Long-Beach-Lead

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.

F1 Preview: 2016 Belgian Grand Prix

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP leads the field at the start of the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 23, 2015 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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After a much-needed summer break, Formula 1 returns this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at the iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

From Eau Rouge and Radillon to Pouhons and Blanchimont, Spa features many of motorsport’s most fearsome and favored corners, loved by drivers and fans alike.

The F1 paddock returns from its break refreshed and recharged after a relentless run of four races in July that saw the balance of power change dramatically in the title race.

Lewis Hamilton entered July still trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship, but arrives in Spa with a 19-point lead and on a four-race win streak. Can he keep up his good form at Spa?

Here’s what to watch for this weekend in Belgium.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Lewis braced for grid penalty

If you following Lewis Hamilton on Snapchat, you’ll know that he’s had quite the summer break, jetting all over the world with his friends and having lots of fun in the process.

But don’t think for a second that Hamilton is distracted. He’s proved time and time again that he can live the high-life off-track and still excel on it. After shutting off from racing for a month, the Briton will be raring to go this weekend at Spa.

Hamilton is expected to take a grid penalty this weekend after taking a sixth component for his power unit, giving Rosberg the chance to cut the gap. However, as we’ve seen before, Lewis is more than capable of scything through the field – let’s see what he can do from the back.

Rosberg’s Spa hoodoo to continue?

Of all the tracks where Nico Rosberg could do with winning at, Spa is perhaps not the best choice. It was arguably where his title run in 2014 was dealt a killer-blow, and is a track where he is yet to win. Hamilton has always enjoyed an edge in Belgium.

The tide turned dramatically in July, leaving Rosberg with a summer break to consider how he can pick himself back up. For all of the claims in interviews that “it is what it is” and that Hamilton’s lead means little, Rosberg must do his talking on-track.

Another defeat to Hamilton – particularly embarrassing if the Briton does start last – could see him slip to more than one race win behind in the standings. If he is to emulate his father and become world champion, a win at Spa this weekend when the cards are stacked in his favor is needed.

A home-from-home race for Verstappen

Max Verstappen’s astonishing rise over the past couple of years is set to reach another high-point this weekend at Spa when an army of Dutch fans make the trip over the border to see their favorite son in action.

In the absence of a Dutch Grand Prix, Belgium offers the next-best-thing for those in the Netherlands. Officials at Spa said earlier this week that they are expecting their best-attended race in years thanks to Verstappen’s success during his relatively short time in F1.

Verstappen has scored three podium finishes in the last four races, and is well in the race for P3 in the drivers’ championship along with Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferrari pair. Red Bull was on the ascendance before the summer break – don’t expect some time off to have stunted that.

Ocon ready for F1 debut

Much as Stoffel Vandoorne’s F1 debut in Bahrain will probably be a memorable race in years to come when reflecting on when we first saw one of the sport’s top talents in action, this weekend will see Esteban Ocon enjoy his maiden start with Manor.

Ocon has been given the Manor seat after Rio Haryanto’s management failed to secure enough financial backing for him to see out the season, having spent the first half of 2016 in DTM with Mercedes.

The Frenchman is highly-rated after winning the FIA European F3 and GP3 titles in the past two years, and is being courted by Renault for an F1 seat in 2016. Keep an eye on him at Spa this weekend.

Is Spa really Spa without rain?

This was a question posed over the FIA World Endurance Championship round at Spa earlier this year when the circuit bathed in bright, warm sunshine all weekend long.

Spa is renowned for its unpredictable and dreary weather – yet this weekend, we look set for nothing but sun if the weather forecasts are to be believed.

It should make things easier for the teams when it comes to strategy and gathering data. That said, this is Spa: things could change very, very quickly.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
2015 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:47.197
2015 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:52.416
DRS Zones: T19 to T1, T4 to T5

2016 Belgian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports App 4am ET 8/26
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 8/26
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 5am ET 8/27
Qualifying: NBC Sports App 8am ET 8/27 (re-air 1pm ET, NBCSN)
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 8/28

IMSA: Michelin GT Challenge provides GTLM, GTD showcase at VIR

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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This weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway is a good one for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship; it gives the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes a race to shine while the Prototype classes (Prototype & Prototype Challenge) are off for the week.

Series previews from IMSA are posted below:

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

Corvette Racing takes a two-race winning streak and the points lead in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class into Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, Round 10 of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (live, FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET).

Virginia’s Tommy Milner looks to continue momentum from Road America, where he charged from fifth to first in the closing five minutes of the race to give the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R co-driven by Oliver Gavin its fourth victory of the season.

“I have lot of great racing memories at VIR, and it would be great to add another with our fifth win of the season in the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette,” said Milner, a native of Leesburg who now resides in Ashburn. “This is a track that is really fun to drive. It’s incredibly fast, it’s flowing and has a couple of really good elevation changes. A GT-only race is a nice dynamic for us, where we have a chance for an overall win. The most important thing we can do, though, is score as many points as possible.”

After opening the season with GTLM victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, Milner and Gavin saw their lead trimmed during a midseason three-race winning streak by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook. The Corvette returned to the top of the victory podium at Lime Rock Park, and now leads Ford by 13 points, 264-251. Third in the points is the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, which has three podium finishes this season.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing will be looking to rebound from the late-race disappointment at Road America in the VIR debut of the exciting Ford GT. In addition to winning three races, Westbrook and Briscoe have scored five consecutive podium finishes in the No. 67 Ford GT. Teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller – seventh in the points in the No. 66 Ford GT – were GTE Pro class winners at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

Porsche North America is looking to repeat its 1-2 finish in last year’s Michelin GT Challenge. Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy return in the winning No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, while Earl Bamber will be joined by Frederic Makowiecki in the No. 912 entry.

“Last year, Porsche celebrated a commanding double victory in Virginia, and there is no greater incentive than that,” said Pilet, who went on to capture the 2015 GTLM championship. “VIR is one of those traditional racetracks deep in the heart of America that I particularly look forward to. It’s fast and demanding, and if you make a mistake as a driver, you pay the price immediately.”

Ferrari also has a solid track record at VIR. Risi Competizione followed up an ALMS victory in 2013 by scoring a last-turn, last-lap victory in the inaugural WeatherTech Championship race in 2014. Last year, the team placed third behind the Porsches with a Ferrari 458 Italia. This year, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander will co-drive the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE, which will race at VIR for the first time.

BMW Team RLL has new cars for the Michelin GT Challenge as well, fielding a pair of BMW M6 GTLMs. Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner are fifth in the championship in the No. 25 IHG Rewards Club M6. John Edwards and Lucas Luhr share the No. 100 BMW, and are coming off their first podium finish of the season at Road America.

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Photo courtesy of IMSA

Scuderia Corsa will defend its GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway with a new Ferrari and a new driver lineup.

Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan have won two races in 2016 GTD competition in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, and hold a 15-point lead with only three races remaining entering Round 10 of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (live, FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET).

The GTD competitors will join the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class in the two-hour, 40-minute race, the lone WeatherTech Championship event exclusively showcasing the GT classes.

“I really like VIR,” said Denmark’s Nielsen, who joined Balzan in winning GTD races at Sebring and Watkins Glen in 2016. “I think it’s a classic, old-school American circuit. There are quick corners and a quick flow, so you have to be really precise.”

While Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler won the 2015 Michelin GT Challenge in a Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia, Nielsen finished second in an Aston Martin Vantage. Teaming with Scuderia Corsa in 2016, she and Balzan have scored five podium finishes and placed in the top 10 in seven of eight races.

“We had a good result at VIR last year – it was a lot about strategy,” Nielsen said. “It will be interesting to see how our strategy will play out this year.”

Second in the standings, trailing 243-228, is the Magnus Racing tandem of Andy Lally and John Potter, who were class winners in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and at Lime Rock Park in the No. 44 Audi Tire Center/Auric Solar Audi R8 LMS GT3. Audi also has a pair of Stevenson Motorsports entries, with Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis scoring a pair of runner-up finishes in the No. 6 Stevenson Automotive Group Audi R8 LMS GT3, joined by Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell in the No. 9 Audi.

Alex Job Racing finished on the VIR podium last year. Mario Farnbacher returns in a new car – the No. 23 Team Seattle/Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. He and co-driver Alex Riberas have combined to capture a series-leading four TOTAL Pole Awards and were winners at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen are two-time GTD winners in 2016, coming home first at Detroit and the most recent race at Road America in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports ViperExchange.com/Cruising with the Monkey Dodge Viper GT3-R. Also competing in a Dodge Viper, Lone Star Racing returns with Dan Knox and Mike Skeen co-driving the No. 80 ACS Manufacturing entry.

Lamborghini will be making its WeatherTech Championship debut at VIR this weekend. Paul Miller Racing’s Bryan Sellers and Change Racing’s Spencer Pumpelly are TOTAL Pole Award winners this season. Sellers and Madison Snow gave the manufacturer its first podium finish by taking third at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the No. 48 Castrol Edge/Universal Industrial Sales Lamborghini Huracán GT3. Pumpelly co-drives with Corey Lewis in the No. 16 Pertamina/Monster Energy Lamborghini, while Dream Racing fields the No. 27 Lamborghini for Lawrence DeGeorge and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli.

BMW and Turner Motorsport came home victorious in 2016 from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, with Jens Klingmann and Bret Curtis winning in the new No. 96 Spectra Resources/United Steel/Valspar Paint/IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GT3. Michael Marsal and Markus Palttala – fourth at VIR last year – share the No. 97 Alvarez & Marsal/IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GT3.

VIRtunein

Practice for the Michelin GT Challenge begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on Friday, August 26, with qualifying at 11:55 a.m. on Saturday. The weekend also includes the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, racing on Saturday at 1:55 p.m. ET, plus the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama.

Rosberg has to blank out bad memories and focus on Hamilton

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP in the garage during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg would have spent much of the summer break agonizing over how a 43-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the Formula One championship had turned into a deficit of 19.

The German would also have devoted his energy toward planning a reversal of fortune in the title fight and how to stop his Mercedes’ teammate’s ominous momentum, beginning with this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Chasing his first F1 title, Rosberg has appeared to wilt under pressure over the past few races, handing the initiative back to Hamilton as the British driver chases a third straight drivers’ championship and fourth overall.

Having failed to win any of the first five races, when he was hampered by mechanical woes and engine troubles, Hamilton has roared back to win six of the past seven, with an increasingly exasperated Rosberg unable to stop him and to contain his own frustration.

Victory on Sunday would be a 50th career win for Hamilton. More importantly, perhaps, it would deal another blow to Rosberg’s fragile confidence.

A third straight year as runner-up to Hamilton – his rival since they were racing karts as teenagers – would be unbearable for Rosberg having won the opening four races of the season.

“I know I’ll have the best car out there and I’m massively pumped to be back on track,” a defiant Rosberg said. “It’s like a clean slate at this stage.”

The German driver insists that “what’s happened so far this season is in the past,” but it is clear that Rosberg will need a more steely approach over the nine remaining races and must not take Hamilton’s resurgence so personally.

For his part, Hamilton did well to contain what must have been huge frustration early on, and is not shy in reminding Rosberg that he has slashed his lead away.

“The first half of the season was a bit of a roller-coaster, so it’s great to be in the position I’m in,” said Hamilton, who has won twice at Spa. “The way myself and the team have performed gives me huge confidence.”

Last year, Hamilton won here from pole – five years after his other win – with Rosberg finishing second after recovering from a poor start.

Stretching through the Ardennes forest, the Spa circuit is the longest of the year at just over 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), and features famed F1 corners such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, an incredibly steep hill and moody weather conditions that can leave one part of the track damp and another part dry.

These ingredients make it arguably F1’s most pure test of drivers’ pure skill, and is regularly cited alongside Japan’s Suzuka as the race they enjoy most.

Unlike another iconic track in Monaco, which is twisty, sinewy, notoriously slow and tough to overtake on, Spa is incredibly fast with more than 70 percent of the race at full throttle and average speeds around 230 kilometers per hour (143 miles per hour).

“Spa is a great track, one that every driver enjoys,” said Hamilton, who has extra incentive to win there again. “It’s been such a proud few weeks for British sport, with the Olympics … I’ll do my best to keep the flag flying.”

Mercedes team management, meanwhile, will hope the second part of the season is free of the tensions that saw Hamilton and Rosberg crashing into each other in Spain and Austria.

While both drivers retired after the Barcelona collision – advantaging neither – the last-lap crash at the Austrian GP in early July cost Rosberg dearly as he dropped to fourth, while Hamilton won.

It also infuriated head of motorsport Toto Wolff, who said he was “fed up” trying to analyze which driver was in the wrong. It stoked an edgy rivalry that spilled over into open feuding during the 2014 campaign.

While maintaining that team orders will not be imposed – meaning the drivers are still free to race against each other – Mercedes has made it bluntly clear it will not accept any more crashes when they go wheel-to-wheel.

Red Bull GRC: The Jersey Shore swaps GTL for GRC action

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Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
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Yes, “Jersey Shore’s” been off the air for a few years now but it doesn’t mean we can’t still make bad jokes trying to pivot from the MTV show to Red Bull Global Rallycross’ trip back to Atlantic City and New Jersey for this weekend’s eighth round of the 2016 season.

The 1.102-mile, 10-turn course at Bader Field is fast and long, the longest this season.

Swap Gym Tan Laundry (GTL) for Global Rallycross (GRC) and you have your answer to what intense action you’ll be seeing this weekend (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“The Situation” in the points standings – as you were – is that Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates Tanner Foust and Scott Speed are now separated by only six points, 350-344.

Foust won three of the first five final rounds in his No. 34 Rockstar Energy Volkswagen Beetle GRC before Speed’s won the last two in his No. 41 Special Operations Warrior Foundation Beetle; he made a last-lap pass of Brian Deegan at MCAS New River in that event’s lone race of a planned doubleheader, and then dominated the series’ most recent round at Washington, D.C. last month.

That’s seen Speed close to within six points after his first five races featured a few hurdles he needed to clear.

With the VARX pairing having won five of the first seven races this year, two Ford Fiesta ST drivers have bagged the other two wins. Patrik Sandell (No. 18 Bryan Herta Rallysport Ford) and Steve Arpin (No. 00 Chip Ganassi Rallycross Ford) won in Dallas and Daytona race one, respectively.

Arpin sits third in points with 315 points, while Sandell and Deegan are fourth and fifth at 299 and 293 respectively. With just four rounds remaining in the championship, Sandell and Deegan need to make headway this weekend and hope the VW twins are snookered with a bit of bad luck.

Literally no one has ever – or will ever – call 2014 Supercars champion Joni Wiman “J-WOWW,” even though he’s got the same initials, but it would be a “Wow” moment if either Wiman or Sebastian Eriksson can deliver Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE its first win of the season, which would be the first for the new Honda Civic Coupe that’s debuted this year. At a high-speed track, it could well happen. Eriksson and Wiman sit sixth and seventh in points and look to break into the top-five.

Austin Dyne and Nelson Piquet Jr. resume in their pair of Fords, Piquet again running for SH Rallycross/DRR after making his return to the team in Washington, D.C. The pair of Subarus (Sverre Isachsen, Bucky Lasek) would also figure to continue.

Bad jokes aside, the series’ trip to Bader should be a good one. A Boardwalk parade takes place on Friday.

Toby Moody and Anders Krohn have the call with Kristen Kenney reporting from the pits.

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BoardwalkParade