Dakar: Roma, Coma, Casale and Karginov emerge as champions (VIDEO)

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Mini got its podium sweep and Nani Roma (pictured, right, with co-driver Michel Perin, left) got his second Dakar Rally championship, beating out teammate Stephane Peterhansel by five minutes and 38 seconds in the overall after today’s final Stage 13 from La Serena to Valparaiso, Chile.

Peterhansel, the 11-time Dakar champion, had taken a 26-second edge yesterday over Roma going into Stage 13 after the Spaniard dealt with the effects of an early puncture. That turn of events came after it was revealed that Mini had issued team orders going into Stage 11 to freeze positions in a bid to take all three spots on the podium for Roma, Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah.

But following his Stage 12 triumph, Peterhansel noted the possibility that those orders would be re-issued after Roma fell back behind him. It would appear that they were, as the Frenchman slowed down and stopped to allow Roma to pass him along the way to Valparaiso according to the Associated Press. Additionally, the Minis of Roma, Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah (who held on to third place overall at 56 minutes, 52 seconds behind Roma) crossed the finish line in a group.

“I don’t know if this was the most stressful thing I’d ever done, but it was very tough,” said Roma, who is now the third former bike winner of the Dakar to also win it in a car, joining Peterhansel and Hubert Auriol.

“The second week, with difficult, long stages, wasn’t easy. We’re happy, very happy with the work Michel and I did. I’m going to revel in this. 10 years to the day after winning on a motorcycle, I’ve won in a car. It’s a dream come true.”

As for Peterhansel, he had understandably mixed emotions over the outcome after charging so hard during the second week of competition to contend for what would have been his 12th Dakar title.

“Let’s look on the bright side of things – the car didn’t miss a beat, it took anything we threw at it, like usual, and we had lots of fun driving,” he said. “But I’m frustrated with the final result. The third thing I want to say is that Nani’s my friend, and I’m pleased to see him happy because it’s been his dream for ten years, since he shifted to a car.”

In the bikes, Marc Coma capped off his fourth Dakar championship by a margin of almost two hours over fellow KTM rider Jorge Viladoms, with Olivier Pain holding off Cyril Despres for third overall.

It was a sweet result for Coma, who was unable to start last year’s Dakar after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2012 Morocco Rally that failed to heal up in time.

“These are really strong, personal feelings,” he said. “It represents a lot of sacrifices and hard work. It’s an extreme race with ups and downs. Looking back, I remember being unable to start last year’s race. And yet I’m here now, I’ve won. I’d like to thank those around me who made this comeback possible.

“Every time I win this rally, I say I’m going to savor it. I’ll do it with my loved ones, my family. I don’t know if I’ll ever win it again. I’ll try, I’ll work hard for it, but it’s a very complicated rally.”

After surviving a grueling quads rally that saw contenders Marcos Patronelli and Sergio Lafuente forced to bow out, Chilean rider Ignacio Casale took the class title by almost an hour and a half over Poland’s Rafal Sonik, with Sebastian Husseini rounding out the podium.

Going into the final moments of today’s stage, Casale savored the cheers of his fellow countrymen as he put the finishing touches on his championship.

“The last 20 to 30 kilometers were amazing: The crowds, people cheering me on, banners…,” said Casale. “…I hope all of Chile will revel in this victory. It’s a triumph of hard work and passion, which proves you can go a long way if you do your best.”

Finally, Andrey Karginov and Gerard de Rooy’s duel for top honors in the truck category ended with a memorable last stage.

According to a report from the Dakar website, Karginov lost critical time after he was held up by the No. 319 Mini of Yong Zhou, which crashed and then got stuck on the track in the last timed sector of the stage. Altogether, Karginov lost nine minutes, 34 seconds to de Rooy, who crossed the line first today.

However, race officials opted to give Karginov a time dispensation of 5 minutes, 20 seconds after he was blocked by Zhou – which enabled the Russian to beat de Rooy for the championship by a mere 3 minutes, 11 seconds.

Hamilton: Monaco ‘the unicorn of races’ in F1 career

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Lewis Hamilton has called the Monaco Grand Prix the “unicorn” of races through his Formula 1 career, having claimed only two wins in 10 attempts around the streets of the principality.

Three-time F1 champion Hamilton is a resident of Monaco and has regularly been in contention for victory, but only reached the top step of the podium in 2008 and 2016.

Both wins were hard-fought, with his 2008 victory coming after an early pit stop due to a puncture. Last year, Hamilton pounced on a mistake by Red Bull to jump ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and take his second Monaco victory.

“I’ve not won here many times. With the pace I’ve had over the years, it’s always proven to be, not the Achilles heel, but the unicorn of races,” Hamilton said.

“That one that just always gets away from you. There’s definitely been, I would say, at least two – maybe three – that I should have had but other things came into play.

“But I’m grateful for the ones I’ve had. Not many people can say they have a Monaco Grand Prix win under their belt. And especially the way those two wins came about in 2008 and 2016.

“Sometimes quantity isn’t everything. Those were real quality races that I really earned, so I’m proud of those ones.”

Hamilton made a strong start to this weekend’s running in Monaco, leading first practice on Thursday morning.

Ganassi heads into Memorial Day weekend with three points leads

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INDIANAPOLIS – Three entirely different types of cars, series and racing formats have produced similar results for one team going into Memorial Day weekend, easily the biggest racing weekend of the world on the racing calendar.

Chip Ganassi Racing heads into the 101st Indianapolis 500 (Verizon IndyCar Series) and Coca-Cola 600 (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) with the points lead in these two championships with Scott Dixon and Kyle Larson. That marks the first time in the team’s 20-plus year history it has held each championship lead simultaneously.

And for good measure, the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team leads in the FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Pro class going into that series’ marquee race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which takes place June 17-18.

It’s only in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where the team sits second in the GT Le Mans class, that a Ganassi car and driver (or drivers) don’t have the points lead.

In IndyCar, Dixon moved into the points lead – albeit unofficially, as IndyCar doesn’t release updated points until after the Indianapolis 500 – following his pole position secured Sunday for next week’s race. He gained 31 more points than Simon Pagenaud and went from 10 down (191-181) to 21 ahead (223-202) going into the race. Oddly though, despite five top-fives in as many races since Ganassi switched to the Honda aero kit and engine package, Dixon is yet to win!

In NASCAR, Larson’s storming start on the strength of one overall win plus two additional stage wins sees him 44 points clear of Martin Truex Jr. (475-431), with Brad Keselowski the only other driver within 100 points. Larson has not finished worse than 17th in 11 races this year in his Chevrolet. Jamie McMurray sits fifth in the points, as well.

And in the WEC, after two races, the trio of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Pipo Derani won the 6 Hours of Silverstone to kick off the year in their No. 67 Ford GT. They hold a two-point lead over the pair of AF Corse Ferrari drivers, heading to the double points Le Mans race.

In IMSA, the pair of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand sit six points (124-118) behind Corvette’s Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen after four races. Mueller and Hand co-drove with Sebastien Bourdais to win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona; Mueller and Hand will have a new teammate at Le Mans while Bourdais recovers from his injuries sustained in an accident in qualifying at Indianapolis.

Although Ganassi is split between three bases – its IndyCar and IMSA arms are stationed in Indianapolis off Woodland Drive, its NASCAR hub is in Charlotte and its WEC hub in partnership with Multimatic is in the U.K. – the one team spirit is fully present as all three teams, and three manufacturers, are off to the strong start.

AVONDALE, AZ – APRIL 29: Scott Dixon of New Zealand, driver of the #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda greets fans as he is introduced to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 29, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“It’s important to win… and it’s important to lead a championship,” Ganassi managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports about the strong start.

“That’s an enormous motivating factor for everyone that works on our product, no matter if it’s IndyCar, NASCAR, WEC or IMSA. It validates the volume of work that people do for your race team. That includes the people who are visible and work really really hard, under the three locations, in order to achieve success.

“It represents what teams of people can accomplish when they work together.”

Ganassi, who celebrated his 59th birthday on Wednesday, is yet to win a NASCAR championship at the Cup level but Larson is presenting his best chance. It’s been in IndyCar where the team has had its greatest success, with 11 championships between 1996 and 2015. Ganassi has won multiple sports car championships in IMSA’s past iteration as the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, and won Le Mans last year but are yet to win a WEC title.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The Ford Chip Ganassi GT of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Pipo Derani drives during practice for the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 14, 2017 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

As Hull deadpanned, leading now is nice, but it’s at the end of the year when it actually matters.

“What has contributed to all that, is challenge,” Hull said. “When passionate people are challenged, what they come to realize quickly is achieve any amount of success on a daily basis on Sunday. We enjoy challenge; we love challenge, change and we love working together. That’s a perfect combination.

“We’re really excited when you’re leading the championship, but let’s be honest… you want it on the last lap of the last race.

“It’s positive and an optimistic start. We just need to keep to working at it, for the end of the year.”

Hamilton leads first Monaco F1 practice, Button makes solid return

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing battle for supremacy in Formula 1 continued during first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning as the duo locked out the top two positions.

Hamilton and Vettel have won four of the opening five rounds of the 2017 season and look set to enjoy a season-long fight for the championship, representing Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Hamilton drew first blood in Monaco, turning in a best lap of 1:13.425 around the tight streets of the principality to finish two-tenths clear of Vettel at the top of the timesheets.

The session saw Mercedes and Ferrari run close once again, yet Red Bull was also able to get into the mix at the head of the field with Max Verstappen finishing third-fastest, three-tenths of a second off the pace. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth in the second Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less able to match his teammate’s pace, coming home seventh for Ferrari, half a second down on Vettel’s time in the same car.

Toro Rosso and Force India both had impressive sessions as both teams got their drivers into the top 10. Daniil Kvyat was sixth for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. was ninth, sandwiched by Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for Force India.

Jenson Button’s first running in a 2017-spec F1 car was impressive as he finished 14th for McLaren ahead of his one-off grand prix return. The Briton turned in 31 laps in total and lapped less than two-tenths of a second slower than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, proving he has lost little of his touch over the winter.

Running in Monaco continues with second practice live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Thursday.

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.