Tonight’s penalties had an impact on the Chase for the Sprint Cup, with MWR pilot Martin Truex, Jr. getting knocked out of the Chase thanks to a 50-point penalty and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Newman subsequently elevated to the second Wild Card position.
But in 2007, MWR ran afoul of NASCAR on an equally big stage: The Daytona 500. Some of you may know it as the “jet fuel” saga.
Three days following the first round of qualifying for that year’s “Great American Race,” NASCAR ejected Waltrip’s crew chief, David Hyder, and MWR competition director Bobby Kennedy. That occurred after the intake manifold from Waltrip’s car had been confiscated when NASCAR officials found an illegal fuel additive inside of it during post-qualifying inspection.
After impounding the car, NASCAR gave its judgment and it was not a good one for MWR. Hyder and Kennedy were suspended indefinitely, with Hyder suffering an additional fine of $100,000. Just as big, Waltrip lost 100 driver points and his team lost 100 owner’s points.
Waltrip would ultimately qualify for that year’s Daytona 500 in a backup car, but not before his team had brought considerable embarrassment to themselves, to NASCAR, and to its car manufacturer, Toyota, which was making its then-Nextel Cup debut at that particular event.
“I don’t think we’ll ever put this behind us, but we’ll try to do better in the future,” a somber Waltrip said at the time according to The Associated Press.
Unfortunately for Waltrip, his team’s reputation appears certain to take a major hit again after NASCAR found MWR to have, in the words of vice president of competition Robin Pemberton, “attempted to manipulate the outcome” of Saturday’s Chase-deciding event at Richmond International Raceway.
“As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that,” Pemberton said in a NASCAR statement issued tonight.
Chimed in NASCAR president Mike Helton: “Our conversations about it were deep and we feel like we researched it very well. We talked at great length with the folks at Michael Waltrip Racing to try and get to the right spot and make the correct decision, and that’s what we feel like we have done.”
One day ago, we were pondering what NASCAR could do against such a controversy like the one that played out in Richmond. But with their swift and decisive reaction, NASCAR has made MWR an example for a second time in delivering a message to the rest of the garage: Maintain the integrity of the sport or suffer the consequences.
Rest assured, that message is ringing loud and clear this evening. And once more, MWR is paying a hefty price.
After a much-needed summer break, Formula 1 returns this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at the iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
From Eau Rouge and Radillon to Pouhons and Blanchimont, Spa features many of motorsport’s most fearsome and favored corners, loved by drivers and fans alike.
The F1 paddock returns from its break refreshed and recharged after a relentless run of four races in July that saw the balance of power change dramatically in the title race.
Lewis Hamilton entered July still trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship, but arrives in Spa with a 19-point lead and on a four-race win streak. Can he keep up his good form at Spa?
Here’s what to watch for this weekend in Belgium.
2016 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Lewis braced for grid penalty
If you following Lewis Hamilton on Snapchat, you’ll know that he’s had quite the summer break, jetting all over the world with his friends and having lots of fun in the process.
But don’t think for a second that Hamilton is distracted. He’s proved time and time again that he can live the high-life off-track and still excel on it. After shutting off from racing for a month, the Briton will be raring to go this weekend at Spa.
Hamilton is expected to take a grid penalty this weekend after taking a sixth component for his power unit, giving Rosberg the chance to cut the gap. However, as we’ve seen before, Lewis is more than capable of scything through the field – let’s see what he can do from the back.
Rosberg’s Spa hoodoo to continue?
Of all the tracks where Nico Rosberg could do with winning at, Spa is perhaps not the best choice. It was arguably where his title run in 2014 was dealt a killer-blow, and is a track where he is yet to win. Hamilton has always enjoyed an edge in Belgium.
The tide turned dramatically in July, leaving Rosberg with a summer break to consider how he can pick himself back up. For all of the claims in interviews that “it is what it is” and that Hamilton’s lead means little, Rosberg must do his talking on-track.
Another defeat to Hamilton – particularly embarrassing if the Briton does start last – could see him slip to more than one race win behind in the standings. If he is to emulate his father and become world champion, a win at Spa this weekend when the cards are stacked in his favor is needed.
A home-from-home race for Verstappen
Max Verstappen’s astonishing rise over the past couple of years is set to reach another high-point this weekend at Spa when an army of Dutch fans make the trip over the border to see their favorite son in action.
In the absence of a Dutch Grand Prix, Belgium offers the next-best-thing for those in the Netherlands. Officials at Spa said earlier this week that they are expecting their best-attended race in years thanks to Verstappen’s success during his relatively short time in F1.
Verstappen has scored three podium finishes in the last four races, and is well in the race for P3 in the drivers’ championship along with Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferrari pair. Red Bull was on the ascendance before the summer break – don’t expect some time off to have stunted that.
Ocon ready for F1 debut
Much as Stoffel Vandoorne’s F1 debut in Bahrain will probably be a memorable race in years to come when reflecting on when we first saw one of the sport’s top talents in action, this weekend will see Esteban Ocon enjoy his maiden start with Manor.
Ocon has been given the Manor seat after Rio Haryanto’s management failed to secure enough financial backing for him to see out the season, having spent the first half of 2016 in DTM with Mercedes.
The Frenchman is highly-rated after winning the FIA European F3 and GP3 titles in the past two years, and is being courted by Renault for an F1 seat in 2016. Keep an eye on him at Spa this weekend.
Is Spa really Spa without rain?
This was a question posed over the FIA World Endurance Championship round at Spa earlier this year when the circuit bathed in bright, warm sunshine all weekend long.
Spa is renowned for its unpredictable and dreary weather – yet this weekend, we look set for nothing but sun if the weather forecasts are to be believed.
It should make things easier for the teams when it comes to strategy and gathering data. That said, this is Spa: things could change very, very quickly.
2016 Belgian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps Corners: 19 Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009) Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft 2015 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:47.197 2015 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:52.416 DRS Zones: T19 to T1, T4 to T5
2016 Belgian Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports App 4am ET 8/26 Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 8/26 Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 5am ET 8/27 Qualifying: NBC Sports App 8am ET 8/27 (re-air 1pm ET, NBCSN) Race: NBCSN 7am ET 8/28
This weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway is a good one for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship; it gives the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes a race to shine while the Prototype classes (Prototype & Prototype Challenge) are off for the week.
Series previews from IMSA are posted below:
Corvette Racing takes a two-race winning streak and the points lead in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class into Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, Round 10 of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (live, FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET).
“I have lot of great racing memories at VIR, and it would be great to add another with our fifth win of the season in the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette,” said Milner, a native of Leesburg who now resides in Ashburn. “This is a track that is really fun to drive. It’s incredibly fast, it’s flowing and has a couple of really good elevation changes. A GT-only race is a nice dynamic for us, where we have a chance for an overall win. The most important thing we can do, though, is score as many points as possible.”
After opening the season with GTLM victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, Milner and Gavin saw their lead trimmed during a midseason three-race winning streak by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook. The Corvette returned to the top of the victory podium at Lime Rock Park, and now leads Ford by 13 points, 264-251. Third in the points is the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, which has three podium finishes this season.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing will be looking to rebound from the late-race disappointment at Road America in the VIR debut of the exciting Ford GT. In addition to winning three races, Westbrook and Briscoe have scored five consecutive podium finishes in the No. 67 Ford GT. Teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller – seventh in the points in the No. 66 Ford GT – were GTE Pro class winners at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Porsche North America is looking to repeat its 1-2 finish in last year’s Michelin GT Challenge. Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy return in the winning No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, while Earl Bamber will be joined by Frederic Makowiecki in the No. 912 entry.
“Last year, Porsche celebrated a commanding double victory in Virginia, and there is no greater incentive than that,” said Pilet, who went on to capture the 2015 GTLM championship. “VIR is one of those traditional racetracks deep in the heart of America that I particularly look forward to. It’s fast and demanding, and if you make a mistake as a driver, you pay the price immediately.”
Ferrari also has a solid track record at VIR. Risi Competizione followed up an ALMS victory in 2013 by scoring a last-turn, last-lap victory in the inaugural WeatherTech Championship race in 2014. Last year, the team placed third behind the Porsches with a Ferrari 458 Italia. This year, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander will co-drive the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE, which will race at VIR for the first time.
BMW Team RLL has new cars for the Michelin GT Challenge as well, fielding a pair of BMW M6 GTLMs. Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner are fifth in the championship in the No. 25 IHG Rewards Club M6. John Edwards and Lucas Luhr share the No. 100 BMW, and are coming off their first podium finish of the season at Road America.
Scuderia Corsa will defend its GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway with a new Ferrari and a new driver lineup.
Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan have won two races in 2016 GTD competition in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, and hold a 15-point lead with only three races remaining entering Round 10 of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (live, FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET).
The GTD competitors will join the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class in the two-hour, 40-minute race, the lone WeatherTech Championship event exclusively showcasing the GT classes.
“I really like VIR,” said Denmark’s Nielsen, who joined Balzan in winning GTD races at Sebring and Watkins Glen in 2016. “I think it’s a classic, old-school American circuit. There are quick corners and a quick flow, so you have to be really precise.”
While Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler won the 2015 Michelin GT Challenge in a Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia, Nielsen finished second in an Aston Martin Vantage. Teaming with Scuderia Corsa in 2016, she and Balzan have scored five podium finishes and placed in the top 10 in seven of eight races.
“We had a good result at VIR last year – it was a lot about strategy,” Nielsen said. “It will be interesting to see how our strategy will play out this year.”
Second in the standings, trailing 243-228, is the Magnus Racing tandem of Andy Lally and John Potter, who were class winners in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and at Lime Rock Park in the No. 44 Audi Tire Center/Auric Solar Audi R8 LMS GT3. Audi also has a pair of Stevenson Motorsports entries, with Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis scoring a pair of runner-up finishes in the No. 6 Stevenson Automotive Group Audi R8 LMS GT3, joined by Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell in the No. 9 Audi.
Alex Job Racing finished on the VIR podium last year. Mario Farnbacher returns in a new car – the No. 23 Team Seattle/Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. He and co-driver Alex Riberas have combined to capture a series-leading four TOTAL Pole Awards and were winners at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen are two-time GTD winners in 2016, coming home first at Detroit and the most recent race at Road America in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports ViperExchange.com/Cruising with the Monkey Dodge Viper GT3-R. Also competing in a Dodge Viper, Lone Star Racing returns with Dan Knox and Mike Skeen co-driving the No. 80 ACS Manufacturing entry.
Lamborghini will be making its WeatherTech Championship debut at VIR this weekend. Paul Miller Racing’s Bryan Sellers and Change Racing’s Spencer Pumpelly are TOTAL Pole Award winners this season. Sellers and Madison Snow gave the manufacturer its first podium finish by taking third at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the No. 48 Castrol Edge/Universal Industrial Sales Lamborghini Huracán GT3. Pumpelly co-drives with Corey Lewis in the No. 16 Pertamina/Monster Energy Lamborghini, while Dream Racing fields the No. 27 Lamborghini for Lawrence DeGeorge and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli.
BMW and Turner Motorsport came home victorious in 2016 from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, with Jens Klingmann and Bret Curtis winning in the new No. 96 Spectra Resources/United Steel/Valspar Paint/IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GT3. Michael Marsal and Markus Palttala – fourth at VIR last year – share the No. 97 Alvarez & Marsal/IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GT3.
Practice for the Michelin GT Challenge begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on Friday, August 26, with qualifying at 11:55 a.m. on Saturday. The weekend also includes the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, racing on Saturday at 1:55 p.m. ET, plus the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama.
Rosberg has to blank out bad memories and focus on Hamilton
Nico Rosberg would have spent much of the summer break agonizing over how a 43-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the Formula One championship had turned into a deficit of 19.
The German would also have devoted his energy toward planning a reversal of fortune in the title fight and how to stop his Mercedes’ teammate’s ominous momentum, beginning with this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Chasing his first F1 title, Rosberg has appeared to wilt under pressure over the past few races, handing the initiative back to Hamilton as the British driver chases a third straight drivers’ championship and fourth overall.
Having failed to win any of the first five races, when he was hampered by mechanical woes and engine troubles, Hamilton has roared back to win six of the past seven, with an increasingly exasperated Rosberg unable to stop him and to contain his own frustration.
Victory on Sunday would be a 50th career win for Hamilton. More importantly, perhaps, it would deal another blow to Rosberg’s fragile confidence.
A third straight year as runner-up to Hamilton – his rival since they were racing karts as teenagers – would be unbearable for Rosberg having won the opening four races of the season.
“I know I’ll have the best car out there and I’m massively pumped to be back on track,” a defiant Rosberg said. “It’s like a clean slate at this stage.”
The German driver insists that “what’s happened so far this season is in the past,” but it is clear that Rosberg will need a more steely approach over the nine remaining races and must not take Hamilton’s resurgence so personally.
For his part, Hamilton did well to contain what must have been huge frustration early on, and is not shy in reminding Rosberg that he has slashed his lead away.
“The first half of the season was a bit of a roller-coaster, so it’s great to be in the position I’m in,” said Hamilton, who has won twice at Spa. “The way myself and the team have performed gives me huge confidence.”
Last year, Hamilton won here from pole – five years after his other win – with Rosberg finishing second after recovering from a poor start.
Stretching through the Ardennes forest, the Spa circuit is the longest of the year at just over 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), and features famed F1 corners such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, an incredibly steep hill and moody weather conditions that can leave one part of the track damp and another part dry.
These ingredients make it arguably F1’s most pure test of drivers’ pure skill, and is regularly cited alongside Japan’s Suzuka as the race they enjoy most.
Unlike another iconic track in Monaco, which is twisty, sinewy, notoriously slow and tough to overtake on, Spa is incredibly fast with more than 70 percent of the race at full throttle and average speeds around 230 kilometers per hour (143 miles per hour).
“Spa is a great track, one that every driver enjoys,” said Hamilton, who has extra incentive to win there again. “It’s been such a proud few weeks for British sport, with the Olympics … I’ll do my best to keep the flag flying.”
Mercedes team management, meanwhile, will hope the second part of the season is free of the tensions that saw Hamilton and Rosberg crashing into each other in Spain and Austria.
While both drivers retired after the Barcelona collision – advantaging neither – the last-lap crash at the Austrian GP in early July cost Rosberg dearly as he dropped to fourth, while Hamilton won.
It also infuriated head of motorsport Toto Wolff, who said he was “fed up” trying to analyze which driver was in the wrong. It stoked an edgy rivalry that spilled over into open feuding during the 2014 campaign.
While maintaining that team orders will not be imposed – meaning the drivers are still free to race against each other – Mercedes has made it bluntly clear it will not accept any more crashes when they go wheel-to-wheel.
Red Bull GRC: The Jersey Shore swaps GTL for GRC action
Yes, “Jersey Shore’s” been off the air for a few years now but it doesn’t mean we can’t still make bad jokes trying to pivot from the MTV show to Red Bull Global Rallycross’ trip back to Atlantic City and New Jersey for this weekend’s eighth round of the 2016 season.
“The Situation” in the points standings – as you were – is that Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates Tanner Foust and Scott Speed are now separated by only six points, 350-344.
Foust won three of the first five final rounds in his No. 34 Rockstar Energy Volkswagen Beetle GRC before Speed’s won the last two in his No. 41 Special Operations Warrior Foundation Beetle; he made a last-lap pass of Brian Deegan at MCAS New River in that event’s lone race of a planned doubleheader, and then dominated the series’ most recent round at Washington, D.C. last month.
That’s seen Speed close to within six points after his first five races featured a few hurdles he needed to clear.
With the VARX pairing having won five of the first seven races this year, two Ford Fiesta ST drivers have bagged the other two wins. Patrik Sandell (No. 18 Bryan Herta Rallysport Ford) and Steve Arpin (No. 00 Chip Ganassi Rallycross Ford) won in Dallas and Daytona race one, respectively.
Arpin sits third in points with 315 points, while Sandell and Deegan are fourth and fifth at 299 and 293 respectively. With just four rounds remaining in the championship, Sandell and Deegan need to make headway this weekend and hope the VW twins are snookered with a bit of bad luck.
Literally no one has ever – or will ever – call 2014 Supercars champion Joni Wiman “J-WOWW,” even though he’s got the same initials, but it would be a “Wow” moment if either Wiman or Sebastian Eriksson can deliver Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE its first win of the season, which would be the first for the new Honda Civic Coupe that’s debuted this year. At a high-speed track, it could well happen. Eriksson and Wiman sit sixth and seventh in points and look to break into the top-five.
Austin Dyne and Nelson Piquet Jr. resume in their pair of Fords, Piquet again running for SH Rallycross/DRR after making his return to the team in Washington, D.C. The pair of Subarus (Sverre Isachsen, Bucky Lasek) would also figure to continue.