Vettel 24-11

Vettel takes ninth straight win to finish 2013 in style

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Sebastian Vettel has finished the 2013 Formula One season in style by clinching his ninth consecutive win at the Brazilian Grand Prix as the forecast rain failed to intervene during the final race of the season, equalling Alberto Ascari’s long-standing record in the process.

The German driver bounced back from losing the lead at the start and a mistake in the pits by Red Bull to finish ahead of teammate Mark Webber, with the Australian driver finishing his F1 career in fine style by producing a solid drive to secure one final podium finish. Fernando Alonso, who had looked quick at the beginning of the race, could not capitalize on the damp conditions and was forced to settle for third place.

The start saw Nico Rosberg attempt to damage Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of clinching a ninth straight victory by making a good start to move down the inside of the Red Bull driver and take the lead of the race. Teammate Lewis Hamilton also made a very good start to jump up to third place from fifth on the grid ahead of Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, but both drivers managed to find a way back past the Briton just one lap later. Rosberg’s time at the head of the field lasted just one lap as Vettel swept past him heading along the main straight, and he was soon picked off by Alonso and Webber, with the Ferrari driver quickly setting his sights on the world champion at the front. Felipe Massa also made a good start to jump up to sixth place, whilst Romain Grosjean’s season ended in disappointing fashion as he retired on lap three with an engine failure.

As Vettel began to create a sizeable lead at the front, Alonso soon fell into Webber’s clutches and the Australian driver – racing for the final time in Formula One – quickly found a way past to set up a Red Bull one-two. Rosberg’s poor race continued as both Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa overtook the German driver to leave him down in sixth place ahead of Jenson Button. Alongside McLaren teammate Sergio Perez in seventh, Button was running well and had battled to get back up into the points despite a poor performance in qualifying as the McLaren excelled in the cold conditions. Further back, Jean-Eric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen fought over seventeenth place after early pit stops.

When the front-runners began to pit, Red Bull struggled to turn Webber around quickly due to a mistake in the pits. With Alonso setting the fastest lap of the race at the same time, he managed to get back ahead of the Australian driver whilst Felipe Massa found a way past Hamilton in the stops for fourth place. Alonso was unable to hang on to second place though, falling behind Webber once again when the Red Bull driver had the advantage of DRS, whilst Hamilton kept on Massa’s tail for fourth place. However, Massa was soon handed a drive-through penalty for crossing the white line on pit entry, falling down to eighth place after coming in despite his protests.

McLaren’s impressive race continued as Button moved up to fifth place following Massa’s penalty, whilst Sergio Perez tagged onto the back of Rosberg’s Mercedes as a few spots of rain began to fall at Interlagos. However, Rosberg managed to stay ahead when they pitted on the same lap to emerge between Button and Massa, both of whom pitted one lap earlier. Valtteri Bottas’ race came to an end at turn four when he made contact with Lewis Hamilton, giving the Mercedes a puncture. Red Bull looked to pit their cars, but a slow stop for Vettel due to the tires not being brought out meant that his lead over Webber was halved, whilst Alonso found himself back on the Australian driver’s tail for second place. Vettel quickly set about re-establishing his lead though, but with spots of rain falling, he had to keep one eye on the sky. Amid the drama, Button managed to move up into fourth place for McLaren as Alonso stayed with Webber, whilst Hamilton was handed a drive-through penalty for causing the collision with Bottas.

With spots of rain continuing to fall, Rosberg found himself struggling to hold Perez back in the battle for fifth place, but it took on extra importance as Mercedes looked to stay ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship. Hamilton looked to bounce back from his penalty by working his way back up into the points ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, whilst Rosberg found his feet and pulled away from Perez. Charles Pic’s race came to an early end due to a front suspension failure, meaning that Jules Bianchi became the lead car in the battle for tenth place in the constructors’ championship.

At the front though, Vettel maintained a steady gap to Webber behind him, controlling the race in the damp conditions and keeping his car on track. His engineer ‘Rocky’ warned him that the rain could intensify before the end of the race, leaving him with a few nervy laps in the final stages. However, he managed to keep his car on the track to secure his ninth consecutive win and end the V8 era in emphatic style.

Webber’s second place finish was a fine result as he fought back from a good start and he also set the fastest lap of the race, whilst Ferrari lost out to Mercedes in the race for P2 in the constructors’ championship despite Alonso’s third place finish. In fourth place, Jenson Button recorded McLaren’s best result of the season whilst Rosberg managed to fend off Perez to finish in P5. Felipe Massa’s Ferrari career came to a close in seventh place ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton, with Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the points in tenth place.

CJ Wilson completes first test in Porsche GT3 Cup car

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Photo courtesy of CJ Wilson Racing
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CJ Wilson’s new career is officially underway, following his retirement from professional baseball and now having completed his first test last week at Texas World Speedway in his new 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.

Wilson, who formally announced the news he’d be transitioning into racing full-time during Rolex 24 at Daytona race week, did a two-day test at the still active oval/road course combo track in College Station, Texas. Wilson tested one of the team’s Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports (the team runs two in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge) and then advanced into the Cup car.

Wilson got fairly close to teammate Marc Miller’s times during the test as he acclimated to both the Cup car and the Yokohama tires.

“It’s great to take another step towards my goals,” Wilson said. “We had a chance to burn through two sets of tires today and I made a lot of progress. Having Marc as my coach was incredibly helpful because we have a lot of faith in each other and communicate using the same terms. Having sat in driver debriefings for the past six years with the race team, I was able to take all the input logically and make progress each session.

“The only odd thing about the test is that nobody else was here, which was the first time I have ever been on a track completely alone, so when we did a race simulation I had to use my imagination. TWS is a really fast and bumpy track. Looking forward to getting back in the car in ten days and pick up where I left off.”

Miller added, “CJ did great job, but I expected as much. He is logical and methodical which makes him easy to help and that translated into a very quick progression along the learning curve. Like any professional athlete though he is never truly satisfied because he wants to be perfect. He took quickly to the new Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. It is confidence inspiring and such a capable platform so that suited him well in getting up to speed. Overall, it was a successful first outing and I look forward to working with CJ this season. I expect he will have a solid debut at Sebring. He better or I’m likely fired.”

A teaser of on-board footage is below, along with a couple other social posts from the test:

Danny Watts: ‘Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  (l to r) Strakka Racing drivers Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane pose during the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship Photo Call on March 22, 2013 at Potters Fields in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Watts (left) with Leventis and Kane in 2013. Photo: Getty Images
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Sports car veteran driver Danny Watts has announced his retirement from active competition, but is in the news for an entirely different reason on Monday.

The 37-year-old Brit has announced he’s gay, penning a first-person piece for the Huffington Post and also doing interviews with both Daily Sportscar and Autosport. The latter article features a well-written op-ed from author Matt Beer.

In the Huffington Post piece, Watts, an eight-time starter and 2010 LMP2 class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, wrote that hiding his sexuality in the heavily white male heterosexual world of motorsport was simply becoming too much to keep under wraps.

“There isn’t any one moment that stands out in my mind as the moment I realized I would need to live in the closet if I wanted my motorsport career to go anywhere; it was just a general feeling I got,” Watts wrote.

“All the other guys in the paddock had girlfriends, so I got one to blend in. When that relationship ended, I got another one, and so I continued pretending to be straight for seventeen years.

“Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain.

“I hope that there are a few people who are supportive. If the response I’ve had from the queer motorsport community thus far is any gauge, I feel hopeful that I’ll find a supportive group to start driving change for my queer siblings in the sport I love.”

Within the motorsports world, Watts’ name is best known to the sports car paddock, and he was a regular with the Strakka Racing team alongside co-drivers Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis. But he isn’t particularly known to the racing world at large.

This announcement comes as Watts has opted to call time on his full-time driving career and instead will focus on coaching for the future. It also represents one of the higher profile names in racing announcing his sexual orientation, which makes it newsworthy.

Despite some detractors (as you might expect), a number of other drivers and key motorsports figures have revealed their support for Watts, and why this news matters, on social media today:

Marino Franchitti returns to Mazda at Sebring

SEBRING, FL - MARCH 15:  Left to right, Marino Franchitti, Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett celebrate after winning the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on March 15, 2014 in Sebring, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Franchitti (left) won at Sebring in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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Marino Franchitti will make his return to a Mazda entry for next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be run March 18, as third driver in the team’s No. 70 Mazda RT24-P with Joel Miller and Tom Long.

The Scotsman competed in the team’s RX-8 and 6 models in the GT ranks but has been out of a drive since his role with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing last season in one of the team’s Ford GTs in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Franchitti replaces James Hinchcliffe, who was the third driver in the No. 70 car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll test for the team later this week at Sebring prior to the race run in the second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the year.

“A big part of those results are being with great teams and having great teammates. I’ve been fortunate in that regard,” said Franchitti, who co-drove to win overall at Sebring in 2014. “I love driving there, I always have since the first laps I did. It’s a proper old-school track. If you go over the limit, you crash, simple as that, rather than going onto some tarmac run-off like many tracks. I love the challenge of walking that tightrope. Of course, there’s the challenge of the bumps too, trying to get the car to handle over them and the beating the car and driver takes. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to endurance test their cars here, it’s the ultimate test of a vehicle and its durability.

No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It’s so cool to be coming back into the Mazda family,” said Franchitti. “Like everyone else, I was blown away when I saw the first shots of the RT24-P and how incredible it looks, so there’s a lot of excitement at getting to drive it. I’m relieved I get a chance to test the car, as many times I’ve just jumped in and raced, so this is a bit of a luxury! Being a part of the development process of a car is something I’ve been lucky enough to do several times and it’s something I really love.”

Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan added, “He’s a proven winner there, and he’s been a part of the Mazda family for years. Just look at his record at Sebring! He has the experience that can really help our team. Because he’s driven with Mazda before, we know his personality is a great fit. That’s important to us, and it goes a long way in helping the team chemistry remain strong. He’s a great fit with Tom [Long] and Joel [Miller], just as Spencer Pigot has been great with Nunez and Bomarito.”

Pipo Derani set for IndyCar test with SPM at Sebring

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Pipo Derani has become a star in the sports car world the last couple years, courtesy of his drives primarily with Tequila Patron ESM.

Meanwhile for at least a day, the 23-year-old Brazilian will be returning to his open-wheel roots in a big way.

NBC Sports has learned Derani will test for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 in a rookie test for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Derani joins Mexican driver Luis Michael Dorrbecker, who will also make his test debut that day at that test at Sebring International Raceway’s 1.5-mile short course.

Derani raced a partial season in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2014 with Team Pelfrey, before shifting to sports cars later that fall, starting with Murphy Prototypes.

Derani excelled with G-Drive in 2015 before his star turn with ESM last year. This year, his schedule grows even greater, as he’s been confirmed with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing for the first three races of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the No. 67 Ford GT with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

It’ll be interesting to see what Derani does on the Sebring short course in one of SPM’s Honda-powered entries. He’ll be back at Sebring a couple weeks after his IndyCar test, as he prepares to defend his win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with ESM.