Hamilton quickest in first practice for Bahrain GP

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Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in the first practice session ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix as Mercedes once again dominated proceedings on Friday afternoon in Sakhir.

The British driver, who is coming off the back of winning in Malaysia last weekend, posted a fastest time of 1:37.502 to finish two-tenths ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg as Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg were the only drivers to finish within half a second of the Silver Arrows.

Following a noisy GP2 practice on Friday morning, free practice got underway in a somewhat quieter fashion as the drivers kicked off the tenth Bahrain GP race weekend. Most came out early for an installation lap, but Rosberg’s session got off to a bad start as he suffered a loss of power on his car, forcing him to crawl back to the pits. The Mercedes team quickly got to work to fix the problem, and he was soon sent him back on his way.

Robin Frijns and Giedo van der Garde were two of the first drivers to post a time as both enjoyed some running in the session as part of their duties as test drivers for Caterham and Sauber respectively. Similarly, Felipe Nasr stepped in at Williams for Valtteri Bottas, and quickly moved to the top of the timesheets. He was soon displaced once the full-time drivers came out on track, and Daniil Kvyat was the first to lay down a serious benchmark ahead of Sergio Perez and Jenson Button. Predictably, Mercedes hit back as Rosberg moved ahead of Kvyat for P1, and he was soon followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton who went fastest by one-tenth of a second. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg popped up into third place with a solid lap time, just two-tenths shy of Hamilton’s

With the excessive heat posing a number of problems in Bahrain, many opted to sit in the pits and limit their running. The race will start at 6pm local time on Sunday, meaning that conditions will be far cooler than in practice.

In a rather bizarre moment, Ferrari was forced to send its mechanics down the pit lane to retrieve Fernando Alonso after he was found to have an odd tire on his car. The team should avoid a penalty as the Spaniard had not joined the track.

With 15 minutes to go, Alonso fitted a set of the quicker medium tires and went fastest of all for Ferrari (with all four tires the same this time around). Hulkenberg improved his time to move up into second place, and these times finally stirred the Mercedes drivers from their garages. Rosberg soon re-established his dominance to move two-tenths of a second clear of Alonso, before Hamilton put another two-tenths over his teammate with seven minutes to go.

Ultimately, this time proved to be unbeatable, handing Mercedes yet another one-two at the top of the timesheets.

Red Bull GRC: 2017 Preseason Q&A with Anders Krohn

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross prepares to kick off its 2017 season this weekend at Memphis on the NBC Sports Group networks. Qualifying takes place at midnight ET on Sunday on NBCSN with the race itself airing Sunday at 1 p.m. on NBC.

We checked in with NBC Sports analyst Anders Krohn, who will again call selected Red Bull GRC Supercars and GRC Lites races, for his take looking ahead to the new season (2016 midseason review linked here):

MST: A lot of change is coming to Red Bull GRC this year, with a number of different lineups. Do you see Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross well positioned to win its third straight title or are they vulnerable this year?

Anders Krohn: “The Beetles will definitely be hard to beat, but Honda and Subaru have stepped up their game, big time. It’s cool to see it becoming such a big fight between manufacturers, and one can only hope that 2017 is closer than in years past. Andretti Autosport recently took delivery of two brand new cars for Scott Speed and Tanner Foust, and I’m pretty certain the 2017 spec cars will be another noticeable step forward.”

MST: Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE should be much better in its second season. What are some of the goals and expectations here for this talented trio of drivers in the second year of the Honda Civic Coupe program? 

AK: “Almost to the detriment of their program last year, they got a podium at their first race weekend in Phoenix, so the expectations were already quite high from that point on. This year it’s quite simple, they need to win races. Last year they were quite a bit overweight, so if they’ve been able to shave those extra pounds off the car, they could be in good shape.”

MST: Subaru has made big improvements in the offseason with Patrik Sandell moving over and Chris Atkinson on for the season. Do you think they can return to winning races? 

AK: “Subaru have done more testing than any other manufacturer and this week we’ll get to see if the investment paid off. They’ve had a couple of tough years, and I know they are gunning for the title this year. With Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson they have a truly lethal combination and I like what each of them bring to the team. In 2016 we were left wondering too often if the lack of pace was down to driver or car, but for this year that certainly will not be the case.”

MST: There’s a lot of excitement with new faces coming into the series… Cabot Bigham, Oliver Eriksson and Mitchell DeJong all set to make their full-season debuts. Having covered them a bit in GRC Lites what is their potential like when they step up to Supercars? 

AK: “Mitchell DeJong obviously crushed the GRC Lites field in 2014, so his chance in a Supercar is well overdue and I give credit to Honda, Red Bull and OMSE for trusting in such a talented, young American to get the job done for them. Cabot Bigham and Oliver Eriksson finished first and second in what was probably the most competitive GRC Lites season ever. Having talked with Cabot’s new team owner Bryan Herta, he’s been massively impressed with Cabot’s outright pace and feedback so far. Oliver will be a natural fit within his already familiar OMSE home, albeit with an additional 350 horsepower under the bonnet. I genuinely feel as though these guys will turn some heads this year and show just how strong of a feeder series GRC Lites is.”

MST: Memphis kicks off a different schedule this year with a lot of new venues. What are some of the places for fans/series observers to be excited with this year? 

AK: “GRC is turning into a manufacturer dogfight and that is a great thing for the overall health of the sport, and should provide plenty of entertainment for the fans. I also like that the privateer teams of Rahal Letterman Racing with Austin Dyne, Loenbro Motorsports with Steve Arpin and Bryan Herta RallySport with Cabot Bigham, will have a chance to slug it out. All these guys are in Ford M-Sport Fiesta’s, which, under the right circumstances, could very well take it to the big teams with manufacturer support.

“Memphis looks like a super fast track, and using the oval part of the raceway means the wear on the tires will likely be extreme. With only 17% dirt, I expect a relatively stiffly sprung, low car to be the way to go, something that VW is obviously well known for. I’ve personally never been to Memphis, but it sure looks like a great chance to get some good BBQ, enjoy cars jumping 100 feet and banging into each other.

“If we can have three different manufacturers on the podium at the opening weekend, I think we’ll be in for a great season.”


Alonso gets seat fit, visits Borg-Warner Trophy in Indy

Photo: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Photo USA
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Fernando Alonso’s quick first visit to the U.S. before this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix continued Monday with a trip to Indianapolis with his Andretti Autosport team, following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in Birmingham, Ala.

After a jam-packed Sunday packed with media commitments and observing from the pits, Alonso went to Andretti’s shop on Zionsville Rd. where he made his seat fit for his upcoming first test on May 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This was the only time this could be worked into his schedule before he heads to Sochi to resume his Formula 1 commitments in his day job, lead driver of the team’s McLaren Honda.

Alonso also met the trophy he hopes to win as part of his quest to capture the Triple Crown, the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Andretti Autosport is the defending champion team at Indianapolis with Alexander Rossi. Rossi follows Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Dan Wheldon (2005) as winners for the team in the ‘500.

“It’s a beautiful trophy that I would be proud to take home if I won the Indianapolis 500. There are so many familiar faces on the trophy from the past and present that represent the greatest race in the world,” Alonso said, via BorgWarner. “Can I please get a full-sized trophy to take home if I win the race? The small ones (Baby Borgs) are nice but a big one would be wonderful!”

As Alonso is a two-time World Champion, he wouldn’t be the first driver to pull off an Indianapolis 500 victory. Others that have done so are listed below:

  • Jim Clark – Formula One World Champion in 1963 and 1965, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1965
  • Graham Hill – Formula One World Champion in 1962 and 1968, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1966
  • Mario Andretti – Formula One World Champion 1978, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1969
  • Emerson Fittipaldi – Formula One World Champion 1972 and 1974, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1989 and 1993
  • Jacques Villeneuve – Formula One World Champion 1997, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1995

NBCSN videos from Alonso’s Sunday at Barber are linked below.

Press Conference

Grid Interview with Townsend Bell

NBCSN Booth

Haas goes for first three-in-a-row scoring streak in Russia

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After back-to-back eighth place finishes from Kevin Magnussen at China and Romain Grosjean last time out in Bahrain, Haas F1 Team has its second chance to score points three races in a row for the first time in its F1 career – and arguably a more realistic chance at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix (Sunday, 8 a.m. ET, NBCSN).

Grosjean’s shock sixth and fifth place finishes to open his 2016 account in Australia and Bahrain were unexpected but the team hit a bump in the road in China. Russia, however, saw the Frenchman return to the points with an eighth place, and bring his season tally to 28 points to conclude the remarkable start of results in flyaway races.

Now, with a car that could theoretically be considered the fourth best in the field behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, hopes are high for either Grosjean or Magnussen to extend the team’s scoring streak to what would be the longest yet in its short history.

The team did well to note the Olympic tie in at the Sochi circuit, linking “Super G” and how fast the new 2017 Formula 1 cars are.

From the release: “The first time we saw Super-G in Sochi was in 2014 when the Russian city hosted the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud beat American Andrew Weibrecht by .3 of a second on the 2.096-kilometer (1.302-mile) course with a 622-meter (2,041-foot) vertical drop to nab gold in the alpine slalom event.

“Three years later, a Super-G of a different sort returns to Sochi, but instead of taking place on the white slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, it will happen on the black asphalt of the Sochi Autodrom as the fastest cars in Formula One history rocket around the 5.848-kilometer (3.634-mile), 18-turn circuit for the April 30 Russian Grand Prix.”

Grosjean described the physical uptick in training he’s needed to do. The 31-year-old is in his sixth full season and seventh overall in F1, since his midseason debut in 2009.

“The cars are brutal to drive – we are not far from 8G with the peak in high corners – so it is pretty good fun, but it is hard on the body, it is hard on parts, it is hard on the cars,” Grosjean said. “You better not miss the turning point on some places. The speed we go through the corners is insane compared to the past. You need to be more precise, more accurate, more on it.

“We’re going through more g-forces, so the neck is stronger and the core is stronger,” Grosjean added. “Your whole body had to adjust to these high speeds.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner explained the importance of needing to bank points early in the crowded midfield. Haas sits seventh in the championship now, just nine points behind Sahara Force India in fourth, who have scored with both drivers in each of the three races so far in 2017.

“It’s always good to come back from two races with points, and it shows that the car is capable to score points at each race. Then again, it’s always difficult because it’s a tight midfield and we all went testing after Bahrain and everyone has learned something,” Steiner said.

“It’s as tight as it’s ever been. With four to five teams so close together, I cannot remember when that happened, and every weekend it’s mixed up in a different way. Any of these teams can go into Q3 and get into the points. It’s a very tense battle, but I think a nice battle and it keeps the constructors championship pretty open for the midfield.”

Grosjean added, “It was good to score points in Bahrain. Clearly, we deserved them – since race one, actually. I think the most encouraging fact for now is that the car is performing well everywhere we’ve been. So now we go to Russia, which was a bit of a tough one for us last year. We’ll see if we’ve made progress and if the car is working well at every type of circuit. If so, then pretty much everywhere we could score points.”

For Magnussen, the chance of a score comes after he delivered his best 2016 result here last year – seventh for Renault. He was also fifth in 2014 with McLaren, and has a chance to score for a third different team here this weekend.

“I think it’s a good track and I’ve had some good races there. Hopefully, I can have another good one there this year,” he said.

“I know last year I had a good first lap. Quite a few people messed up and lost things like front wings and so on. I made up lots of positions with that. I then had a really good race after that to finish seventh.”

 

 

PWC: 36 SprintX cars, lineups pack variety, diversity at VIR

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No less than 36 cars are set to compete in the first of five Pirelli World Challenge SprintX weekends, this weekend at VIRginia International Raceway.

Breaking down those 36 cars, they’re split this way:

  • 12 GT Pro/Pro
  • 16 GT Pro/Am
  • 1 GT Am/Am
  • 1 GT Cup Pro/Am
  • 1 GT Cup Am/Am
  • 2 GTS Pro/Am
  • 3 GTS Am/Am

And that’s before you get to the rest of the entry list: GTS: 9; GTSA: 10; TC: 32; TCA: 15; TCB: 8.

In sports car racing, the easiest way to get hooked is to embrace the variety and diversity of machinery first and ask questions about how complex it is later.

So with that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the GT SprintX entries (which themselves are split between three classes, but we’ll set that aside for a minute) and their respective lineups.

Cadillac Racing, Cadillac ATS-V.R

3 – Johnny O’Connell/Jordan or Ricky Taylor
8 – Michael Cooper/Jordan or Ricky Taylor

The fully professional Cadillac lineups give the Taylor brothers a chance to dip their feet back into Pirelli World Challenge competition alongside the team’s full-season drivers. That being said, it’ll be weird to see Jordan and Ricky racing against each other again, and Cadillac still hasn’t confirmed which brother goes where.

Magnus Racing, Audi R8 LMS

4 – Pierre Kaffer/Spencer Pumpelly (Kaffer misses Lime Rock)
44 – John Potter/Marco Seefried (Seefried misses Lime Rock)

For Magnus Racing, a return to the mini-endurance racing with pit stops could see the team with a slight advantage over those PWC-only teams in recent years. Kaffer and Pumpelly is as good a lineup as you’ll find on the grid while Potter and Seefried know each other’s nuances well.

K-PAX Racing, McLaren 650S GT3

6 – Bryan Sellers/Jonny Kane
9 – Alvaro Parente/Ben Barnicoat
98 – Mike Hedlund/Michael Lewis

With Strakka Racing coming to McLaren, Jonny Kane is the ace of reckoning added here with Sellers. Meanwhile Parente has the talented but inexperienced McLaren GT junior driver Barnicoat alongside; Hedlund and Lewis provide a very solid all-American duo.

GMG Racing, Porsche 911 GT3 R

14 – James Sofronas/Laurens Vanthoor (VIR and CTMP)
14 – James Sofronas/Matt Halliday (Lime Rock, Utah and COTA)

Calvert Dynamics, Porsche 911 GT3 R

77 – Alec Udell/Preston Calvert (partnership with GMG)

In simple terms, Sofronas’ team is one that should benefit from the SprintX format. Porsche places factory driver Vanthoor in when available while Halliday is a team veteran. Udell and Calvert will share a Calvert Dynamics entry prepared by GMG, which combines the two top teams from the series’ GT Cup class.

Wright Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 R

16 – Michael Schein/Jan Heylen
58 – Patrick Long/Joerg Bergmeister

Two solid lineups here for John Wright’s team. The iconic pairing of Long and Bergmeister is reunited in the team’s all-pro entry with Heylen and Schein one of the top pro/am entries.

RealTime Racing, Acura NSX GT3

43 – Ryan Eversley/Tom Dyer
93 – Peter Kox/Mark Wilkins

Wilkins and Dyer, the team’s SprintX additions, are underrated for a reason – they’re solid, quiet, capable drivers who aren’t flashy but usually get the job done. But they’re going to have to rise up against some of the other pros competing, especially when Acura’s four full-season drivers in IMSA aren’t added here.

Bentley Team Absolute, Bentley Continental GT3

78 – Yufeng Luo/Alexandre Imperatori (VIR and CTMP)
88 – Adderly Fong/Vincent Abril

Past Blancpain GT Series champion Abril is an excellent addition to this young lineup, and he and Fong will be the car to watch versus the pro/am No. 78 car.

CRP Racing, Mercedes-AMG GT3

2 – Ryan Dalziel/Daniel Morad

“Razzle Dazzle” and “State of Moradness” combine for one of the coolest nickname and driver pairings on the grid. The Canadian should learn the Mercedes quickly and combined with the rapid Scot who’s based in Florida, this team should excel.

TR3 Racing, Ferrari 488 GT3

31 – Daniel Mancinell/Andrea Montermini

Mancinelli has raised more than a few eyebrows in his first two weekends in the series, but has the pace to star. Ferrari GT veteran Montermini is a nice counterbalance.

R. Ferri Motorsport, Ferrari 488 GT3

61 – Alex Riberas/Kyle Marcelli

Remo Ferri’s entry is one of the best ones out there, with two very talented drivers sharing the team’s Ferrari 488 in the SprintX races. Marcelli’s vastly experienced for his still tender age of 27; Riberas is a rising GT star in sports car racing.

Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 458 GT3

7 – Martin Fuentes/Stefan Johansson

Giacomo Mattioli doesn’t usually enter something unless he thinks he can win, and this pro/am lineup of last year’s GTA champ (Fuentes) and Ferrari veteran and team sporting director Johansson, is one of the best in this category.

M1 GT Racing, Audi R8 LMS

23 – David Ostella/James Dayson

Pair of Mazda Road to Indy veterans-turned-sports car Canadians share a car that will be consistent if not the outright fastest among pro/am entries.

MOMO NGT Motorsport, Ferrari 458 GT3

30 – Henrique Cisneros/TBA

Cisneros usually assembles a good effort, and the identity of his co-driver will be interesting.

Black Swan Racing, Mercedes-AMG GT3

54 – Tim Pappas/Jeroen Bleekemolen

The band has come back together for the past GTC champions of American Le Mans Series. Bleekemolen remains rapid as ever; he and Pappas have gelled well before.

DXDT Racing, Mercedes-AMG GT3

63 – Aaron Povoledo/David Askew

Team’s strength comes from its 2016 SprintX experience, something many others don’t have.

Always Evolving Racing/AIM Autosport, Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3

75 – Ricardo Sanchez/Frankie Montecalvo

There’s a lot of newness for the AE/AIM/Nissan combo including a new driver lineup and new 2017 car. While it’s unfortunate past Nissan winners Bryan Heitkotter and James Davison aren’t here, young guns Sanchez and Montecalvo have potential in spades.

McCann Racing, Audi R8 LMS

82 – Mike Skeen/Michael McCann

This SprintX-only, pro/am entry could provide an avenue for “ginger stig” Skeen to live up to his lanky frame and produce some typical giant-killing performances.

MCC Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3

92 – Alexandre Negrao/Alexandre Negrao Sr.

Little known here about this entry, other than it’s another Mercedes that features a past GP2 veteran in Negrao.

TRG, Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3

007 – Kris Wilson/Drew Regitz

Wilson has been capable of winning races with TRG before but it’s hard to see this aging car and the lone am-am labeled driver lineup doing much of that here. That said, in the hands of James Davison, it does still have some speed left.

Dream Racing Competition, Lamborghini Huracán GT3

07 – Cedric Sbirrazzuoli/Lawrence DeGeorge

The pairing has driven together in Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and now PWC SprintX. Sbirrazzuoli’s got the speed here between this duo.

DIME Racing, Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (First Alternate)

111 – Jonathan Summerton/Michael Macs

Past Atlantic series race winner Summerton leads this lineup, although whether he’ll get a chance to race depends on one of the primary entries having a pre-race issue that promotes the first alternate into the field.

REST OF THE FIELD

There are also seven additional entries for the first SprintX race of the season, with two GT Cup and five GTS entries. Those cars may interfere with the GT competitors but will have their own interesting race within the race, as well.