for the end. We needed this win; we needed it for the championship.”

Van der Zande shared the No. 8 Oreca FLM09 with Alex Popow and CORE autosport mirrored the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP in starting from pit lane after being late to the grid, serving a penalty but rebounding to a podium finish. Jon Bennett and Colin Braun were in the CORE entry and Braun put in a sterling drive to secure a podium.

GTD saw seven different manufacturers in the top seven positions – Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Dodge and Lamborghini – although the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R was peerless up front with Alex Riberas and Mario Farnbacher dominating from pole to lead flag-to-flag in the 79-lap, two-hour race.

Porsche’s 911 GT3 R has a handful of World Challenge wins with EFFORT Racing, but this was its first in an endurance race (albeit only a two-hour race, but who’s counting).

Scuderia Corsa parlayed a front row starting position into its second second place finish of the day; the GTLM 488 GTE was second earlier, and the GT3 variant was second today in GTD with Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen.

TRG-AMR, which missed Sebring, rebounded nicely with a new lineup of James Davison and Brandon Davis to end third in the No. 007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Both team veterans secured the team’s first podium of the year.

PC and GTD resume in Detroit the first weekend in June.

Pericak praises Ford fuel mileage as new GT wins in Monterey

67 Ford GT
Photo: Ford Performance
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The Ford EcoBoost V6 twin-turbo engine put in the back of the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs has been developed for years with Ganassi’s Ford-Riley DP program.

Sunday in the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix, the first of two two-hour races, the new Ford banked its first win courtesy of that engine making some incredible fuel mileage.

Richard Westbrook brought the No. 67 Ford GT home for his second straight win in Monterey, having also won overall here last year with Michael Valiante in a Corvette DP.

Westbrook took over the No. 67 car from Ryan Briscoe and proceeded to run 52 laps on a single fuel stint, for an hour and 17 minutes into the two-hour race.

“We’ve been waiting for this win for a long time,” Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said post-race.

“I think it’s great that it came as a fuel economy win. It’s great for Ford EcoBoost, because that’s what it’s all about, but this is really a boost for the team going into Le Mans. We’ve been working up to this point to showcase the car’s durability and I think this is what the team needed to go to Le Mans.”

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. The bad thing is we don’t have much time to celebrate. Le Mans is coming fast.”

“It’s a great win for our employees who have been watching us and turning us on and it’s a good way to keep up the momentum going into the big race.”

Here’s quick reactions from the @CGRSportsCar and @FordPerformance Twitter accounts in the immediate aftermath:

Mercedes feared power unit issue would end Rosberg’s Russian GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the podium 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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Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff praised Nico Rosberg not only for his flawless display en route to winning Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, but also for managing an issue on his power unit that could have ended his race.

Mercedes has struggled with the reliability of its power unit so far this season, with defending champion Lewis Hamilton suffering failures in qualifying for both of the last two races.

Rosberg suffered a dip in pace midway through the second stint of the race in Sochi that saw his lead over Hamilton dip from 12 seconds to just 7.5 seconds.

Hamilton ultimately had to back off due to a water pressure issue on his own power unit, but Wolff revealed after the race that Rosberg also had to manage a problem on his car.

“That race was anything but plain sailing today – it was a pretty stressful experience to get both cars home, and there was a point when we thought neither of them might make it to the flag,” Wolff said.

“First of all, congratulations to Nico, he did a perfect job all weekend and controlled the race from the front once again. He didn’t put a foot wrong.

“When we faced an issue on the MGU-K during the middle part of the race, he was able to do all the necessary steps to keep it under control and bring it home.

“As for Lewis, he drove brilliantly. Some really good, aggressive passing manoeuvres and clever racing brought him to P2 – and he was just getting his head down to charge when we saw a water leak and he was losing water pressure.

“The only thing to do was ask him to back off to bring the car home and fortunately that meant the situation stabilized but cost him the chance of racing Nico. No doubt he will be thinking about what could have been today – but it was a fantastic recovery after such a tough moment in qualifying yesterday.

“A one-two finish is always something special and to be savoured, especially with the performance advantage we enjoyed this weekend. We are pushing hard this year and finding the limits of our car – but we need to get on top of our issues so the drivers can battle it out on track themselves.

“That’s what we all want to see and what we will be working hard to achieve in the coming days before Barcelona.”

IMSA: Popular wins for Shank Ligier Honda, Ganassi Ford in Monterey

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Two first-time 2016 winners emerged in the first of two two-hour IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races at the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Michael Shank Racing ended a four-year drought dating to 2012 in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, when the team won the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona, to win overall and in Prototype with Ozz Negri and John Pew in the team’s No. 60 Ligier JS P2 Honda.

“It was a Honda day at Laguna Seca,” the eponymous team owner, Shank, told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam in a not-so-subtle jab at their Japanese rivals, before confirming the team will miss the next round at Detroit owing to its 24 Hours of Le Mans preparation.

Meanwhile courtesy of a strategic gamble and an excellent amount of fuel saving, Richard Westbrook brought the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT home to its first win since the car’s debut earlier this year at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Westbrook took over from Ryan Briscoe on the team’s first and only pit stop, then proceeded to run 52 laps on a stint to the finish, making it home on fumes.

Two quick passes by Negri following the second restart of the race on Lap 29 saw him emerge at the front of the field, having restarted in third.

“I feel at home when I’m working with them, working with John,” Negri told IMSA Radio. “I’ve been going at it and thinking about it since my first practice. It worked! We pushed hard on the out laps.”

Negri got around first Eric Curran for second in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, then race leader Sean Rayhall in the No. 0 DeltaWing DWC13 coupe shortly thereafter.

Negri’s closest challenger had been the polesitting No. 55 Mazda Prototype, started by Tristan Nunez and finished by Jonathan Bomarito.

But fuel issues on the first stop and then a spin by Bomarito when just behind Negri with just under 50 minutes remaining halted that car’s charge. The team opted not to take tires on the second stop and Bomarito fell back to fourth the remainder of the race.

Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens came from a pre-race penalty assessed for being late to the grid, starting from pit lane, to finish second after a great drive in their No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP. Goossens held off Curran for second; Curran shared his car with Dane Cameron.

After the No. 55 Mazda and DeltaWing, contact between Joao Barbosa and Ricky Taylor took those two Corvette DPs out of contention and the No. 70 Mazda, then driven by Joel Miller, lost drive up the Corkscrew with a failed oil pump.

The GTLM race was a bit more straightforward; Westbrook got around teammate Joey Hand in the final 10 minutes to take the race lead.

Hand and Antonio Garcia, in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, both pitted when trying to make the race on one stop. Westbrook made it home.

“They’ve had a helluva 3-4 months,” Westbrook told IMSA Radio. “When they tell you a number it’s like, ‘You’re killing me.’ But you adapt to it. Car was good. It was so tight at the end. So relieved to achieve something so quickly. The future looks bright.”

Scuderia Corsa, which grabbed the pole in class, scored a GTLM career best second place with Daniel Serra and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE.

Porsche fought through pace issues all weekend to survive any trouble with its No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR, driven by Earl Bamber and Fred Makowiecki, to finish third.

GTLM is off until after Detroit owing to the Le Mans break, with its next race early July at Watkins Glen.