Vettel dominates Belgian GP to claim 5th win of 2013

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Belgian Grand Prix in emphatic style after jumping pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton at the start of the race and rarely being challenged from there on in.

The German driver’s pace was on another level to that of the Mercedes, and it was actually Fernando Alonso who – despite starting P9 – posed the greatest challenge to the defending world champion. However, the pace of the Ferrari F138 meant that the Spanish driver was never really in contention for the victory, although it was a sparkling performance from the two-time world champion to finish second.

Off the grid, Hamilton made a clean getaway whilst Mark Webber endured another disastrous start to fall down to sixth from third. His teammate, Vettel, managed to hold onto second place through La Source before passing Hamilton at the end of the Kemmel straight and proceeded to open up the gap. In the other Mercedes, Nico Rosberg, was a steady third ahead of Jenson Button for McLaren and a fast-starting Fernando Alonso who had started down in ninth. Alonso soon made use of his DRS and KERS to pass Button into Les Combes, moving up to P4, before making the same move on Rosberg just two laps later. The hero of qualifying, Giedo van der Garde, managed to stay in position to begin with but, along with the Marussias, soon dropped towards the back of the pack. Five-time winner in Belgium Kimi Raikkonen was made to work by Nico Hulkenberg for P8, but the Finn eventually passed the Sauber despite suffering from high brake wear. The team subsequently elected to pit the German driver early, aiming for a two-stop strategy.

Hulkenberg’s example was soon followed as Lewis Hamilton became the first of the front runners to bail and take on fresh tires. At McLaren, Sergio Perez was forced into pitting after making an aggressive move on Grosjean and receiving a drive-through penalty. Alonso had been cutting the gap to Hamilton, and he quickly set about catching the Briton after his first stop by quickly disposing of Grosjean. The Ferrari soon made it past at La Source, and Alonso pulled off a brilliant defensive move to hold onto the position despite Hamilton using DRS. After his stop, the Vettel’s lead had been cut but he still looked comfortable out in front, and he soon re-opened the gap to over seven seconds.

As Vettel streamed away at the front, there was some great racing in the midfield as Adrian Sutil made a brave pass on Esteban Gutierrez on the run up to Eau Rouge, while Grosjean managed to go far enough into the race that he could consider stopping just once. Suffering from brake problems, Raikkonen attempted a pass on Massa into the Bus Stop chicane and went straight on, giving Lotus no option but to retire the car thus ending his remarkable run of twenty-seven consecutive point scoring finishes.

Among the leaders, Hamilton was once again the first to stop and he was followed by Alonso two laps later. Vettel managed to go deeper into the race and emerged from his final stop still leading from the Ferrari. In the midfield, Pastor Maldonado and Paul di Resta made contact at the chicane, sending the Force India into the wall and out of the race.  However, with no safety car required, Alonso’s only hope was outpacing Vettel on track. However, The German driver was given the hurry-up by his engineer in case rain hit in the closing stages of the race, whilst Button was enjoying a good race in P6 as he went deep into the race on the prime tire. Just ahead of him, Webber and Rosberg were duelling for fourth place, but the Australian driver was forced to bide his time during his final appearance as an F1 driver at Spa-Francorchamps.

Gutierrez and Maldonado both received drive-through penalties late on for their misdemeanours, whilst last year’s Spa bad boy Romain Grosjean made his one-stop strategy work well, but he could not hold off a late-charging Felipe Massa in the battle for seventh. Just to underline his supremacy at Spa, Vettel posted the fastest lap of the race late on only to be told to ease off by his engineer, Rocky. Eventually though, nothing could stop the German driver as he romped home ahead of Alonso by 16.8 seconds.

Mercedes will be pleased to have finished high in the order with Hamilton third and Rosberg fourth, with the German driver holding off a stiff challenge from Webber late on. Jenson Button also put in an impressive performance to finish sixth ahead of Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, whilst Adrian Sutil was the sole surviving Force India in ninth. Daniel Ricciardo recovered from a disastrous qualifying to finish 10th for Toro Rosso.

The result sees Vettel claim his fifth win of the season and extend his championship lead to 46 points. With eight races to go, the championship is far from over, but Red Bull appear to be going from strength-to-strength.

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

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