Vettel makes it eight-in-a-row by dominating US GP in Austin

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Sebastian Vettel has won the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin today, becoming the first driver in the history of the sport to win eight consecutive races in a single season as well as claiming his first victory in the United States.

The German driver dominated proceedings in Texas today, leading all but two laps and eventually finishing over six seconds ahead of second-placed Romain Grosjean, who in turn held off Red Bull’s Mark Webber in the final few laps of the race to secure his best result of the season so far. Lewis Hamilton’s winning streak in the USA came to an end as he was forced to settle for P4, whilst Fernando Alonso fought back from a poor start to finish fifth ahed of Nico Hulkenberg. Sergio Perez impressed in front of a sizeable Mexican fan-base to finish seventh, whilst Valtteri Bottas scored his first points in Formula One in eighth place.

Vettel made his usual good start from pole position, but teammate Webber was not so fortunate as Grosjean managed to slingshot around the outside of turn one to jump up into second place. Lewis Hamilton followed suit to claim P3 whilst Fernando Alonso struggled and dropped down to seventh. Further back, Heikki Kovalainen’s lack of recent racing showed as he dropped down to P12, but the real drama came further back as Adrian Sutil made contact with Pastor Maldonado, resulting in the Force India driver spinning into the wall and out of the race on the main straight. The safety car was deployed on the first lap to allow his car to be recovered, giving Esteban Gutierrez the chance to pit for repairs.

Racing resumed on lap five and Vettel quickly set about establishing a gap to the chasing pack, pulling out a six second lead before stopping. However, Hamilton was more concerned by the other Red Bull as Webber got within DRS range and began to close on the Mercedes driver. The Australian pulled out nine-tenths of a second through the middle sector and, thanks to DRS, managed to make a move around the outside of Hamilton to move up into third place as the Briton struggled for grip. Nico Hulkenberg had started well to remain in fifth place, but he was soon coming under pressure from Sergio Perez and Alonso in sixth and seventh respectively. However, the Ferrari driver soon dropped back into the clutches of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who was looking on-course for his first points in Formula One ahead of the first round of stops. Alonso soon managed to find his feet and close on Perez once again. Kovalainen was the first driver to stop as he looked to get the undercut on the drivers ahead, but a front-wing problem meant he had to come in for a second stop early. At the front, Vettel was told to save his tires and go as far as possible into the race. Jenson Button and Felipe Massa took their battle to the pits with the Brazilian driver staying ahead as Alonso closed on Perez before the Mexican driver stopped. However, the front-runners managed to make their tires last, allowing Alonso to come back out ahead of Perez and move up a position.

Vettel eventually made his first stop on lap 27, releasing Grosjean into the lead with Webber in second place, but the Australian driver pitted just one lap later and emerged in third. Grosjean failed to last much longer, coming in on lap 29 and retaining second place as Vettel steamed into the lead with the fastest lap of the race. Further back, Gutierrez was well into the points after pitting on lap one, but he could not hold back a fiery Alonso for sixth place. Perez soon followed to pass his compatriot, and Valtteri Bottas eventually picked off his fellow rookie with a close pass heading into the esses. Nico Rosberg continued his charge further back, picking off Daniel Ricciardo and Paul di Resta to move up into the points whilst Massa and Button continued to languish outside of the points. Further back, Mark Webber looked to catch Grosjean for second place, but he soon dropped back as he looked to save his tires before closing again.

Fernando Alonso looked to keep Ferrari’s bid for second place in the constructors’ championship alive by catching Hulkenberg and Hamilton, but the decision to stop Massa for a second time ended the Brazilian driver’s faint hopes of points. His teammate did manage to pass Hulkenberg, though, making the pass on the inside of turn one, but Hamilton was just out of reach. Further ahead Webber made another pursuit for Grosjean’s second place. Thanks to DRS, the Australian was able to close right up to the back of the Lotus, but he lacked the pace through the final sector to make a move stick.

At the front, Vettel was given the usual warnings by engineer Guillaume Rocquelin, but he did not heed them by setting the fastest lap late on. Come the checkered flag though, there was no stopping the German driver who waltzed to his eighth straight victory and his first on US soil, put Alberto Ascari’s record of nine in a row (split across two seasons) well within reach.

Hulkenberg, Perez and Bottas all produced fine displays to finish sixth, seventh and eighth respectively, with the points being Bottas’ first in Formula One. Nico Rosberg battled his way through the pack to finish ninth whilst Jenson Button made a late pass on Daniel Ricciardo to pick up the final point in tenth place as Gutierrez spun off on the final lap as he tried to pass Jean-Eric Vergne. The second stop for Kovalainen proved costly as he could only finish fifteenth, whilst Pastor Maldonado’s terrible weekend came to an equally-poor end down in P17.

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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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.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”

F1 Strategy Group meeting reveals shark fin, ‘Shield’ plans for 2018

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Tuesday’s meeting of the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission in Paris took a couple big steps towards forward in the look of Formula 1 cars for 2018, as the cockpit “Shield” and shark fin/T-wings were among the items discussed.

This meeting included CEO of Formula One Group Chase Casey for the first time, along with FIA President Jean Todt and the key other stakeholders in the meeting.

The “Shield” concept for additional frontal protection moves up in the priority list. Per the FIA’s release, the plan is to go ahead with additional track testing this year before a 2018 implementation:

“A number of more integrated solutions for additional frontal protection have been studied, and the decision has been taken to give priority to the transparent ‘shield’ family of systems. The FIA aims to carry out track tests of this system during this season in preparation for implementation in 2018,” the release said.

The ‘Halo’ and aeroscreen ideas were trialled last year (see below):

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP sits in his car fitted with the halo in the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA – APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Meanwhile the shark fins and T-wings, which have come back to the cars this year over the engine cover, are set to be restricted to a box next year. The structural rigidity of those from some teams have come under scrutiny this year.

“Changes in the regulation boxes around the engine cover have been made so that designs incorporating the ‘t-wing’ and ‘shark fin’ will be strictly limited,” the release said.

Three other sporting and technical changes were released:

  • Measures will be taken to ensure that oil will not be used as fuel. In addition, only one specification of oil may be used for any given power unit during an event
  • Pirelli will be allowed to develop 2018 wet weather tyre compounds using previous specifications of cars and wheel dimensions
  • In the event of a red flag period during a race, the race will be resumed from a standing start

In two other bits, from the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14, the sporting regulations will be strictly enforced to ensure drivers’ car numbers and surnames will be made bigger and more visible. Although permanent numbers have come into play starting in 2014, where a driver picks one number for the entirety of his or her career, none has really been that big on an F1 base chassis.

Lastly, per the release “Representatives from the non-member teams will now be invited to meetings of the F1 Strategy Group to have access to the discussions, demonstrating the effective commitment of both the FIA and the Commercial Rights Holder to improve transparency in the sport.”