Lewis Hamilton

MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Bahrain GP

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After another wet qualifying in Malaysia last weekend, the pecking order is still rather tricky to define and decipher as the Formula 1 circus moves to Bahrain. One constant that might make predicting the result of this weekend’s race a bit easier is that Mercedes has been the all-conquering force so far in 2014. Will this trend continue under the lights in Bahrain, though?

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. As much as I play up Nico Rosberg (and I do still believe he will win the title this year), the fashion in which teammate Lewis Hamilton dominated the Malaysian Grand Prix makes him my tip for this weekend’s race. It won’t be by much, though.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Williams has shown good pace so far this season, and Massa’s record in Bahrain is impressive with wins in 2007 and 2008. A dry qualifying will play into the team’s hands, so I can see him reaching the podium this weekend.

Most to prove: Ferrari. Some good results, but a pretty average pace. Alonso once again appears to be outperforming his machinery, whilst Raikkonen has been quite unlucky. The Italian team needs to turn it all around sooner rather than later, though.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes seem unassailable at the moment and dominated testing in Bahrain – roll on again with the silver and teal.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Off the top five in Malaysia, the Force India driver carries that momentum into Bahrain by going either one better to fourth or capturing his elusive first podium finish.

Most to prove: Sauber. Double DNF in Malaysia, two nondescript Grands Prix when they have been on track, we’ll see if within the week turnaround the Swiss team can make a step forward in competitiveness. Lotus seem closer to its first points than does the Monisha Kaltenborn-led squad, at the moment.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Truthfully, you could flip a coin between him and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg right now, but momentum can certainly count for something and the former World Champion’s got it right now after Malaysia. The Red Bulls will be lurking, but their time to strike has not arrived – yet…

Surprising finish: Valtteri Bottas. The Finn has earned points in each of the first two Grand Prix but each of his runs have had issues – the run-in with the wall at Australia and his team orders controversy with Felipe Massa in Malaysia. I think another solid result is coming for him in the desert, but this time, it’ll be a bit more tidy.

Most to prove: Kimi Raikkonen. Although his problems in Malaysia wasn’t his doing, Raikkonen’s off to a relatively slow start. Granted, everyone at Ferrari’s dealing with the lack of pace in the F14 T, but he needs to make like Fernando Alonso and net as many points as he can before the expected upgrades come in.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. It’s hard to pick against the guy who has won the last two races in Bahrain. Plus, with the way Vettel jumped up 11 places in the standings after Malaysia, he’s primed for a third consecutive trip to victory lane this weekend. But it won’t be easy. Look for Kimi Raikkonen to be right on Vettel’s tail, looking to win after finishing second there the last two races — both behind Vettel.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. Call it a gut feeling, but he could very easily win this race. He’s finished runner-up the last two years in Bahrain, which is a significant accomplishment considering he missed the 2010 and 2011 races there. Overall, in eight starts there, Raikkonen has an outstanding record: six top-three finishes, including three runner-ups and three other third-place showings. If ever there was a win waiting to happen, it’s Kimi in Bahrain.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. A two-time winner in Bahrain, Massa needs to build on the momentum he gained last week in Malaysia, climbing 10 spots in the F1 standings, from 20th to 10th. Even though it’s still very early in the season, Massa needs another strong run to get him fully back into the championship mix.

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.