The 2014 Long Beach weekend was just what the doctor ordered

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The sun has set on another Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend.

And it’s at this point I suggest to Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President/CEO Jim Michaelian, that you and your staff take a victory lap around the 1.968-mile street course.

The numbers are still to come in terms of ticket sales, TV ratings and all the rest, but the 40th running of this historic event was one of its best yet.

To wit…

  • IndyCar’s weekend was unpredictable and loaded with drama. A Penske/Ganassi-free Firestone Fast Six? A near upset by a 23-year-old American on a single-car team, before contact with the last American series champion triggering a chain reaction incident? Two of the series’ biggest names making contact with other cars, yet avoiding penalties (one finished second)? And then a guy whose resting heart rate barely tops 50 beats per minute going out and capitalizing to score a surprise, yet deserved victory? Sunday’s race provided several examples of what can make the Verizon IndyCar Series great: a seriously tight field, surprise stars, no holds barred action, some emotion boiling over and seriously populated fans in grandstands ooing and awing at every moment. St. Petersburg was an appetizer to the 2014 season, but Long Beach truly provided the first main course.
  • Two sports car races that avoided major meltdowns and major accidents. Let’s be honest, here. Neither the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship nor Pirelli World Challenge got off to the smoothest of starts for their 2014 campaigns. Dramas over officiating, accidents and driver rankings were unfortunate story lines in the first two TUDOR Championship races; high demand overloaded the World Challenge live stream for its opener at St. Pete. But many issues were rectified in Long Beach. The TUDOR Championship ran a caution-free 100 minutes Saturday, with PWC tossing up a solid serving of sports car sprint racing Sunday afternoon. I had some fears there could be something of a political bloodbath this weekend – and yes, I did see some eyes gazing from drivers and officials in the respective paddocks to see how each side was operating – but nothing that indicated a war was about to break out. For once, it seemed as though the collective focus in both series was mainly on the racing, and that was a good thing.
  • Holy crowd, Batman. Or Spider-Man could work for that lead-in, since Tomy Drissi ran a livery promoting The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the PWC race on his Drissi Motorsports/TRG Aston Martin GT3. But yeah, this Spidey-liveried car was among the stars of the weekend to the throngs of youngsters in attendance.

    Besides the kids, there seemed to be a substantially bigger crowd here this year than last. Judging by Friday, a day that ordinarily I could skate between the media center and IndyCar/sports car paddocks without the need for much contorting of my body to fit through gaps that exist in the walkway, I had to resort to my Saturday/Sunday snaking skills to make it through without losing time in the crowd. That was all I needed to see first-hand – this was my ninth Long Beach weekend – to provide the impression that the crowd was up for the 40th, big time. And given the event’s future, with some making overtones for wanting an F1 return, I’m left thinking this was a crowd that really appreciates the IndyCar atmosphere.

  • Roll out your Who puns. The Who frontman Roger Daltrey was probably the biggest celebrity appearance of the weekend, although he wasn’t here to announce any reunions or musical ventures. No, Daltrey was here promoting Teen Cancer America – a U.S. arm of the organization he launched in the U.K. to help teens who have cancer. It’s a good cause – the TCA signage appeared on Justin Wilson’s No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda – and more will come later this week to MotorSportsTalk after I had a few minutes to speak with him on Sunday. Daltrey started the IndyCar race in one of the Honda two-seaters, driven by Mario Andretti.
  • So “Who Are You?” If you’re Colombian, you’re top 10. Among the weekend’s most interesting stats, all four Colombian IndyCar drivers finished in the top-10 in the IndyCar race. Carlos Munoz was third, with Juan Pablo Montoya fourth, Sebastian Saavedra ninth and Carlos Huertas 10th. Memorize that quartet now for the inevitable trivia question down the road…
  • “Gabby O’Reilly?” Perhaps it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Baba O’Reilly,” but hey, Gabby Chaves won the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race on Sunday and his name has two b’s in it, just like Baba does. Like podium finishers Zach Veach and Matthew Brabham, though, none are 21 yet so even though they’re nearly teenagers, they can’t get wasted.
  • I’ll stop with the Who puns now and wrap it up. Additional elements that add to the weekend were the other events – the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks, exotic car display over in what was the TUDOR Championship paddock the first two days of the weekend, and of course, the Long Beach area itself. People occasionally call Long Beach the “Monaco of the U.S.,” but other than the long history of the race I’m not sure that’s the best way to call it. Just call it what it is – Long Beach is Long Beach – and leave it at that. Because in 2014, Long Beach once again did not disappoint.

Bottas takes maiden F1 victory in Russia despite late Vettel charge

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Valtteri Bottas became Formula 1’s newest winner after dominating Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix for Mercedes, leading home Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the Sochi Autodrom on Sunday.

In what was something of a slow-burner in Sochi, Bottas managed to seize the lead from pole-sitter Vettel at the start before perfecting the restart after a safety car period to create a healthy buffer that acted as the foundation for his first F1 victory.

Despite a late charge from Vettel – chasing his third win of the season – in the closing stages, Bottas was able to hang on and become the fifth Finnish driver to claim a grand prix victory, coming in just his fourth race for Mercedes.

Ferrari’s advantage in qualifying was quickly overturned at the start when Bottas managed to get a slipstream on both Vettel and Raikkonen, allowing him to pass ahead of Turn 2. Vettel settled down in second ahead of Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, but the race was quickly neutralized following a clash between Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer that sparked a safety car period.

Bottas managed to perfect the restart once the incident had been cleared to quickly gap Vettel, opening up a three-second lead in the laps that followed. Hamilton was doing his best to keep in touch with Raikkonen in third, only for Mercedes to confirm that his car was overheating, forcing him to ease off his pace.

The battle for fifth also took a twist in the early stages of the race when Daniel Ricciardo suffered a brake failure, forcing him to retire from the race. Max Verstappen was able to move ahead of Felipe Massa off the line, giving Red Bull something to be upbeat about, but hopes of the podium remained slim.

Bottas’ lead stood at around five seconds after 20 laps, but his lead soon began to fall. A mixture of both traffic and tire blistering allowed Vettel to gain time hand-over-fist as the first round of pit stops neared, moving to within three seconds of the Finnish driver.

Bottas was the first of the leaders to pit, coming in for a new set of super-soft tires at the end of Lap 27. Mercedes serviced Bottas quickly, but Ferrari did not react immediately, instead choosing to keep Vettel out in the hope that the ‘overcut’ would play into his hands again as it did in Australia.

Ferrari eventually pulled the trigger on Lap 34, bringing Vettel in to make the switch to super-soft tires after seeing Raikkonen lay down an impressive pace after changing compound a few laps earlier. With Bottas struggling to match the pace of the Ferraris on the super-softs, the Finn’s stranglehold on the race looked weaker than before despite being back in the lead.

Vettel made up yet more time with 13 laps to go when Bottas ran wide at Turn 13, appearing to struggle with his front-left tire and lock up. The mistake allowed Vettel to close to within two seconds, setting the stage for a fight to the flag.

Vettel managed to find some clear air between traffic and move around a second behind Bottas with four laps to go. Bottas kept getting a good exit from the final corner, ensuring Vettel did not get DRS at first, making it difficult for the Ferrari driver to pull a pass.

A good lap saw Vettel finally dip under the one second margin and get the DRS boost with two laps to go. With Bottas also coming across traffic, the pair were separated by just a few car lengths heading onto the final lap.

Bottas was offered a late bonus when he came across Felipe Massa, running a lap down, and was able to use DRS himself. Massa also made life difficult for Vettel behind, allowing Bottas to move clear once again.

It proved to be the final act in an exciting finish, with Bottas coming through to secure his maiden grand prix victory and give Mercedes its second win of the year. Vettel was left to settle for P2, but extended his lead in the drivers’ championship in the process to 13 points.

Kimi Raikkonen endured a rather lonely finish to the race, crossing the line third to pick up his first podium finish of the year. He finished over 15 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton, whose difficult weekend came to a quiet end in P4, over 20 seconds down on the race winner.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge alone in fifth place following Ricciardo’s early retirement, while Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon continued Force India’s record of getting both cars into the points at every race, the pair finishing sixth and seventh respectively.

Nico Hulkenberg was able to follow his first points for Renault in Bahrain with a second charge into the top 10, finishing eighth. Felipe Massa had looked set to finish sixth, only for a slow puncture to force him into a late second stop, leaving him P9 at the flag. Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the points for Toro Rosso in 10th.

Lance Stroll recorded his first race finish in F1, crossing the line 11th in the second Williams, while home favorite Daniil Kvyat was left to settle for 12th. Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne finished 13th and 14th respectively for Haas and McLaren, both having been hit with penalties for exceeding track limits on the opening lap. Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein finished 15th and 16th respectively for Sauber, closing out the classified running order.

Fernando Alonso’s struggles with McLaren-Honda hit a new low just before the race started when he suffered a power unit failure on the formation lap, forcing him to abandon his car at pit entry. It went down as his first ‘Did Not Start’ since the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which curiously will be his next destination for his IndyCar test with Andretti Autosport on Wednesday.

Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

More misery for Alonso as he fails to start Russian GP after engine issue (VIDEO)

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Fernando Alonso’s miserable start to the 2017 Formula 1 season continued on Sunday in Russia as he failed to start the race following an engine issue on the formation lap.

Alonso and McLaren entered the Sochi weekend without a point to their name due to a number of issues with the Honda power unit, which has been lacking both reliability and performance.

Alonso fought his way to P15 in qualifying, but did not fancy his chances of scoring points given the Honda power unit’s lack of straight line speed in Sochi.

However, Alonso did not even get the chance to start the race in Russia after reporting an issue on the formation lap with his power unit that ultimately forced him to park up at the side of the track.

The Spaniard trudged back to the pit lane on foot, the disappointment clear in his body language after his fourth straight point-less weekend came to an early end.

“Well, same as every weekend. Nothing new today,” Alonso said of the incident on NBCSN after the race.

“I am trying to anticipate the plane [to Indianapolis] but it’s not here apparently! Have to wait for it at the normal time. [I’ll] eat ice cream.”

Alonso’s last DNS came at the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will be his next destination as he prepares to enjoy his first IndyCar test with Andretti Autosport on Wednesday ahead of his Indy 500 run later in the month.

Red Bull’s Verstappen, Ricciardo see season slipping away

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) For Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, the podium is starting to look a long way off.

Mercedes and Ferrari’s tussle for wins in Formula One has left Verstappen and Ricciardo in the cold, an uncomfortable sensation for drivers who each won a race last year and were podium regulars.

And the gap to the top two teams is getting bigger.

“For us, I think, at the moment the best we can do is fifth, so that’s like a victory for us,” Verstappen said Saturday.

In qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Ricciardo’s fifth place downplayed the gulf between Red Bull and the leaders. Ricciardo was 1.7 seconds off pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, and more than 1.1 off Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in fourth.

Verstappen, who lit up the sport a year ago with a win in Spain on his Red Bull debut, was almost two seconds off the pace in seventh.

“As a team, we know where we have to improve, and that’s both chassis and engine,” Verstappen said. “We have to deal with it and hopefully soon we can improve it on both sides.”

Vettel’s title with Red Bull in 2013 was the last time the team could fight for regular wins, but it did manage two victories and 15 podium finishes last year, often when the dominant Mercedes team slipped up.

This campaign, Red Bull’s hopes of adding more podiums to Verstappen’s third place in China earlier this month likely rest on an anticipated package of upgrades to the car. That’s due in time for the May 14 Spanish Grand Prix.

“It will probably dictate whether we’re going to be on the podium or not” in what remains of the first half of the season, Ricciardo said. “It’s our best hope, for sure.”

WATCH LIVE: Russian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET

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Ferrari continued its impressive start to the 2017 Formula 1 season on Saturday as Sebastian Vettel stormed to pole position for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi.

F1 RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX LIVE STREAM

Vettel edged out teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the final stage of qualifying as Ferrari swept to its first front-row lock-out in almost nine years, leaving Mercedes to settle for the second row of the grid.

Ferrari has never won a grand prix in Russia, but Vettel has a golden opportunity to extend his championship lead and stamp his authority on the early part of this year’s championship today.

However, Mercedes will be plotting a response courtesy of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, the latter chasing a third win in Sochi on Sunday.

You can watch the Russian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground in Sochi providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.