MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Australian GP

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The 2014 Formula 1 season gets underway this weekend in Australia, marking the beginning of a new era in the history of the sport. Gone are the old V8 engines, and in come turbocharged V6 power units, whilst a number of other technical and sporting changes are set to shake up the pecking order. However, this means that the predictions for this weekend’s race are perhaps the hardest the team at MotorSportsTalk has ever had to make…

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Judging by testing, it has to be a Mercedes, doesn’t it? Lewis Hamilton will storm to pole on Saturday, but I can’t see him continuing this into Sunday. 2014 suits the ‘thinking’ driver: this is Rosberg’s race for the taking.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. After a few bad years with Ferrari, Felipe Massa looks like a changed man at Williams. Once again, the team was quick in testing, and he’s my pick to push the Mercedes drivers hard in Australia. He’ll reach the podium.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. I can’t believe I’m actually putting this… but Seb has a lot to prove this weekend. The Red Bull RB10 has been blighted with problems throughout the winter. All of the sport’s greats have proven themselves in a rubbish car – maybe it’s finally Vettel’s turn to do so?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Translate the Mercedes’ reliability with Hamilton’s raw pace and record in Melbourne, and you have the ingredients for the guy who was the last non-Sebastian Vettel winner last July to break the four-time world champion’s streak.

Surprising finish: Kevin Magnussen. A sneaky podium contender if the McLaren is there. Has been seriously impressive in preseason testing and could well back it up on debut.

Most to prove: Daniel Ricciardo. With Red Bull’s miserable preseason and the pressure of his home race facing him in his Red Bull debut, “Aussie Dan’s” smile may not make too many appearances this weekend. But if he and the team make a leap this weekend, good on them.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. A lot of people are making his teammate the favorite, which is understandable. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosberg seizes the opportunity and makes them go: “Oh yeah, Nico’s pretty decent, too…”

Surprising finish: Kevin Magnussen. McLaren appears to have picked up a decent young colt in Magnussen to pair up with their ex-World Champion, Jenson Button. It won’t be easy but I think the son of sports car ace Jan will turn in a solid result in his inaugural GP.

Most to prove: Every team with a Renault engine! Single out four-time world champions Red Bull (Sebastian Vettel/Daniel Ricciardo) if you want, but Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham are behind the 8-Ball on reliability as well. 

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. After winning the last nine races of the 2013 season, and 13 overall, how can you pick against Vettel. If anything, he’s gotten stronger. The key is to get a big jump at the start of the race. If he does that, Vettel takes this one with ease.

Surprising finish: Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. The Lotus drivers enter this season like the Rodney Dangerfields of F1, getting very little respect. Now is their time to show that they’re not going to be also-rans in 2014. 

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. Most oddsmakers are picking Hamilton to win this race, not Vettel, who is around an 18-1 longshot (Hamilton is around 5-2). Does Hamilton deserve to be ranked that high coming into the season opener? We’ll find out Sunday.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.