© Alastair Staley/LAT Photographic

McLaren junior Vandoorne stars to win on GP2 debut

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McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne has won the opening round of the 2014 GP2 championship after producing a sparkling performance in his very first race in the series.

The Belgian youngster took the lead at the start of the race and commanded proceedings from there on in, ensuring that he maintained a steady gap to his rivals before inheriting the lead from the long-running Simon Trummer, who opted to pit with just two laps to go on a somewhat misjudged strategy.

However, it was a less fruitful day for the American drivers on the grid as Conor Daly finished down in 12th place, whilst Alexander Rossi had a luckless race to finish in P22.

Pole-sitter Jolyon Palmer made a bad start in his DAMS to allow Vandoorne into the lead and teammate Stephane Richelmi up into second place, whilst further back 2013 GP3 runner-up Facu Regalia was forced into an early retirement. After a few laps of jostling for position, the race calmed when the safety car was deployed following a crash between Axcil Jefferies and Kimiya Sato, giving Vandoorne a chance to compose himself and control the pack from the front.

When the safety car finally peeled into the pits, a number of drivers followed suit for a fresh set of hard tires. Vandoorne kept hold of his lead ahead of Carlin’s Julian Leal and Palmer, who had fought back from P6 into the top three.

A number of drivers had elected to start on the hard tire, though, and were at the head of the field as a result. This reverse strategy proved to be a stroke of genius as the track continued to rubber in and get quicker, thus giving them the advantage when they switched to the option tire. Arthur Pic and Takuya Izawa both benefitted greatly and fought their way into the top ten, but out in front, Simon Trummer elected to go it alone.

Having stalled on the grid, Trummer had raced well to get into the lead after every other driver had stopped, but instead of pitting earlier and giving him more laps on the quicker tire, Rapax opted to bring him in with just two laps to go. Nevertheless, he managed to fight past a few cars on the soft compound, and eventually crossed the line in a well-earned seventh place.

Vandoorne was the star of the day, though. Having cut his teeth in the Renault-backed series, the move to GP2 was one that many expected to truly prove his star quality, and he certainly showed his worth in the feature race on Saturday. The Belgian driver eventually crossed the line 1.5 seconds ahead of Leal, and claimed a maiden GP2 win on debut.

On the podium, Vandoorne was clearly elated, and he was joined in celebrating by a number of the McLaren F1 team members including Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier, who hold him in high regard. However, he will have to fight back from P8 tomorrow in the sprint race as part of the reverse grid.

For Daly and Rossi, tomorrow should be about aiming to pick up some points and avoid leaving Bahrain empty handed.

Click here for the complete classification and race results.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.