RHR

After botched pass attempt, is it worth asking if Long Beach gets to Ryan Hunter-Reay?

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Leaving the track last night after the Verizon IndyCar Series’ second race of the 2014 season, it hit me – Ryan Hunter-Reay’s passing attempt on Josef Newgarden Sunday wasn’t just a typical passing attempt.

It was part of a pattern that sees one of the series’ most complete drivers opt to make, to me at least, an out-of-body type decision when it comes to this race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Many regard Will Power as the out-and-out fastest driver and Scott Dixon as the most complete driver in the field, but it’s hard not to include the 2012 series champion in the discussion for either of those two categories.

When it comes to Long Beach in particular, move RHR ahead of Dixon and infinitesimally close to Power in that Q rating. On the streets of Southern California, since he switched to Andretti Autosport, Hunter-Reay always enters as one of the favorites.

The record in the last four years at Long Beach prior to Sunday: started second, and won in 2010. In 2011: started second, retired (P23) due to a gearbox issue. 2012: started 13th (qualified third but had a 10-spot grid penalty for an engine change) and ended sixth (time penalty added for avoidable contact with Takuma Sato after ending third on the road). Last year: started second, retired (P24) due to contact and a rare unforced error.

The 2010 win though was a career-defining moment for RHR. He’d been through a seriously rough stretch throughout 2009, needing to complete two last-minute deals just to race and on a personal note, losing his mom due to colon cancer. It was a win that helped solidify his future at Andretti Autosport, with the win turning a six-race deal into a full-season one.

Yet on-track, in this race since that 2010 win, I’ve seen a burning desire from RHR more than at almost any other track – save for maybe Milwaukee, where he’s won the last two years – to not only be the best, but possibly attempt things outside his comfort zone.

And that occasionally leads to trouble. Unnecessary trouble, at that.

Take the 2012 incident between he and Sato, for instance. It was the last lap, in a battle for third, where Hunter-Reay charged down the inside of the left-handed Turn 6 and made contact with the-then Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver. There wasn’t much room for the maneuver, as Sato left enough room but not enough for a reasonable side-by-side attempt to where RHR could successfully pass.

That’s the art of defensive driving; if RHR backs off there, he gets fourth place points and a reasonable chunk to take into the next race. Instead, he went for it, made contact, and got docked several positions. Ultimately it was a net 7 point loss, but considering Hunter-Reay only won the 2012 title by 3 points, those were crucial.

Last year, he came into Long Beach as defending series champion. But in the race, trying to extend the gap, he over-stepped his boundaries and made a mistake when he nosed into the Turn 8 wall. He owned it, though, and that was a good sign.

Flash back now to yesterday. Hunter-Reay dominates most of the first half from pole, and pretty much would have the race in the bag after the second round of pit stops. He approaches Newgarden entering Turn 4; at best, an overtake will only happen if it’s a leader approaching lapped traffic, not an actual lead pass attempt.

RHR had options. He could have held back and opted to wait until either of Turn 6, where his move on Sato failed to work two years earlier; Turn 8, where he made the unforced error in 2013; or Turn 9, the second consecutive 90-degree right hander at the end of the Seaside Way back straight where passing frequently occurs.

In any of those three spots, Newgarden’s cold tires would still not have been completely up to temperature, and Hunter-Reay could have afforded a simple, standard type maneuver with likely, no consequences. And the race lead.

Instead, he opted to channel his Ayrton Senna and go for a gap that he thought existed – even though it was pretty much Newgarden’s corner – and admitted as much in his post-race interview.

The end result was a completely unnecessary accident that took him and his teammate out and pissed off his team boss and race strategist. It ended the races of the guy whose team had beat the Andretti squad on pit stops thanks to pitting a lap later, and a handful of others who had nowhere to go in the fracas.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is a champion, a gentleman, a philanthropist and one of IndyCar’s all-around best drivers. But that doesn’t provide him an out-clause after making one of the least champion-worthy moves I’ve seen in a long time.

And maybe because it occurred at Long Beach, it was destined to occur anyway.

Sainz frustrated as puncture ends Belgian GP after strong start

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo with a punctured rear tyre during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Carlos Sainz Jr. made no secret of his frustration after a puncture brought his Belgian Grand Prix to an early end while running inside the points.

Toro Rosso arrived in Belgium skeptical of its chances given the advances made by other teams running 2016-spec engines, with the Italian team still using a 2015-spec Ferrari power unit.

Sainz qualified a lowly 15th on Saturday, but a flying start saw him rise up to seventh at the end of the first lap.

However, a tire blow-out while approaching 200 mph on the Kemmel Straight ruined Sainz’s race. A vain attempt to return to the pits only caused more damage to his car, tearing the rear wing off before the Spaniard eventually parked up at the side of the track.

“How frustrating to have to retire from the race because of a puncture!” Sainz said after the race.

“I did one of the best starts of my life and by the end of the first lap I had gained seven positions and was racing in P7.

“But I then went over some debris from other cars at the start of my second lap and the tire ended up exploding after Eau Rouge.

“It definitely wasn’t the best moment of my life, especially after doing such a good start!

“It’s frustrating to have to end the race like this, but I will keep fighting and forget today as quickly as possible.”

Teammate Daniil Kvyat had a quiet race, finishing 14th despite thinking at one point that points may have been within reach.

“We pushed quite hard today and after the red flag there was some hope – at one point it even looked like we could dream of scoring some points,” Kvyat said.

“I think we did a great job with the tires, but we started to struggle with straight-line speed and the deficit was more and more obvious after the second pit-stop.

“It’s a shame, but at least we can say we did our absolute best today. Unfortunately not many people will see this, as we only ended up P14 and out of the points, but it’s not that bad.

“We will have to take our opportunities at tracks that suit us better.”

Vettel: Talks, not penalties, right way to deal with Verstappen

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Sebastian Vettel is keen to have talks with Max Verstappen about his on-track actions during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, believing it to be a better way to handle things than issuing a penalty.

Verstappen clashed with both Vettel and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1 on the first lap of the race, leaving all three drivers with damage.

Verstappen then incurred the wrath of Raikkonen later in the race after forcing him off-track at Les Combes, before moving late when defending his position the next lap on the Kemmel Straight at 200 mph.

Verstappen defended his actions after the race, but Vettel thinks that something needs to be done.

“We talked about moving under braking. Top speed… reaching 340 km/h… and he’s moving,” Vettel told NBCSN after the race.

“It works so long as the car behind plays accordingly and lifts. But if both stick to line, both crash. That’s not what you want to do.

“If you drive like that it won’t end up too well. More than anything it cost us – and him – a lot of time.”

Vettel said it was best that the stewards did not investigate Verstappen’s moves, instead saying that such issues were better dealt by the drivers talking together.

“I don’t like to investigate anything. We’re men; we’re not in kindergarten,” Vettel said.

“If I have a problem with Max I need to go to talk to him. But obviously right after race isn’t the best moment! Leave it to us though.

“If you go beyond the limits you need to talk. In general, I’m not a fan. We’re not here to cry, ‘oh here’s a penalty!’

“Today we could have had a great race. We could have had both cars on the podium but sometimes these things happen.”

Verstappen blames Raikkonen, Vettel for ‘destroying’ Belgian GP at Turn 1

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Max Verstappen has blamed Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel for ending his hopes of a podium finish in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, saying his race was “destroyed” at Turn 1.

The race at Spa-Francorchamps acted as Verstappen’s home event as tens of thousands of fans made the trip over from his native Netherlands, resulting in the circuit’s best raceday attendance in over a decade.

Verstappen made a slow start from second place on the grid, slipping behind Raikkonen on the run down to the first corner.

The Dutchman tried to dive down the inside of Raikkonen at La Source, only for the two to make contact and also tangle with Vettel on the outside.

The collision left Verstappen with damage that forced him to pit at the end of the first lap, taking a new front wing.

However, more severe damage was caused to his floor, costing him over one second per lap for the remainder of the race en route to 11th place at the checkered flag.

“I got squeezed. Kimi wanted to turn in. Sebastian did on both of us,” Verstappen told NBCSN after the race.

“Destroyed my front wing and the whole floor. Fans were so great… but unfortunately was not our day.

“We had a car like you could see to finish on the podium. But when other drivers take that away from you, you’re not happy.

“Today everything got destroyed in Turn 1.”

Verstappen faced the wrath of Raikkonen during the race after some aggressive defensive moves, prompting the Ferrari driver to express his anger over team radio.

Verstappen thought little of the Finn’s comments, though, saying he would have been penalized by the stewards had it been an unfair move.

“I should have got a penalty if it was not correct. So it was fair,” he said.

Raikkonen fumes over Verstappen moves, predicts ‘big accident’

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Kimi Raikkonen predicts that Max Verstappen will cause a “big accident” unless he changes his approach to racing after being left fuming by the Dutchman’s defensive moves during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Raikkonen and Verstappen were both forced to pit early on after a clash at the first corner, leaving them together on-track once the race went back to green after a short red flag period.

Verstappen forced Raikkonen off-track at Les Combes when defending his position before making another aggressive move along the Kemmel Straight at 200 mph on the next lap.

Raikkonen immediately complained about Verstappen’s moves over team radio to the Ferrari pit wall in an expletive-laden message.

“I’m all up for fair racing and close battles. But when I have to brake after Eau Rouge before Turn 5, at full speed, when he turns in front of me, that’s not correct in my view,” Raikkonen told NBCSN after the race.

“Obviously FIA looks a different way with the stewards.

“There will be a big accident if this doesn’t stop.

“The rest; I’m fine with fighting. But we should not do stupid things.”

Raikkonen eventually got past Verstappen en route to finish ninth for Ferrari. Verstappen struggled in the closing stages of the race with his damaged car, eventually crossing the line 11th.