Vettel produces champion’s drive to claim seventh straight win

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Sebastian Vettel has secured his seventh straight victory after winning today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a scintillating performance that saw him finish over thirty seconds ahead of teammate Mark Webber.

Webber had started on pole position but made a poor start to allow his teammate into a lead that he never relinquished. Nico Rosberg had been running in second place before losing out to the Australian driver, but he managed to bring his Mercedes home in third ahead of Romain Grosjean as the battle for the runner-up spot in the constructors’ championship hots up.

Off the start, Webber failed to make the most of pole position once again as Vettel moved up the inside at turn one to move into the lead. Nico Rosberg followed his compatriot past Webber who soon found himself fending off a fast-starting Romain Grosjean. Lewis Hamilton dropped behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg before recovering the position, but Kimi Raikkonen’s race lasted just one corner. The Finn, starting from last place after being excluded from qualifying, made contact with one of the Caterham drivers and was forced him to pull over and retire. Fernando Alonso made up two positions off the line to lie behind his teammate whilst Pastor Maldonado found himself on the outskirts of the top ten before an early pit stop on lap five.

Chasing a seventh straight win, Vettel soon set about doing what he does best: fastest laps. By lap seven, the German driver was already six seconds ahead of second-placed Rosberg, and the outlook was bleak for his challengers. Pole-sitter Mark Webber found himself being hounded by Romain Grosjean for third place, and this was taken to the pits where Red Bull proved why they hold the record time for a pit stop to keep the Australian driver ahead. He made light work of Esteban Gutierrez, but Grosjean could not follow suit and had lost three seconds to Webber by the time he passed the Sauber. At the front, Vettel made his soft tires last longer than his rivals, and his fellow long-runners – notably the two Ferraris – managed to sustain a pace on par with the fresh medium runners. The German driver eventually stopped on lap fourteen for fresh tires, coming back out in the lead.

Romain Grosjean’s pursuit of Webber was hindered when he got stuck behind Adrian Sutil, needing two attempts to make a move on the Force India stick. Lewis Hamilton had a similar problem with Esteban Gutierrez. The superior straight line speed of the Sauber meant that Hamilton could not find a way past, allowing Hulkenberg to close on the Briton. However, Hamilton was given some respite when Felipe Massa came out ahead of the German driver after his first pit stop. Paul di Resta was the last of the soft runners to stop, and the Scot rose to as high as P2 ahead of Rosberg as a result. The Mercedes driver could not find a way past, allowing Webber to close and eventually pass to move up into second place when di Resta pitted on the same lap.

Hamilton was given the call to push in order to create a gap to the Massa as Ferrari looked to bring themselves into play. He soon found himself stuck behind Sutil in fifth place, allowing the Brazilian to close along with Hulkenberg and Alonso. Hamilton managed to edge ahead of the Force India heading down to turn nine, but Sutil responded and found himself side-by-side with the Mercedes. This allowed Felipe Massa to pull off a brilliant overtake on Hamilton and easily pass Sutil one lap later. By the time Hamilton eventually passed him, the Brazilian driver was almost three seconds down the road and looking set for a good haul of points. The Briton soon made his second stop in an attempt to exercise the undercut on his rivals, but Hulkenberg was no longer a concern after the German driver received a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release in the pits.

Despite enjoying a three second lead over his teammate at one point, Felipe Massa soon found himself under pressure from Fernando Alonso for fifth place. However, a slow stop for the Brazilian allowed Hamilton to come back out ahead of the Ferrari as Alonso went deeper in the race to try and also pass his teammate, and he managed to do so when he came out with nine laps remaining. However, with Jean-Eric Vergne ahead, the Spaniard had to take a very bumpy route across the kerbing to get ahead of the Toro Rosso, warranting an investigation from the stewards after the race.

Meanwhile, Vettel’s lead grew to over forty seconds ahead of his second stop, prompting his engineer to keep reminding him to save his tires for fear of a mechanical failure. However, he remained a class apart at the head of the field as Webber, Rosberg and Grosjean settled into their positions behind the four-time world champion.

Paul di Resta was one of the few drivers to eventually risk a one-stop strategy, but it worked well for him as he found himself in fifth place with five laps remaining. However, he soon came under pressure from Hamilton and Alonso. The Spaniard made light work of the Mercedes before passing di Resta one lap later. However, Hamilton could not follow suit, and was forced to settle for seventh place in the end.

At the front though, there was no stopping Sebastian Vettel. He crossed the line over thirty seconds ahead of the rest of the field, and even had the nerve to perform some more donuts for the fans after taking the checkered flag.

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.