Clint Bowyer’s night begins with spinning Larson, ends with car on fire

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Going into the weekend at Richmond International Raceway, Clint Bowyer said he looked forward to putting last year’s race manipulation controversy behind him with a great result on one of his favorite tracks.

But apparently the racing gods had something different in mind for the Michael Waltrip Racing driver in tonight’s Toyota Owners 400.

On the first lap of the race, Bowyer sought to take the lead from pole sitter Kyle Larson when the inside lane opened up going into Turn 1. But instead, Bowyer got into the back of Larson and spun him out, forcing him to go on a climb from the back that is currently ongoing (he was 20th at halfway).

“I didn’t mean to do that,” Bowyer said dejectedly over his team radio. “I got under him and he turned right back down.”

Bowyer would settle down and run in the Top 5 up to the Lap 40 competition yellow. But on his next green flag stint, he faded out of the Top 10 before pitting under green at Lap 95 for a tire going down.

Just four laps later, the caution came out for debris on the frontstretch, causing Bowyer to sarcastically thank NASCAR over the radio:

That left Bowyer all the way at the tail end of the field, but his night would get worse. On Lap 161, Bowyer hit the pits under caution with his right-front wheel well on fire.

The flames ultimately caused the right-front portion of his Toyota’s nose piece to cave in and then melt off. With the damage severe, the team chose to go to the garage.

“First of all, I want to say sorry to Kyle,” Bowyer said about the first-lap incident with Larson to Fox Sports. “I’m a big fan of his, he’s been doing a great job, and I hate that it happened on the first lap. Him and [Brad Keselowski] kind of spun their tires, I got a big run on him, and he moved up.

“I was like, ‘Here we go to the lead’, and at that time, he cut down and I flat got into him. I’m glad he didn’t get in the wall there. The last thing I want to do was ruin his day.”

He then dubbed his tire problems as his “payback” and admitted that he wasn’t expecting such a poor performance.

“We had a good car in practice,” he said. “I have absolutely no idea what happened tonight. I did not see this coming. I really though we were gonna have a shot at contending for the win tonight. It’s kind of the story of our year so far.”

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.