F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Race

Hamilton holds on to claim remarkable Bahrain GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton has won a tense Bahrain Grand Prix after fending off teammate Nico Rosberg in an incredible battle for victory on Sunday night in Bahrain, with the two drivers going wheel-to-wheel in the closest finish to a race so far this season.

Following a late safety car, the two drivers went head-to-head in a remarkable race to the flag that saw Hamilton somehow keep his quicker teammate at bay to clinch his second win of the season.

After a close battle with Williams and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez won the battle to finish third for Force India and claim the team’s first podium finish in five years. After starting P13, Ricciardo fought brilliantly to finish fourth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastian Vettel.

The start saw both Mercedes drivers make a good getaway, but Hamilton managed to squeeze past his teammate into the first corner to take the lead of the race. The British driver had to defend from Rosberg for the rest of the first lap, causing the German driver to run wide, but both managed to keep it clean and continue to hold onto the lead. Felipe Massa made a great start to jump up into third place ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, and Sergio Perez split the two Williams drivers. Kimi Raikkonen’s podium aspirations were damaged by a bad start as he dropped back down to ninth place, but it was Jean-Eric Vergne who lost the most after suffering a puncture following contact with Pastor Maldonado on the first lap.

Hamilton and Rosberg quickly set about dropping the rest of the field in pursuit of a second straight one-two finish, and both drivers were told to keep an eye on their tire usage. Rosberg’s engineer informed him that he was on an “alternative strategy”, suggesting that there was a split in the Mercedes garage between two and three stops. Fighting back from his grid penalty, Daniel Ricciardo tried to pass Kevin Magnussen for 11th place, only to lock up and fall back from the McLaren. Two laps later, the Australian driver managed to regroup and pull off a good overtake on the Dane.

Bottas was passed by Jenson Button on lap nine, and the Briton was followed through by Nico Hulkenberg just two corners later as the Finn pitted for a fresh set of tires. His teammate, Felipe Massa, was also under pressure and lost out to Sergio Perez in the battle for third place, giving his faithful following something to shout about. After pitting, Massa fell further down the order and behind Bottas, handing the advantage to Force India.

After starting on the harder tire, Vettel was able to go further into the race than the rest of the field, but he reported that his DRS was not working as he came under pressure from Ricciardo. Red Bull ordered the German driver to let his teammate past so as not to hinder his strategy, and it got worse for Vettel when he was forced to pit early due to aggressive degradation on his medium tires.

Despite enjoying a lead of almost half a minute, the two Mercedes drivers entered battle as Rosberg had DRS on his teammate. Hamilton made an aggressive move to force his teammate wide, perturbing Rosberg who collected himself and tried again one lap later. Once again, Hamilton was resilient and managed to regain the lead through the second sector, but was called into the pits to release Rosberg into the lead.

The German driver dipped into the pits two laps later for medium compound tires, and came out behind his teammate who was on softs. Valtteri Bottas ran in P3, but was coming under considerable pressure from teammate Massa and the Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Struggling on his tires, the Finn requested to pit early and released his teammate into third place, but Perez was keen on gaining positions as he pulled off a brave pass on his teammate to take fourth and move behind Massa. Both Force Indias fought bravely to pass the Brazilian driver a few laps later, putting them up into P3 and P4 as the team went in search of its second ever podium in Formula 1.

At the front, Hamilton quickly set about increasing the gap to Rosberg who was on the slower tire, and enjoyed an eight second lead. After pitting, Massa came out behind Bottas in the inter-team battle at Williams, but the Finn was forced to go off track when Raikkonen braked early heading into turn one. He eventually found a way past his compatriot after Ricciardo had also passed the Ferrari ahead of the second round of stops.

Sergio Perez exited the pits just behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, but made light work of the two-time world champion. Hulkenberg dived into the pits just one lap later, but remained behind his teammate. However, both Bottas and Massa had got the undercut by pitting earlier, and were therefore sitting in P3 and P4 ahead of their close rivals, but as both were a three stop strategy, the advantage was handed to the Force India drivers.

With sixteen laps to go, the safety car was deployed following a huge crash between Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado. The Sauber driver was flipped, and despite landing heavily on its roll cage, the car came to rest the right way up and the Mexican driver walked away unharmed. The safety car did eradicate Mercedes’ advantage, and gave Rosberg a fighting chance of the win as he was on the quicker tire when the racing resumed. The three stopping drivers were also given a chance of making up ground on their two stopping rivals, as the gap between them had been reduced.

Ahead of the restart, both Hamilton and Rosberg were told to ensure that they brought both cars home and secured a second successive one-two finish for the team. With the German driver on the quicker tire, he was immediately on Hamilton’s tail on the restart, with the Briton having to force his teammate wide at turn four to ensure that he stayed in the lead. Hulkenberg tried to pass Perez for position as Ricciardo and Vettel both found a way past Button for P5 and P6.

Ricciardo looked to go one better and made a great pass on his teammate to move up into fifth place, and both drivers closed on Hulkenberg who sat in fourth place. At the front, Rosberg once again closed on his teammate, but Hamilton once again defended brilliantly to keep the German driver at bay and stay in the lead. As the laps ticked down, the Briton managed to just stay ahead and eventually cross the line one second ahead of his teammate.

Having passed Hulkenberg, Ricciardo set his sights on Perez, but could not quite find a way past to give Force India its first podium finish since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. However, it did mark Ricciardo’s first points as a Red Bull driver and his best result in Formula 1. Hulkenberg managed to hang onto fifth place ahead of Vettel and Massa, whilst Bottas led home the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen who rounded out the points.

In one of the finest races we have seen in recent years, it certainly went a long way to silencing those who claimed that there were problems with Formula 1 at many summit meetings in Bahrain today.

Following the race, Rosberg and Hamilton shared an embrace after a tough but fair battle. Once again, it was glory for Mercedes in Bahrain, but the team will have been on tenterhooks for the entire race as the drivers went toe-to-toe.

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.