Photo: David Griffin/NMPA

Mario Andretti honored by national motorsports press group

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CONCORD, N.C. – Even though the national and local motorsports media has been decimated by layoffs and beat eliminations over the last several years, Saturday’s National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame induction ceremonies proved that there still is power of the press.

The NMPA inducted three heavyweights of their respective areas, honoring the legendary Mario Andretti, NASCAR crew chief/team owner Ray Evernham and noted journalist Steve Waid.

Andretti was honored for a lifetime of achievement across several forms of motorsports, including being a past Formula One and four-time Indy car champion, as well as Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 winner.

Voted “Driver of the Century” by several media entities over the years including the Associated Press and Racer magazine, Andretti, who turns 74 on Feb. 28, looked like he could still climb into a modern-day Indy car and give today’s stars a run for their money.

Being voted into the NMPA Hall of Fame was one of the highlights of his career, Andretti said.

“You get that beautiful call and then it gives you a chance to pause and look back at everything that has happened to you, to count your blessings,” he said. “The greatest compliment is your work has been acknowledged, and this (his induction) is what it’s all about.”

In typical gentlemanly fashion, Andretti was humbled by the honor, while at the same time stressing that even while the media ranks have greatly decreased in recent years, there is still a significant need for the media.

“I feel almost like an intruder because it’s motorsports press. I’ve never written a column in my life,” Andretti said with a smile.

He added in a more serious vein, “I don’t think anyone appreciates the value of the press more than I do, because we all need to realize that no matter how exciting the sport can be, the talent involved and so forth.

“But unless there is somebody out there to tell the story, there’s no value and nobody knows. It’s because of the press that the sport of motor racing is enjoying the popularity that it’s enjoying today, no question about it.”

Andretti reminisced about his storied career, giving particular credit to his wife of 54 years, Dee Ann, as well as reflecting upon some of the downsides of his four-decade racing career.

“(Dee Ann’s) not a race fan, either. But somehow, she got sucked into it,” he said with a laugh. “All along, she held everything solid behind. God knows I was selfish, I just wanted to race, there were no picnics on weekends for us. (My daughter Barbie) reminded me, ‘Dad, you were not even at my graduation.’ I know, and I’m so sorry, but I had to work.”

And work Andretti did, becoming one of the greatest and most successful drivers in all motorsports, particularly with his versatility and willingness to drive pretty much anything that had four wheels on it.

He drew a huge round of laughs from the approximately 250 attendees at the induction banquet when he related a story involving eldest son Michael, who is now the principal owner of the Andretti Autosport car on the Izod IndyCar Series.

“Michael was in school at six or seven years old, and the teacher asked the kids what their fathers did,” Mario said. “She got to Michael and Michael said, ‘He goes to the airport and makes bread.’ The reason he said that is he’d always see me pack my suitcase and my helmet bag and he’d ask, ‘Dad, where are you going?’ I’d tell him, ‘I’m going to the airport. Got to make the bread.’ ”

Andretti was presented for induction into the NMPA Hall of Fame by NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey, who observed that even in retirement, Andretti is still a man in demand, particularly by members of the media.

“You were so appealing to the media,” Diffey said of Andretti. “You were always available. … I don’t think you’ve ever had a bad soundbite. You’re always guaranteed to give a good quote. It’s still happening today – Mario gets asked 20 to 30 times a month to be interviewed by various publications because Mario has a legitimate choice and a legitimate opinion.”

Andretti was awarded the traditional grey NMPA jacket and a plaque as symbols of his induction.

“I count my blessings every day because I’ve been so, so fortunate to have a long career and be able to meet so many incredible people along the way – and some of them are in this room,” he said. “I look back (on his storied career) with no regrets whatsoever. … To be able to have a long career like I have … it allowed me to retire on my own terms.”

Hill expects Rosberg to be ‘more formidable’ in 2016

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez  on November 1, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.
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1996 Formula 1 world champion Damon Hill believes that Nico Rosberg will be “more formidable” in 2016 following his back-to-back title defeats to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg took the title race down to the final race of the year in 2014 before losing to Hamilton, and proved to be the Briton’s closest rival again in 2015, albeit losing the championship with three rounds remaining.

Rosberg endured a five-month winless streak last season that led many to question his ability to battle with Hamilton for a championship, only for the German to answer by winning the final three races of the year.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hill said that Rosberg showed his true strength with this trio of victories, signalling that he could put up a greater fight to Hamilton for the title in 2016.

“I think he is a little bit more formidable now,” Hill said. “I think after the Austin defeat, that day when he lost the championship and Lewis infamously tossed the cap and he tossed it straight back, there was a moment where Nico said ‘OK, I am not going to take this anymore’ and he did go ahead and win all the remaining races.

“He can go on ahead and become the other world champion’s son [Keke Rosberg won the F1 title in 1982] to become a world champion himself.

“He probably knows time is running out and when you get all those ingredients together you maybe get a little bit of a hardening of the determination. Maybe he will be more determined this year and harder to beat.”

MotoGP to introduce stewards’ panel for 2016 season

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 25:  Marc Marquez of Spain and Repsol Honda Team leads Valentino Rossi of Italy and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP during the MotoGP race during the MotoGP Of Malaysia at Sepang Circuit on October 25, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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The FIM has confirmed that a new, dedicated stewards’ panel will be created for the 2016 MotoGP season following the controversy between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez at the end of last year.

Rossi and Marquez became embroiled in a tense rivalry that saw them clash in Malaysia, with Rossi appearing to raise his leg and cause his adversary to fall from his bike.

Rossi was handed a penalty that dropped him to the back of the grid for the championship decider in Valencia, where Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo clinched a third world title.

The incident did little good of the reputation of the drivers involved nor MotoGP as a whole, prompting officials to create a new stewards’ panel for 2016 that will deal with similar affairs.

Previously, race direction has also dealt with stewarding matters, but these responsibilities will now be split for 2016.

“We want to let race direction focus on managing the races because there are a lot of responsibilities and delicate matters to do,” FIM president Vito Ippolito said.

“We want to let them be free to manage the race but not to involve them anymore with the task of penalizing riders. It needs more time and special dedication.

“On the other side we will have the panel of three stewards. It will be the current race director who is Mike Webb and two more stewards from the FIM.

“One of them possibily also a permanent steward as we think with this structure, with this panel of stewards completely dedicated to judge the behaviour of riders during the races and practice, we can achieve a very high level of decisions.”

Vandoorne was considered for Renault Formula 1 seat

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JANUARY 25:  Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium and McLaren Honda drives during wet weather tyre testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 25, 2016 in Le Castellet, France.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Newly-appointed Renault Sport racing director Frederic Vasseur claims that the French manufacturer considered signing GP2 champion and McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne for its comeback season in Formula 1.

Renault will return to F1 this year with a works team for the first time since 2010, and unveiled its driver line-up of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer at an event in France on Wednesday.

Magnussen was drafted in to replace Pastor Maldonado after the Venezuelan driver’s financial backing fell through and negotiations with the team broke down.

Speaking to DH.be, Vasseur revealed that Vandoorne was considered for the seat before Renault ultimately signed Magnussen for 2016.

“We had to put a cross next to Stoffel. He is under contract with McLaren and the team did not want to part ways,” Vasseur said.

“So we needed someone who was available and our choice was therefore focused on Kevin.”

Vandoorne is set to race in the Japanese Super Formula series in 2016, having tested a car over the winter. Despite winning the 2015 GP2 title in record-breaking fashion, the Belgian is not yet able to make the step up to F1, but looks set to do so with McLaren when either Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso leave the team.

Buemi content with fightback to second in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 6:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 & Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01, during the Buenos Aires Formula E race at Puerto Madero Street Circuit on February 6, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES – Sebastien Buemi felt content with his performance in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix after bouncing back from a mistake in qualifying to finish second and extend his lead at the top of the Formula E drivers’ championship.

Buemi locked up during his 200kW lap in qualifying at Puerto Madero to resign himself to 18th position on the grid, handing his rivals an opportunity to overhaul him in the title race.

The Renault e.dams driver produced a spirited display to pick through the order during the race before coming into contention for the win late on after a safety car period.

Although Buemi could not overhaul DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird at the front of the pack, he remained happy with second place in light of his qualifying error.

“The mistake in qualifying was very annoying, because when you have such a good car and such a good team, you want to reward them with the best possible result,” Buemi told MotorSportsTalk.

“But in the end I did my best to come back. I think I did a good job. 18 points are better than zero so happy with that.”

Buemi is now targeting an error-free weekend at the next race in Mexico City as he looks to extend the four-point gap to Lucas di Grassi at the top of the standings.

“Clearly [the result] shows that we have a very strong car and we just need to make sure from now on we don’t miss any points,” Buemi said.

“Putrajaya, the team made a mistake, the car didn’t finish the race. But today obviously I made one [in qualifying] and I tried to work the car to catch it back.

“We’ve seen today that it’s easy to leave the weekend with zero points. I have only four points advantage in the championship, so I’m going to try to expand it as much as possible.”