MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Brazilian GP

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The 2013 Formula One season comes to a close in Brazil this weekend and the curtain will be drawn on the V8 era of the sport ahead of the move to turbocharged V6 engines next year. However, it also marks the last hurrah for Mark Webber, who will retire from the sport after the race on Sunday, and it also sees Felipe Massa race for Ferrari for the final time before his move to Williams. With so much at stake, the final set of predictions in 2013 are particularly difficult… or has Vettel made it a foregone conclusion?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Although my heart wants to pick any of Grosjean given his fine form, Webber in his F1 finale or Massa in his Ferrari sign-off, I simply can’t go against Seb winning a ninth straight.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. It’s hard to call anything “the Hulk” does a surprise anymore given his staggeringly good second half of the season. He’s starred at Brazil before with pole in 2010 and the race lead last year. His first career podium finish would be no less than he deserves, and if not, a top-five to round out the season and enter the top 10 in the Driver’s Championship would be a fitting finish.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. After a ragged weekend in Austin and his frankly, rubbish calling out of his team, time for the Venezuelan to assemble a professional weekend that justifies his place on the grid for 2014. 

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. A rainy forecast for Sao Paulo could spice things up, but I still think Vettel and the RB9 will be up to the task in their final run of 2013.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Sunday marks the end of the line for Massa at Ferrari. With the fervent Brazilian fan base on his side, expect to see the two-time Interlagos winner go out firing.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. A dreadful weekend in Austin sets up Maldonado for a pivotal season finale for him as he seeks to cement his place in Formula One.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. I’m banking on Seb slipping up in the rain somehow and Rosberg being there to capitalize. He has shown good pace so far in practice so the German driver may not be such an outside bet.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. So much has changed in the year since Button’s last win at Interlagos, but with the weather being as it is, he and McLaren could secure their best result of the season in Brazil.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan driver needs to tell the other teams “this is why you need to hire me” as doubts about his finance and certainties about his poor attitude circulate.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Give away a free win to his team mate? No chance, besides Mark Webber is a proper sportsman and doesn’t want anyone’s charity. Slip up in the rain? This is a driver who scored his first two F1 wins in atrocious conditions. Get lost on his way to the circuit? That might be the best chance his rivals have…

Surprising finish: Giedo van der Garde. If either of Caterham drivers is going to achieve the feat of denying Marussia tenth in the championship – and the coveted income that goes along with it – it will most likely be Van der Garde, who has increasingly held the upper hand over Charles Pic of late.

Most to prove: Paul di Resta. Questions marks surround Di Resta’s future in F1 as he nears the end of his third season. He was put in the shade by team mate Nico Hulkenberg at this race last year, crashing out in the dying stages, and needs an attention-grabbing performance to prove he belongs on the 2014 grid.

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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