Alessandro Balzan celebrates with team (Scuderia Corsa/Ferrari North America)

Scuderia Corsa reflects on Ferrari’s second straight Rolex GT title

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For the second consecutive season, Ferrari has captured the championship in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series’ GT class. That gives the Scuderia a perfect 2-for-2 strike rate in the years it has entered with the GRAND-AM spec F458 Italia, before 2014 arrives and GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series take the green flag as the newly merged Tudor United SportsCar Championship.

Scuderia Corsa followed AIM Autosport/Team FXDD’s championship-winning ways of 2012. This year, Alessandro Balzan took the title in dramatic fashion in the season finale at Lime Rock Park. Balzan entered the title decider down four points to the Magnus Racing pair of Andy Lally and John Potter, but avoided trouble as the Magnus Porsche was hit by another car on just the second lap of the race. With second place, his ninth top-five finish in 12 races, Balzan emerged as champion ahead of Lally and Potter by 10 points.

“I was never relaxed during the race since things were always happening in front of us, behind us, or next to us,” Balzan said after the race. “The DP’s were passing us and sometimes it was a nightmare because you know that you are leading the championship but you also know that you are losing so much time in traffic.”

Scuderia Corsa team principal Giacomo Mattioli explained Balzan rose to the challenge in his first full season of Rolex GT competition.

“The thing that really convinced me is his track record,” Mattioli said. “This is now five years in a row he’s won the championship: Porsche Cup three years, Ferrari Challenge and now Rolex GT. I knew he wouldn’t crack under pressure, and wouldn’t do, shall we say stupid things.

“What I was surprised by is how quickly he has learned and adapted to tracks, and to tires he didn’t really know. That beat even my expectations. It’s a telling talent. That’s hard to do and it’s not easy to predict how quickly he’ll pick up a track. I’ve never seen anyone else do that within 3-4 laps.”

Balzan had several different co-drivers in 2013 – Alessandro Per Guidi for two races, Jeff Westphal through Watkins Glen and Leh Keen the last five races – and had to mesh his style with whoever else was sharing the seat of the No. 63 Ferrari F458 Italia. They only won once, but had the best finishing record in the field.

“The chemistry between the drivers is a key ingredient, but the chemistry among the team is a bigger ingredient,” Mattioli said. “Pretty much every driver who has raced for us has felt welcome and comfortable and grown in very quickly. One big component with Alessandro is he is a super nice guy. He’s easygoing, he makes everyone comfortable, and he gelled with Jeff and Leh. I couldn’t have scripted it.”

Mattioli (left) and Mattiacci (right) (Scuderia Corsa/Ferrari North America)

Nor could they have scripted the fact that the team could enter into Rolex GT and win the title in its first full season. Mattioli and Ferrari North America president/CEO Marco Mattiacci have a strong relationship and to win in front of Mattiacci was great for both individuals.

“My background has been in working with the factory,” said Mattioli, who was born and raised in Modena and eventually came to work for Ferrari in North America. “We have had the opportunity to see – shall we say, both sides of the fence: the corporate and retail ends of it. I have a unique perspective to be able to reflect and understand the factory requirements. Marco and I have had a friendship for many years, but we are very in tune on the business side.”

“The manufacturer championship is very important for Ferrari, because it demonstrates not only the phenomenal performance, speed, balance, but also the reliability of the 458 Italia,” Mattiacci said immediately after the race. “To win it for the second time, against the high level of competition in the Rolex Series in the United States, is an achievement we are very proud of.”

Balzan reflected on the title, too, as this was his first full season racing in the U.S.

“I am very happy for the team. Everyone at Scuderia Corsa, really deserved it,” he said. “It’s really crazy to think we are champions in the first year. I have to thank Giacomo because he believed in me, otherwise I would have never gotten the seat. I’m a 100% Scuderia Corsa product, and it is a dream for a little Italian driver coming from Italy that is now living in Modena.”

Team shot (Scuderia Corsa/Ferrari North America)

Looking ahead to 2014, Mattioli confirmed Scuderia Corsa will return to defend its title.

“It’s definitely exciting and very interesting, the first year, because it’s easier said than done when you mesh two different series and so many classes,” he said. “We’re staying in GTD. The goal is two cars for the full season.

“We are very happy to be involved with the Tudor United championship. I think there will be a lot of competition again, coming from Porsche, coming from other manufacturers. But we’ll be there with the 458 package.

“For a driver – this is not me saying it – but the opportunity to race for Ferrari is the top,” he added. “I think our drivers feel the same, we are very lucky to be involved with Ferrari and there are few things in life you cannot separate. It’s part of the DNA of the company. If you want to represent Ferrari at any level – retail, business, dealer – you need to race. It’s exciting, it’s fun.”

Hamilton’s second home set to provide best chance to defend title

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates qualifying in pole position with actor Rosa Salazer in parc ferme during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – From his first pole position at Circuit of The Americas, and in his adopted second home, Lewis Hamilton has perhaps his best – and last – chance to ignite his bid for a third consecutive FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

A win today in Austin would close the gap to his Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate, Nico Rosberg, by at least seven points (from 33 to 26) even if Rosberg were to finish second.

A win too, if it occurs, could also be the needed shot in the arm to save his season on the whole after myriad mechanical woes and mistakes have resigned him to this position in the first place.

It’s funny to consider a year when Hamilton has won six races as a disappointment, but to this point, it is. He’s won 49 career races, with 21 of them (11 in 2014, 10 in 2015) coming in the last two years before this one. And that’s what makes six this year seem fewer by comparison.

All six of them came in an eight-race stretch from Monaco on Memorial Day weekend, through Germany to end the first half of the season prior to the summer break.

Even the six-pack of wins hasn’t all been straightforward. Monaco was perhaps a lucky first triumph of the season after Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull team threw away a near certain victory by not being ready with tires for a pit stop. Then, in Austria, Hamilton clashed with Rosberg and came out ahead only just from their bout.

But on the whole, it’s been frustration rather than glory that has defined the season.

Starts have been a perpetual struggle, most recently and notably last time out in Suzuka, when Hamilton fell to eighth from second on the grid by the first corner. He also lost his edge on the start in Monza, too, from pole. Hamilton has addressed this concern in noting he’d been to the factories in Brackley and Brixworth, and have sought to address the procedure.

Then there have been the mechanical woes. Power unit issues in qualifying have left him starting from the rear of the field, needing a comeback in a couple races (China, Baku and Spa come to mind). Then there was the near-catastrophic in-race failure in Malaysia that cost him an extra 15 points to Rosberg. So Hamilton’s lost out at several opportunities this year through no fault of his own.

But Hamilton comes to Austin knowing this is his turf, given his past history racing in the country and his own affinity for visiting here as frequently as he does on off weekends away from the paddock.

Start first with his strike rate. In five past U.S. Grands Prix, he’s won four of them, and gives him an 80 percent hit rate with a single win at Indianapolis in 2007 – when he was then a 22-year-old rookie with McLaren – to his three at COTA. For good measure, he added last year’s World Championship title at Austin.

He has five wins at both Canada and Hungary, but in both instances, those two races have been on the calendar longer. The U.S. is one of three countries – his home country of Britain and China being the others – where Hamilton has four wins.

Then add how he won here the last three times. You might remember if you’ve seen the movie American Psycho, that before Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman character unleashes fury on an unsuspecting victim, that he extolls the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News, as then their hit “Hip to Be Square” plays in the background.

Bateman offers the pre-murderous soliloquy: “I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip to Be Square’, a song so catchy, most people don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself.”

And then Bateman proceeds to drop the hammer. That’s what’s Hamilton’s done at Austin in racing terminology here: he’s made the race “Lewis and the Blues” for anyone that isn’t him.

He left Rosberg (2014 and 2015) and Sebastian Vettel (2012) utterly vanquished with great passing maneuvers to win. Rosberg was so deflated last year, it was all he could do afterwards to throw a cap back at Hamilton.

Then there’s the magnitude of his pole lap on Saturday, which at 1:34.999 was simply magical.

And somewhat surprisingly, not even as good as it could have been.

Hamilton told NBCSN’s Will Buxton that after his first sector, he was thrilled, but he couldn’t afford to let up.

“It definitely (felt that good); particularly the first sector. It was like butter,” Hamilton explained. “It wasn’t spectacular after that though! It was hold on to what I already gained. At Turn 11, I started decreasing my advantage. But at Turn 16, it went up, extraordinarily. I saw the time shift up.

“You can often see the time on TV when you cross the line, and it’s horrible after being first and you’re second. To see my name go back up there was a great feeling.”

Hamilton also hailed the crowd at his back, who has largely come to love him in the U.S. – even despite the odd hater or two.

“I feel amazing. It’s my first pole here,” he said in the post-qualifying press conference.

“It’s been many years of trying and a lot of people who’ve helped me get that. For us, I want to say a big thanks to the crowd. I could hear them cheering. The energy on the slow down lap was much appreciated.

“We’ve worked hard the last couple weeks. It’s a great feeling to be back up here. I’ll do the best I can tomorrow.

“I have had some incredible support from friends, family and the crowd. Been practicing the starts all weekend. Now we have to execute.”

Finally, there are the mental mind games at play.

Hamilton, who has three World Championships already and essentially nothing to lose, still could psychologically beat Rosberg to go along with beating him on track.

Rosberg, who continues to downplay the “championship” word at every opportunity, still has to prove he won’t crack as potential champion-in-waiting.

And their approach to the start and Turn 1 tomorrow is fascinating.

“Nevertheless, qualifying isn’t all-important. From P2, we still have a good chance tomorrow,” Rosberg said.

“I’ve shown in the past you don’t need to be first off the line or into the first corner to win this race,” Hamilton countered.

After his tough weekend in Suzuka, Hamilton looks like back to the title-winning Hamilton form-wise this weekend.

He’s riding high in the media with his Ellen appearance, Call of Duty call-up and his banter with reporters the last few days, appearing in a much more spirited mood in the weekend’s press conferences. On-track, he picked the perfect weekend to be back on form.

Hamilton may be the underdog in the points tables heading into today’s race. But couldn’t be in a better grid position or a better venue to turn the tables on Rosberg, if he can win today.

Crutchlow takes second MotoGP win in Australia as Marquez crashes

PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 23:  Cal Crutchlow of Great Britain and LCR Honda celebrates winning the 2016 MotoGP of Australia at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on October 23, 2016 in Phillip Island, Australia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
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Cal Crutchlow picked up his second MotoGP victory of the season in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, capitalizing on a crash for world champion Marc Marquez just before half distance.

Crutchlow scored his long-awaited maiden MotoGP win in the Czech Republic earlier this year, and qualified second on the grid at Phillip Island on Saturday.

One week after being crowned MotoGP champion for a third time in Japan, Marquez made a clean getaway from pole to retain his lead and began to open up a gap to the chasing Crutchlow, who had battled back past Pol Espargaro and Aleix Espargaro after a poor start.

Crutchlow was handed the lead of the race on lap 10 when Marquez barrelled into the gravel at Turn 4, ending his race in the process.

The Briton could not rest on his laurels up front, though. Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi had battled back from 15th on the grid – his worst qualifying result since 2011 – to run second at half distance.

Crutchlow kept his cool, and when Rossi made a mistake that saw him fall back, victory was all but confirmed, allowing the LCR Honda rider to round out the final few laps and clinch his second MotoGP win of the year.

Rossi came under pressure in the closing stages from Pol Espargaro, Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales, but held on to second place at the flag. Vinales managed to squeeze through to third place, following his future Yamaha teammate home.

Dovizioso finished fourth ahead of Espargaro, while Jorge Lorenzo rallied from 12th on the grid to cross the line sixth on the second factory Yamaha. Scott Redding and Bradley Smith made it three Brits in the top 10 by finishing seventh and eighth as Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller rounded out the top 10.

The penultimate round of the MotoGP season takes place in Malaysia next weekend.

Saturday United States GP post roundup

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Daniil Kvyat of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Russia during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Owing to a couple of other off-track commitments – a bit of the Taylor Swift concert and a further walk of the grounds Saturday afternoon following Formula 1 qualifying, with the crowd looking significantly better than it did on Friday – this won’t be a standard “post-day notebook” as you were, like Thursday’s and Friday’s.

Instead, here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Saturday at Circuit of The Americas:




Pop stars and fast cars: Taylor Swift plays Formula One

COLOGNE, GERMANY - JUNE 20:  Taylor Swift performs live on stage during 'The 1989 World Tour' night 2 at Lanxess Arena on June 20, 2015 in Cologne, Germany.  (Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images for TAS)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) With their red, white and blue tutus and Taylor Swift t-shirts, Rachel Emling and Mikala Crews were everything Formula One wanted at the U.S. Grand Prix: young fans who would travel across the country for a mix of pop stars and fast cars.

Tens of thousands packed into the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday night for Swift’s only concert of the year at Formula One’s only race on American soil.

Formula One’s goal in booking Swift was to hook a new generation of fans to their sport in America, long considered an untapped market for the global racing series. Landing fans like Emling and Crews, NASCAR fans from Jacksonville, Florida, was exactly what they hoped for. They came for the concert and love the cars.

“We’ve been watching a little bit. It’s cool,” said 20-year-old Emling, who said they’ll return for Sunday’s race. “We like racing.”

“It’s different. There are so many people here for the race. It’s a good mix,” Crews said.

The race weekend scheduled her show after Saturday qualifying and before Sunday’s race. One group that will be watching is Liberty Media, the American group that is taking over Formula One’s commercial entity and will be looking for ways to grow the sport. Track president Bobby Epstein had predicted as many as 40,000 would be lured in by Swift.

The weekend is a big opportunity for the singer as well. Race officials hope the entire weekend will draw about 250,000 people with Swift rumored to soon release a new album. And she’s not alone in the music lineup. Usher and The Roots were scheduled to play at the track after the race Sunday night.

But Saturday night belonged to Swift.

“This show is really important because we have people from all over the world,” she told the crowd. “Thank you for that.”

After Saturday’s qualifying ended, young girls with their parents and packs of young women started filing into the stadium. They stood in line at food and drink vendors alongside the die-hard race fans dusty from sitting all day in the grass berms around the track.

Charlene Frollo of Austin brought her daughter in a gaggle of girls, all aged 9 or younger. As a group, they wore pink and white “Swiftie” shirts Frollo had designed herself. They arrived well after the day’s main event on the racetrack but still got to see some of the support races and hear the cars growling around the circuit.

“It was fast. It was like `RRRRRRRR,”‘ said 8-year-old Brie Bauman.

Would they like to see more?

“Yeah, I guess so,” said 7-year-old Avery Frollo.

Charlene Frollo said her husband and sons will be coming back for the Sunday race, but was glad the girls got to experience something new.

“We had a second to show them the cars. Now they know about Formula One cars and they know now this is the only track in the United States, which is kind of big deal so close in our backyard. It’s wonderful for them to come here for the concert and see the bigger world out there,” Charlene Frollo said.

Don Burger, a Formula One fan from San Antonio, brought his 22-year-old daughter who wanted to see Taylor Swift. She’s not a racing fan but he sees a twinkle of interest after getting her out to the track.

“She’s stands it when I put it on TV at home,” Burger said. “I think she’s a little more interested than she was before. She flipped through the program. She told me the other day, ‘I’m actually looking forward to the racing, too’.”

As for the Formula One drivers, some would like to see Swift. Others plan to skip the show the night before they race.

“I’m going to try to. I know Taylor a little bit. She’s amazing. I’m a massive fan of hers,” said Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, the two-time defending Formula One champion.

Not Romain Grosjean. The Haas F1 driver planned to get away from the track.

“I like to have a very quiet dinner and a glass of red wine. I’m French,” Grosjean said.