2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona

Sebring 2014 may take some getting used to with new changes

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This weekend marks three major international motorsport events. Formula One kicks off its 2014 campaign with the Australian Grand Prix; NASCAR gets its first short-track racing on at Bristol Motor Speedway.

And in the former airfield of Sebring, Florida, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will run its second race of its 2014 season, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

This one’s going to be a weird one, because it will mark the first “former American Le Mans Series” race in the merged championship. Daytona was all well and good overall, but it was a past GRAND-AM affair, and what was good in the past was taken and amplified by the ALMS additions.

Sebring may well be the opposite. Gone, for the first time in 15 years, are the majestic marvels of technology – the LMP1 cars.

Although the full-season LMP1 grid in North America was less than subscribed over the last four to five years of the ALMS run, Sebring always featured a full LMP1 grid count.

Audi and Peugeot waged some epic bouts over a five-year span; the relative underdog Acura and Rebellion teams could always pull a surprise; and the Muscle Milk and Dyson teams had their chance to go against the world’s best, which for a handful of years included a bumper crop of extras from Europe (either of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup or FIA World Endurance Championship).

There was fan footage captured of the new-for-2014 LMP1-H prototypes from Audi and Porsche testing at Sebring last week. Yet for the first time in 15 years, the German manufacturers won’t be sticking around a couple weeks later to grind it out on the notoriously punishing circuit over 12 hours. Well, not with an LMP1 anyway; there’s plenty of representation in the GT classes.

That’s going to be something we’ll miss.

There’s also the lack of official practice for the TUDOR Championship until Thursday, although some teams have participated in private tests over the weekend. In recent years, ALMS on-track activity ran from Monday through Wednesday before official festivities kicked off Thursday. Now, not.

What Sebring does have going for it this year is a back to almost full field, with 66 cars projected to race on Saturday. The 2009, 2010 and 2013 editions of the race were down years, owing to the lack of a secondary major championship to produce a full field. But the 2011 and 2012 races, with an ILMC, then WEC presence, were something to behold.

The 2011 race saw the Hughes de Chaunac-led ORECA Peugeot team score the overall upset, ahead of Highcroft Racing in a one-off start of an HPD ARX-01e (the only time a new-for-2011 HPD LMP1 car raced). In 2012, a colossal scrap between Joey Hand’s BMW and Olivier Beretta’s Ferrari ended in favor of the American for top GT honors.

The potential for a surprise overall winner does exist, which is something that has, as mentioned above, only happened a couple of times in the past. The ORECA Peugeot’s 2011 triumph and the Penske LMP2 class Porsche RS Spyder overall win in 2008 were the only non-factory Audi or factory Peugeot wins at Sebring since 2000.

Live TV coverage is limited to just the first three hours, although the balance will be live streamed on IMSA.com. A mixed bag for sure, considering the race’s prestige, history and place within the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

But for the first time in nearly 20 years, Sebring will follow Daytona on the same schedule, and that just feels right.

In total, really, this year’s Sebring will be a radical departure from recent years past, but should offer much of the same good action we’ve been accustomed to in years past.

Just with different cars fighting for the overall win, and a different way of watching if you’re not at the track.

Vettel unconcerned despite ‘scrappy’ Thursday in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel remains upbeat heading into the remainder of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend despite enduring a “scrappy” practice on Thursday.

Ferrari once again failed to match the pace of both Mercedes and Red Bull in practice in Monaco, suggesting that its struggles in Spain may continue this weekend.

Vettel had a difficult second practice that saw him hit the wall twice, albeit without sustaining any major damage.

“It was not a ‘clean’ day in the office today,” Vettel conceded after finishing ninth in FP2.

“Our session was a bit scrappy: I touched the wall, damaged the rear wing, but luckily we were able to fix it and carry on.

“I just didn’t get everything out of the car, couldn’t find the rhythm and didn’t do good laps on the ultra-soft tires. If you look at the standings, we don’t belong where we scored today.”

Vettel believes that the Ferrari SF16-H car remains competitive, and is sure that Thursday’s struggles are not a sign of things to come in qualifying and the race.

“Overall the car is good and has the pace, so I am not worried for Saturday,” Vettel said.

“Today our focus was not towards ranking high up, we tried a couple of things and it is fair to say that some of them didn’t work.

“Being the first practice day, it is also difficult to see what other people did.”

Teammate Kimi Raikkonen fared marginally better than Vettel, finishing seventh in FP2 as he struggled to get to grips with the new Pirelli ultra-soft tires.

“It was not an ideal day, but it is still the first day of practice,” Raikkonen said.

“In the morning I was not very happy with the car but in the afternoon we were able to improve the behavior. There’s a lot of work to do but of course this is not the easiest place when things are not running exactly as you want.

“It’s the first time we use the ultra-soft compound in the race weekend, the feeling is that it’s the best fitting tire of all of those we have here, but we still need to find a way to make them work slightly better.”

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Monaco GP

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Dubbing the Monaco Grand Prix as the ‘jewel in Formula 1’s crown’ may be an overused cliche, yet it also perfectly describes what is unquestionably the biggest event of the sport’s season.

Off-track, the rich and famous come out to see the on-track warriors enter battle at one of the most challenging circuits in world motorsport.

Nico Rosberg remains the championship leader upon arrival in Monaco, and he is also the man to beat around the streets where he grew up after winning the last three grands prix in the principality.

However, with Red Bull riding high after Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton keen to end his win drought, the German is unlikely to have things all his own way.

As ever, MotorSportsTalk editor Tony DiZinno and lead F1 writer Luke Smith have made their predictions for the weekend ahead. Let us know your picks in the comments section below.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg may have won the last three races around here, and Red Bull may have led the way during practice, but I’m backing Hamilton to get back into the title race on Sunday. With rain forecast, it’s about time the three-time champ delivers one of his career-defining drives, dominating proceedings while the rest flounder.

Surprise Finish: Esteban Gutierrez. After such a miserable start to the season, I’m backing Guti to end his luckless streak and score his first points since the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

Most to Prove: Nico Rosberg. Around the streets he grew up, Rosberg needs to truly prove his title credentials this weekend by defeating Hamilton in a straight fight… which we’re still yet to get this year…

Additional Storyline: Max in the spotlight. After his victory in Spain two weeks ago, Verstappen is the man of the moment. Quite how he manages to cope with the pressure in Monaco and build on this result will be fascinating to see.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. There is nothing on current form that makes me confident in this pick but man if there was a place for Hamilton to make some sort of comeback to his season and erase the negativity after the Spanish GP start dust-up, it’s here.

Surprise Finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Again, nothing on current form suggests any sort of Hulkenberg result is imminent, but frankly, given how poor his run is – he hasn’t even finished lately – he’s gotta be due for some points score. Right?

Most to Prove: Max Verstappen. Yeah, what are you gonna do for an encore, kid? After turning the F1 world on its head two weeks ago with an incredible, near impossible to believe win on debut for Red Bull, how will he follow up this week?

Additional Storyline: Pirelli ultra-soft tire debut. They’re the most popular tire choice and the fascinating element will be just how long they last.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Ricciardo takes Red Bull top in second Monaco GP practice

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo proved that Red Bull’s race-winning pace in Spain two weeks ago was no flash-in-the-pan by comfortably finishing fastest in the second practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday.

Ricciardo arrived in Monaco hopeful of emulating teammate Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain, armed with an updated Renault power unit for the weekend.

Fitted with the new ultra-soft tire that is debuting in Monaco, Ricciardo dominated proceedings to finish six-tenths of a second clear of the field in FP2.

A fastest lap of 1:14.607 was enough to give Ricciardo P1 at the checkered flag, firing a warning shot to Mercedes heading into the rest of the weekend.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had eased to a one-two finish in FP1 earlier in the day, but they were forced to settle for second and third in the afternoon.

Verstappen followed closely behind in fourth for Red Bull, while the Toro Rosso pair of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. impressed to finish fifth and sixth in FP2.

Kimi Raikkonen finished seventh in a difficult session for Ferrari that saw Sebastian Vettel hit the wall twice. The German driver escaped any serious damage, but could only finish ninth overall. Sergio Perez split the pair, while Jenson Button rounded out the top 10 for McLaren.

Much like FP1, the session was interrupted by a handful of on-track incidents. Romain Grosjean sustained damage to the front of his car after hitting the wall at the exit of the tunnel. Rio Haryanto also required repairs after a similar error, clattering the rear of his Manor into the barrier.

It proved to be a session to forget for Renault as both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen hit trouble. Palmer missed the first hour of running due to an issue on his car, while Magnussen shunted his front-end at the final corner, prompting a Virtual Safety Car period.

Practice and qualifying in Monaco takes place on Saturday, with Friday being the traditional ‘off’ day.

Vettel reflects on early success in wake of Verstappen’s victory

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 15: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing is congratulated on his first F1 win on the podium by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 15, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In the wake of Max Verstappen’s shock maiden grand prix victory in Spain two weeks ago, four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel has reflected on his own early success in the sport, saying it can be “difficult to grasp”.

Verstappen became the youngest winner in F1 history at the age of 18 in Barcelona, breaking Vettel’s record that had stood since the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

Both drivers were members of the Red Bull junior programme, making their way through Toro Rosso before racing for the energy drink giant’s senior F1 team.

When asked by NBC Sports in Wednesday’s pre-Monaco FIA press conference for his thoughts on Verstappen’s success, Vettel noted that at the same age he was only racing in Formula 3.

“I was in Formula Three so I can’t possibly share…” he said.

“But yeah, in both cases probably the circumstances were very new. It wasn’t an expected win, probably little bit less for me at the time.

“Still, I think your first grand prix win is something. You’re over the moon. Something very difficult to grasp.

“I’m sure he felt now how it was and he wants to do it again. That’s how I felt back then.

“It’s up to all the rest of us to ensure it doesn’t happen too often.”

Verstappen has been subject to a great media focus in his native Netherlands after becoming the nation’s first grand prix winner.

“Yeah, it was pretty crazy in Holland,” Verstappen said.

“The first Dutch winner I think it’s always very special, so I can call myself now the youngest and the oldest – something I’m the oldest in!

“Luckily, I didn’t go out too much in Holland on the streets, just enjoying my time a bit with family and friend but of course hopefully we’ll see more fans [at races], that’s for sure.”