Vettel wins Indian GP and becomes four-time world champion

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Sebastian Vettel has won his fourth consecutive Formula One world championship in India today after taking a dominant victory at Buddh International Circuit, perfecting his strategy and laying down an impressive pace to maintain his record as the only winner of the Indian Grand Prix.

Whilst championship rival Fernando Alonso endured a luckless race, the German driver dominated to secure the title in style, becoming just the fourth driver in the history of the sport to win four world championships. The strategic ‘threat’ failed to concern Vettel with Mark Webber’s poor luck returning in the form of a gearbox problem that forced him to retire from the race, whilst the battle for second place was eventually won by Nico Rosberg who followed Vettel’s strategy.

The start saw Vettel pull away with his regular confidence and authority, but teammate Mark Webber was less fortunate has he dropped back a couple of places off the line. However, heading through turn two, the Australian driver was forced wide by Kimi Raikkonen, causing Fernando Alonso to run into the back of the Red Bull. However, Felipe Massa led Ferrari’s charge by leapfrogging both Mercedes drivers heading into turn three, and the Brazilian assumed the lead of the race when Vettel pitted on lap two. He was joined in the pits by Alonso who required a new front wing, and the stop dropped him down to P20 and forced Ferrari to change the Spaniard’s strategy, appearing to end his faint hopes of taking the title race to Abu Dhabi. The drivers tried to make their tires last as long as possible, with Vettel’s early stop being juxtaposed by race leader Massa who did not stop until lap nine. When he emerged from the pits, he was just a couple of seconds behind Vettel, putting himself in a position to challenge the German driver.

Webber’s decision to start on the medium tire meant that he took the lead of the race from Massa when the Ferrari driver stopped, and he began to set some impressive times as he looked to beat his teammate who was quickly making his way through the field. On fresh mediums though, Vettel was flying, posting fastest lap after fastest lap to cut the gap to Webber. Massa’s hopes of challenging him took a hit when he got stuck behind Esteban Gutierrez, but the Mexican driver soon dropped down the order thanks to a drive-through penalty due to a jump start. He came out ahead of Alonso and the two drivers became embroiled in a battle for thirteenth, with Alonso struggling to find a way past thanks to the straight line speed of the Sauber. However, he eventually made the move stick heading into turn five.

Due to the lack of degradation on the medium tires, the drivers who started on the white-ringed compound were able to go deep into the race and match the pace of the drivers who had already stopped. When Webber and third-placed Sergio Perez did stop, they took on the soft tire to try and make up time quickly and the Australian’s lap times immediately reflected this as he looked to bridge the gap to new leader Vettel. The German driver pitted for the final time to give Webber the lead, but the Australian came in just one lap later. As a result, Webber fell 12.5 seconds behind Vettel with both drivers having made their final stop, giving the team’s lead driver a huge advantage.

Red Bull’s perfect race came to a shattering end on lap forty though when a loss of hydraulic pressure forced Webber to pull over and retire from the race. As a result, the battle for second became a close-run thing between Raikkonen, Rosberg, Grosjean, Massa and Hamilton with the two Lotus drivers both one alternative strategies. Hamilton began to hound Massa as Rosberg pulled away from the pair in pursuit of second-placed Raikkonen. Lotus ignored Pirelli’s advice and opted to one-stop their drivers, but the Finn found himself defenceless when Rosberg made his move for second place. Despite starting down in seventeenth place, Romain Grosjean was able to one-stop and make his tires last, forcing Raikkonen to eventually yield to both him and Massa. The Finn soon fell into the clutches of Hamilton and Perez, but the Mexican driver managed to pull off an opportunistic move to pass both drivers and move up into fifth place. Lotus opted to pit their ailing driver to salvage some points, but Grosjean continued to plough ahead in third place.

At the head of the field though, there was no doubt about who the star was: Sebastian Vettel crossed the line almost thirty seconds ahead of Rosberg to win his fourth consecutive world championship and secure Red Bull the constructors’ title. Over the radio, team principal Christian Horner summed it up: “You’ve done it in style, you’ve become a four time world champion. You’ve joined the greats.” Having surpassed the likes of Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda for championship victories, there is no doubt that he has earned to right to be called a great, and Vettel celebrated by performing donuts on the start-finish straight in front of a baying crowd before taking to the top step of the podium for the tenth time this year.

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.