Indianapolis 500

Alex Zanardi finishes 13th in Blancpain GT Sprint debut

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Yesterday, the toughest man on the planet got back to doing what he does best.

Former CART champion and F1 pilot Alex Zanardi – who lost his legs in a 2001 crash but has become a two-time Paralympic champion in hand cycling – got back behind the wheel in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series’ season opener at Nogaro, France.

Zanardi drove a modified BMW Z4 GT3 for the Roal Motorsport team, whom he competed for in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. The Italian appeared on line for a Top-10 finish at Nogaro, but in the final laps, problems with the clutch caused him to fade to 13th at the finish.

Afterwards, Zanardi tried to look at the big picture but still called finishing out of the points in his Blancpain debut “a pity.”

“In the race, our BMW Z4 GT3 was probably better than many other cars, so this gives me hope for the next races,” he said in a team statement. “Unfortunately we had this problem – which has nothing to do with BMW – but it was the clutch which we installed for me. It compromised my race even in the first half.

“After the pit stop, I managed to somehow start without the clutch, but then the car became very difficult to drive and basically, I was driving the whole third sector in fourth gear to avoid problems. At the hairpin, I tried to shift down but nothing was happening, then all of a sudden the gears were there. But what can you do, this is racing. Now I am looking forward to the next round.”

Nonetheless, Zanardi held his own on Monday, with team principal Roberto Ravaglia noting that he logged one of the ten fastest laps during Monday’s race.

“This shows how competitive Alex can be,” he said. “In the first stint, before the clutch troubles, he was consistent and was able to go faster and faster, lap by lap, and in all track sectors.

“Now we need to work in order to improve in qualifying and to let him start from a better position than this weekend’s 14th.”

BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt also hailed Zanardi’s effort, which he said proved that “he is still a real racer.”

“He can be satisfied with his performance,” said Marquardt. “You should not forget that GT racing is something new for him, and that he is competing against strong and experienced rivals.”

Mercedes drivers Maximilian Buhk and Maximilian Götz won the race at Nogaro.

Williams hopes to improve on 2014 performance in Russian GP

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At this weekend’s Russian GP, Williams Martini Racing is looking for more of the same from Valtteri Bottas and a little improvement from Felipe Massa.

Last year, Bottas started and finished third while Lewis Hamilton ran away with the win, finishing 13 seconds over Nico Rosberg and 17 over Bottas in the inaugural race at the Sochi Autodrom.

Meanwhile, Massa started 18th after a fuel flow issue knocked him out of the first round of qualifying and managed an 11th-place finish.

Bottas and Massa enter the Sochi race fifth and sixth in the driver standings.

“We had a good result last year in Russia so we’re expecting another strong weekend and a good collection of points,” said Bottas in a release. “We all know the track now and it has a really good flow, with the long straights a good fit for our car.”

Bottas has finished in the top five in each of the last three races, two of which were won by Hamilton.

“Pace-wise we were close to Mercedes in Japan and I think we can be close again in Sochi, just like we were in 2014,” Bottas said, who also noted after Japan the team is set to turn its focus to its 2016 car.

Massa, who has two podium finishes this year, will try to bounce back from a DNF at Marina Bay and a 17th-place finish in Japan.

“I hope to make amends for qualifying last year and I’m confident we can have a competitive race,” Massa said in a team release.

“Russia is a very nice track with a few long straights which makes it interesting for overtaking,” Massa said of the 18-turn track. “The circuit has almost everything, starting with a straight and then moving into high-speed corners and then very slow corners in the middle sector. This makes setting up the car really important and the importance of downforce evident.”

The Russian Grand Prix can been seen on NBCSN on Sunday at 7 am ET.

Rossi: Looking ahead to Russia and returning to GP2

Rossi (right) looks for more. Photo: GP2 Series Media Service.
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It’s been just over a week since I returned to Europe from Japan, and preparations now are all focused on Russia.

I landed back in the U.K. on Monday evening, with my body clock screaming at me about how I should be on Japanese time, but I had 36 hours to relax at home in the U.K. before I was back on a plane to Spain to prepare for the next race, this time returning to my GP2 car in Russia this weekend as we fight for more wins.

SEE ALSO: Rossi: Reflecting on my first two F1 races

I spent most of the week working out and preparing with my GP2 team, Racing Engineering, who are based down on Spain’s South West coast, about an hour’s drive from Seville. It’s a beautiful part of the world, especially in early Fall as the Summers are really hot! While there, I’m either in the team’s factory or sweating through a training session. That’s my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The transition back to GP2 in Russia is something I’m really looking forward to. That might sound a bit strange to some, knowing I’m an F1 race driver, but I have unfinished business in GP2 and this is very important to me and my team, Racing Engineering.

I was asked how I will manage the switch from F1 to GP2, and back again when we go to Austin where I’ll be back in an F1 car, but for me it’s simple. GP2 is a very different mindset from F1. In F1 the main target is to finish ahead of my teammate, but in GP2 we have a very realistic chance of winning every race we take part in.

We’ve proved that all season, particularly in the last couple of rounds, in Spa and Italy where we won twice, keeping the Championship alive for this weekend in Russia and, hopefully, the last races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

The battles with Stoffel have been awesome all year, and even though he has enough of a points gap to make the overall 2015 Championship a tough ask, we still want to delay whatever celebrations he has planned, and I think we have a good opportunity to do so in Sochi, and again in Bahrain and then Abu Dhabi at the end of the year.

I haven’t raced in Sochi, only simulations. I did go to Russia last year with Marussia, so I know what to expect off track, and since I’ve been in the sim I know the circuit layout well. We’ve been working on setup options and I’m with a team that has shown consistently they know how to approach every aspect of a race weekend. I’m feeling good, really good about what’s ahead.

Sochi, it’s long, particularly for a street circuit and quite a bit of it is on public roads so there’s a bit of Singapore in there, and maybe a bit of Melbourne too. It’s pretty quick, but there’s a few big braking zones and that gives us a chance to overtake, and obviously you need to be super accurate everywhere. The walls will bite, there’s very little margin for error, just like in Singapore, but I prefer street courses and normally I’m quite confident with my surroundings.

After Russia, I’m back to the UK for a week, and then it’s Austin, Texas and the U.S. Formula 1 Grand Prix. I have a very busy week already planned, but I have made sure I have time every day to train, to maintain focus and to prepare mentally and physically for what will take place in my home country.

The media interest is growing but over the years that I’ve been in and around F1, I’ve learned my priority is what happens in the car. Media work is not something you can be taught, it’s something you pick up and adapt to, being able to switch on and switch off from the demands of the media, the fans and the sponsors. I know exactly how important the media is to my career and it’s an important balance with my sporting duties driving a race car.

I’ve always been impressed by race drivers and athletes in all sports who can do that. Those who can clearly switch into race mode when they walk into the garage and get into the car, into analytical mode with the engineers, support and collaboration with the mechanics, and, I guess you’d say, promotional mode with the journalists, fans and team sponsors.

It might seem like a relatively simple task, but for a 21st century racing driver, it’s an important skill because there are many people vying for your attention. You never stop learning and improving at your craft and profession, and this aspect I keep right at the forefront of my mind, no matter what stage I’m at.

For now though, the focus is Sochi, Russia and keeping up the momentum we’ve had all year in GP2. We’ve prepared well and I can’t wait to get back into my car, push hard all weekend and fight for more race wins.

It’s all about focus.