Dominant Vettel goes wire-to-wire under the lights in Singapore

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Singapore Grand Prix in emphatic style after dominating the entire weekend and bouncing back from a safety car period to win the race by over thirty seconds.

Having stormed into an early lead, Vettel was forced to regroup after a safety car period eradicated the gap he had created. However, the defending world champion lived up to his credentials by setting down a remarkable pace to win the race with ease. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen managed to take advantage of the safety car’s appearance to finish second and third respectively as Mercedes and Mark Webber struggled to recover their pre-safety car positions, missing out on the podium.

The start saw Nico Rosberg make a fantastic getaway, going side-by-side with Vettel heading into turn one and outbraking his compatriot to move into the lead. However, it lasted a matter of seconds as the Mercedes ran wide heading into turn two to hand the position back to Vettel, with Alonso tailing the pair having made a superb start from P7. Lewis Hamilton could not match the pace of his teammate early on, dropping to seventh and wrangling with Felipe Massa for position. Sergio Perez also enjoyed a good start, making up four places on the first lap including a fine pass on compatriot Esteban Gutierrez. However, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas both dropped back, with the latter falling behind Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde.

At the front, Vettel was told to look after his tires in anticipation of a safety car, given that there has been one at every single Singapore Grand Prix held. Teammate Mark Webber was hounded for P4 by Romain Grosjean as the front runners began to spread out. Having suffered from back pain during qualifying, Kimi Raikkonen required a valiant drive to fight his way back into the points, but he opted to stop early along with Gutierrez. The rest of the field chose to bide its time, coming in a few laps later with varying choices of tire. A few chose to run on the faster super-softs, with the majority on the longer-lasting mediums. Having jumped him at the start, Alonso remained ahead of Webber after the first round of stops, whilst Grosjean elected to buck the trend and took on a fresh set of super-softs in an attempt to pass the battle ahead. Vettel went deeper into the race than his rivals, re-emerging in the lead ahead of Rosberg and a long-running Paul di Resta who had battled brilliantly to work his way up to P3 before stopping on lap twenty.

Having been stuck behind di Resta, Alonso lost the chance to undercut Rosberg for P2 and soon found himself being caught by Webber and Grosjean behind. However, their charge was soon halted by a safety car after Daniel Ricciardo put his Toro Rosso into the wall at turn seventeen. Not only did this bunch the field, but it also sparked a flurry of pit stops as drivers looked to take on fresh rubber. This left Vettel leading from Rosberg, Webber and Hamilton, but Alonso in P5 had far fresher tires and looked to rectify his race following the stoppage.

Off the restart, Vettel quickly set about re-opening the gap to Nico Rosberg in P2, for once being told by his engineer to push as much as possible. He duly responded, lapping between one and two seconds per lap quicker than the rest of the field. A problem with Grosjean’s car forced the Frenchman to pit for a third time from sixth, dropping to last when he eventually came back out again, but he could only complete a further four laps before retiring from the race. van der Garde’s fine drive continued at the expense of Bottas once again, passing him for P16 not long after the safety car had come back in. At the front, Vettel’s charge continued as his lead swelled to over twenty seconds while Rosberg suffered from a lack of grip due to some rubber lodged in his front wing.

As his teammate steamed ahead in P1, Webber pitted for a second time on lap forty-one, taking on a fresh set of mediums that would see him through to the end of the race. With Rosberg pitting one lap later, Webber was able to undercut his rival perfectly, leapfrogging the Mercedes driver to give Red Bull a chance of a one-two finish. Hamilton could not do anything to intervene, with a slow stop seeing him fall behind Webber and his teammate. A poor stop from Ferrari allowed di Resta to get the jump on Massa, whilst it was plain sailing for Vettel in the pits, with the German driver taking on super-soft tires just in case of a late safety car.

This round of stops played into the hands of those who pitted under the safety car. Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Perez, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez all looked to go to the end of the race. The young Mexican found himself being hounded by Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton, with all three drivers finding a way through before being followed by di Resta and Massa to drop the Sauber out of the points. Button and Raikkonen became embroiled in a battle for the final podium position, with the Finn’s back problems subsiding in time for the race, and he pulled off a remarkable overtake around the outside of turn four to move onto the podium. The Webber-Rosberg-Hamilton train continued to power through the field, picking off Hulkenberg and then Perez. Their charge was nearly halted when Paul di Resta ended his race in the wall with five laps remaining, but Webber rallied to find a way past Button for fourth, subsequently setting his sights on Raikkonen. However, he was given the call to short-shift, ending all hopes of having two Red Bulls on the podium. He then lost out to Rosberg and Hamilton because of the issue late on, before eventually pulling over and retiring from the race.

At the front, Vettel refused to back off, setting a relentless pace even in the dying stages of the grand prix to take the checkered flag by over thirty seconds, having led every lap and set the fastest lap of the race. Alonso and Raikkonen completed the podium thanks to some good strategic work, but with Vettel clinching a third successive win and extending his championship lead to sixty points, the German driver looks to be en route to a fourth straight title.

Red Bull GRC: Switched-up field seeks to topple Speed, VW, Andretti

Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross kicks off its season this week from Memphis, a new event on the calendar and the series’ fourth different kickoff site in as many years. It also starts a month earlier than the past, with Barbados (mid-May, 2014) Ft. Lauderdale (late May 2015) and Phoenix (third week of May 2016) having been the curtain-raisers in the past few years.

Race coverage is on NBC network on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

With the trip down South the first step in the 12-race championship, it again provides a first look at whether anyone can topple Scott Speed and Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, as the two-time champion looks for a three-peat in his latest iteration of a Beetle GRC beast.

Most of the field is switched; at least one driver or team per entry is different for all teams this year, with the exception of Andretti.

Here’s the tentative field breakdown (field may be subject to change and extra additions):

Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, Volkswagen Beetle GRC

34-Tanner Foust
41-Scott Speed

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will be the mantra here, as Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross and Scott Speed seek their third straight title. Teammate Tanner Foust arguably had the better 2016 season – he won four races to Speed’s three – but lost the championship in a tough dynamic in the Los Angeles doubleheader, his weekend delayed a bit with the need to run an LCQ and thus losing track position if he’d make the final.

Speed’s enjoyed his time in GRC to this point, as he recounted in his first NBCSports.com blog of 2017, and has become one of the series’ marquee faces. While a three-peat would be good for him, it remains to be seen whether that is in the best interest of the series. Nonetheless, anything less than another round of victories and title contention from Red Bull GRC’s dynamic duo would be a surprise, and a disappointment.

Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, Honda Civic Coupe

16-Oliver Eriksson (R)
24-Mitchell DeJong (R)
93-Sebastian Eriksson

Red Bull GRC’s version of “Name that Eriksson” sees the unrelated pair of Swedes, Oliver and Sebastian Eriksson, racing for the Andreas Eriksson-led team whose success is world renowned in rallycross – except last year. In a rare off year for OMSE, the team spent more time dialing in the setup of it early before contending on outright pace. They got there by the end of the year but despite preliminary wins, never won a main event.

That should well change this year with Sebastian Eriksson the undisputed team leader in now his third season. Having two hungry young chargers alongside in past GRC Lites champions Oliver Eriksson and DeJong, the latter of whom has one Supercars weekend under his belt at Los Angeles last year, will only serve to push this team forward.

Subaru Rally Team USA, Subaru WRX-STi

18-Patrik Sandell
55-Chris Atkinson

Two lackluster years and only a handful of decent results have forced a major course reset at Subaru, and one which should see them back on proper race win-contending form throughout the 2017 season. If the enhancements from the team weren’t coming, particularly with a new car, it’s likely they wouldn’t have convinced Patrik Sandell to have left Bryan Herta Rallysport, where he overachieved and won races each of the last two seasons.

Sandell’s an ace and past Subaru World Rally Championship driver Chris Atkinson brought a degree of pace to this program that was lacking previously when he came in for the final events of 2016. The Australian figures to be a frontrunner as well.

Loenbro Motorsports, Ford Fiesta

00-Steve Arpin

A change in ownership and branding sees the former Chip Ganassi Rallycross program, which popped up before 2015 and did a two-year entry, now under the Loenbro Motorsports umbrella albeit with nearly all the same staff and crew intact. It is a big step for the company and for driver Steve Arpin, the likable Canadian who now lives in Minnesota, to strike out on their own. Arpin won his first Supercars final last year but may find the sledding tougher against the factory efforts and other privateer teams.

Bryan Herta Rallysport, Ford Fiesta

2-Cabot Bigham (R)

For a second straight year, Bryan Herta will have the fun situation where his name and team are separate in Red Bull GRC from Michael Andretti’s even though the two work together in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In Bigham, Herta’s found a potential diamond in the rough. The Northern California native took a surprise, but well-judged, win in last year’s GRC Lites season and has found the necessary budget to come up to the next level. “The Big Ham” will need to get his feet wet the first couple events but should start playing with the big dogs as the season progresses.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ford Fiesta

14-Austin Dyne

After striking out on his own last year with AD Racing, a year after running under the Herta tent, series CEO Colin Dyne’s son Austin will now work with another IndyCar outfit in RLL Racing, which makes its Red Bull GRC debut this year. The deep field has made it harder for Dyne to stand out – he has just three final round top-five finishes in the last two years – but with the RLL preparation behind him, it should see the series veteran improve this year.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

Photo: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.