NASCAR Aarons 499 Auto Racing

Denny Hamlin’s back on track with win at Talladega

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Denny Hamlin is the latest “wild card” to emerge victorious at NASCAR’s most unpredictable track.

Hamlin had earned just two Top-10 finishes in his first eight events of 2014, but today at Talladega Superspeedway, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver became the eighth driver so far to effectively clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by winning the Aaron’s 499 under caution.

Hamlin and Kevin Harvick had led the field to the green on the final restart with three laps left, but as the white flag was waving, jostling in the pack behind them led to Justin Allgaier getting spun out in the tri-oval.

A large piece of apparent bodywork from Allgaier’s car ended up landing in front of the start/finish line, causing NASCAR to throw the yellow as the field raced down the backstretch.

That sealed it for Hamlin, who earned his first career win at Talladega – and his first points race win on a restrictor-plate track – in his 300th career Sprint Cup start.

“We really just want to win races, regardless of the implications it [has] for the Chase,” said Hamlin, who won the exhibition Sprint Unlimited at Daytona that preceded his runner-up in the season-opening Daytona 500.

“It feels good to be back in Victory Lane in a points-paying event…My pit crew’s done an awesome job and picked me up spots every single week and they did again today.

“Strategically, we saw that things were getting heavy in the middle part of the race and those guys got in a wreck and we were able to avoid that, and just played our cards right. [Crew chief] Darian [Grubb] made the right strategy.”

The intensity cranked up a notch after a multi-car incident with 14 laps to go that had defending series champion Jimmie Johnson spin out and collect last spring’s Talladega winner, David Ragan, as well as Richmond winner Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, and Michael McDowell.

After Harvick used the pace car to get rid of trash that had stuck on his car’s grille under the subsequent caution, he and Hamlin were up front at the restart with eight laps to go.

But just two laps later, Carl Edwards (who had waved his hand out the window to indicate that his car was having a problem) spun upward into the path of Ryan Newman in Turn 1 to trigger another late yellow and set up the ultimately curtailed dash to the end.

Greg Biffle led a race-high 58 laps en route to a runner-up finish and his second Top-5 in the last three races. Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers gave Michael Waltrip Racing third and fourth in a solid day team-wise, and A.J. Allmendinger turned in an impressive fifth-place result.

Harvick faded to seventh behind Paul Menard, while Kasey Kahne, top rookie Kyle Larson, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed the Top 10.

Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave the ‘Dega Nation some thrills by leading at various points of the race, with Patrick becoming the first female driver ever to lead at Talladega

But ultimately, NASCAR’s most popular drivers were unable to escape the pack in the closing laps. Patrick wound up 22nd while Earnhardt finished 26th. They combined to lead 32 of the 188 laps (Earnhardt 26, Patrick 6).

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT TALLADEGA
Aaron’s 499 – Unofficial Results
1. Denny Hamlin, led 12 laps
2. Greg Biffle, led 58 laps
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Brian Vickers, led 6 laps
5. AJ Allmendinger
6. Paul Menard, led 10 laps
7. Kevin Harvick, led 15 laps
8. Kasey Kahne
9. Kyle Larson
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11. Landon Cassill, led 1 lap
12. Kyle Busch, led 1 lap
13. Aric Almirola
14. Casey Mears, led 3 laps
15. Austin Dillon
16. Michael Annett
17. Martin Truex Jr.
18. Ryan Newman, led 1 lap
19. Marcos Ambrose, led 3 laps
20. Josh Wise
21. Cole Whitt
22. Danica Patrick, led 6 laps
23. Jimmie Johnson, led 2 laps
24. Terry Labonte
25. Michael Waltrip
26. Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 26 laps
27. Justin Allgaier
28. Alex Bowman, Lap 187, Accident
29. Jamie McMurray, -1 lap
30. Carl Edwards, Lap 182, Accident, led 6 laps
31. Ryan Truex, Lap 182, Accident, -6 laps
32. Joey Logano, Lap 174, Accident, led 25 laps
33. Kurt Busch, Lap 174, Accident
34. Reed Sorenson, Lap 174, Accident, led 1 lap
35. David Ragan, Lap 174, Accident, led 1 lap
36. Michael McDowell, Lap 174, Accident, led 1 lap
37. Matt Kenseth, Lap 171, Running
38. Brad Keselowski, Lap 160, Running
39. Jeff Gordon, Lap 156, Running
40. David Gilliland, Lap 150, Engine
41. Trevor Bayne, Lap 136, Accident
42. Brian Scott, Lap 136, Accident
43. Tony Stewart, Lap 136, Accident

Wolff doubts Ferrari’s Sochi struggles will continue

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff thinks that Ferrari’s lack of pace in last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix was specific to the Sochi Autodrom circuit and not a sign of things to come in 2016.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to Mercedes after a strong showing in pre-season, only to struggle to keep up with the German marque in the first four races of the season.

The deficit was particularly worrying for Ferrari in Russia last weekend when Kimi Raikkonen finished as Ferrari’s lead driver but over 30 seconds down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Talking to reporters after the race, Wolff refused to read too much into Ferrari’s pace, believing the deficit to be largely down to the nature of the track in Sochi.

“The track is very different with a very smooth surface, and we saw that the pace of many teams was different to the races before,” Wolff said.

“Williams was very strong, Red Bull weren’t, and Ferrari weren’t as good as expected. This is a circuit where you have to get it right in terms of mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce – and engine power plays a role.

“I would say that the dent in the Ferrari performance is Sochi-specific. But that is only my guess.”

Mercedes’ advantage was perhaps even bigger than the 30-second gap between Rosberg and Raikkonen suggested, considering that the race winner was hindered by an issue on his power unit in the second half of the race.

Ferrari’s main problem so far this season has been with the reliability of its cars, as both Raikkonen and teammate Sebastian Vettel have hit trouble in the opening four races.

A James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it is glorious (VIDEO)

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motosports Honda IndyCar is introduced before the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Only fitting that on Cinco de Mayo – 5/5 – we do a post about the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in James Hinchcliffe.

And given Hinchcliffe’s proclivity for humour (the Canadian spelling is intentional here), we thought it appropriate to show off this gem of an advert produced by Honda Canada.

Apparently such a thing as a James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it’s featured within the ad.

Hinchcliffe rocks up in a new 2016 Honda Civic Coupe. Problem is, the superfan played by Hinchcliffe’s countryman and Canadian actor Justin G Landry has the right tattoo, but no longer the right car to match his racing hero.

You can see the full video below, as well as a couple tweets to go along with it:

RGR Sport by Morand keen to build on debut WEC victory in Spa

Car # 43 / RGR SPORT BY MORAND / MEX / Ligier JS P2 - Nissan / Ricardo Gonzalez (MEX) / Filipe Albuquerque (PRT) / Bruno Senna (BRA) - WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone - Silverstone Circuit - Towcester, Northamptonshire - UK
© FIA WEC
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After claiming an impressive victory in its debut FIA World Endurance Championship race at Silverstone three weeks ago, the RGR Sport by Morand team heads to this weekend’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with high hopes of a repeat result.

RGR Sport by Morand became the first Mexican team to enter the WEC earlier this year when it entered the LMP2 class, signing ex-Formula 1 driver Bruno Senna and former Audi racer Filipe Albuquerque to race alongside team owner Ricardo Gonzalez.

The iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps plays host to its annual six-hour race this Saturday, and with the addition of the no. 38 G-Drive entry, the LMP2 class is now up to 12 cars, the biggest on the grid.

However, Gonzalez is unconcerned, instead relishing the challenge of racing at such a famous circuit as he bids to make it two wins from two races.

“Spa has always been one of my favorite tracks so to go there with our own team is going to be great,” Gonzalez said.

“We’re coming in off a win and as the championship leaders so it’s important to carry the momentum forward.

“The team has done a lot of work back at the shop to give us an even better car for Spa, so there’s no reason why we can’t go out and fight for another win.”

Senna hopes to follow in the footsteps of his uncle this weekend by claiming a first win at Spa. Ayrton Senna won the Belgian Grand Prix five times in F1, including four-in-a-row for McLaren between 1988 and 1991.

“After great success during the team’s first race at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, I’m looking even more forward to racing with Ricardo and Filipe and the RGR Sport by Morand team,” Senna said.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our approach for this weekend in Spa, but efforts have not been spared since Silverstone and lots of analysis and developments are ongoing to make sure we keep improving and get more competitive as the championship progresses.

“Spa is one of my favorite tracks and I’ve qualified on pole and front-row there many times, but I’m still yet to win it. Will push very hard for it!”

The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps takes place on Saturday May 7.

How Kvyat performs now will determine whether his F1 career lives on

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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It’s going to be hard for Daniil Kvyat to find a bright side in the wake of his demotion to Scuderia Toro Rosso – because let’s face it, that’s what it is.

And his antics in Sochi have thus provided the opportunity for Max Verstappen to replace him at Red Bull Racing.

But, even though he’s only 22 years old and now thrust into a second major transition in his two-plus year Formula 1 career, Kvyat has been given something most Red Bull junior drivers haven’t: a second chance.

Toro Rosso, nee Minardi, has been on the grid 10 years now since debuting in 2006.

In pop culture terms, Toro Rosso is basically the F1 equivalent of Erlich Bachman’s incubator if you watch the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”

At Toro Rosso, one of two things happen: you either move up to Red Bull, or you don’t, and you almost never return to F1 again.

And that’s where Kvyat has a rare chance as the first driver to get a race seat reprieve since Vitantonio Liuzzi, and, if his head can be right, a shot at motivation.

Let’s take a look first at Toro Rosso’s driver lineups to date, and their post-Toro Rosso careers:

  • Scott Speed (2006-mid-2007); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; now, 2015 Red Bull GRC champion
  • Vitantonio Liuzzi (2006-2007); 41 further F1 starts after Toro Rosso from 2009-2011 with Force India, HRT
  • Sebastian Vettel (Mid-2007-2008); promoted to Red Bull; 4-time World Champion… things worked out fine
  • Sebastien Bourdais (2008-mid-2009); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; back in IndyCar since 2011
  • Jaime Alguersuari (Mid-2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; some FIA Formula E, now retired
  • Sebastien Buemi (2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion with Toyota; also regular race winner in Formula E
  • Daniel Ricciardo (2012-2013); promoted to Red Bull; 3-time Grand Prix winner
  • Jean-Eric Vergne (2012-2014); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; Ferrari test driver and Formula E driver
  • Daniil Kvyat (2014, mid-2016-present); promoted to Red Bull, now, sent back to Toro Rosso
  • Max Verstappen (2015-mid-2016); promoted to Red Bull
  • Carlos Sainz Jr. (2015-present); future TBD beyond Toro Rosso career

So there you have it: 11 drivers in Toro Rosso’s history, none lasting longer than three years, four promoted to Red Bull, and only one – Liuzzi, in 2009 – ever returning to the grid after their post-Toro Rosso career ended.

Note, I’m not including Christian Klien here – the Austrian graduated into F1 with Jaguar in 2004 before Red Bull launched in 2005 – he never drove for Toro Rosso. Liuzzi, additionally, drove a handful of Grands Prix for Red Bull in 2005 but was never in with a shout at returning once Red Bull kept Klien alongside David Coulthard for 2006.

And that’s before you get to the countless others who Red Bull had in their “incubator” at one point or another, but never had a sniff of F1.

That includes the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa, Robert Wickens, Brendon Hartley, Neel Jani, Filipe Albuquerque, Alex Lynn, Daniel Juncadella among others (a more exhaustive list is found here).

Toro Rosso differs from its predecessor in obvious reasons. Many of the 37 drivers in Minardi’s history used the venerable Italian team as a springboard to move higher up the grid – you got your start at Minardi, you went forward from there, and you remained grateful to Faenza for giving you that first chance.

Toro Rosso? It’s a case of go big, or go home. Red Bull makes no apologies for how cutthroat its way of finding talent is, but it is interesting to note that with such short lifespans, it doesn’t give its own talent enough time to find itself before tossing them out for whomever the next flavor of the month driver may be.

That’s evident when you look around the world and see the number of ex-Red Bull folk who’ve gone on to greater things and championships in other disciplines, notably in sports car racing.

Say in a hypothetical situation that Romain Grosjean was under the Red Bull umbrella for his formative years, when he struggled in a part-time fill-in role in 2009, then drew ire from Mark Webber in 2012 with Webber’s infamous “first-lap nutcase” branding of the Franco Swiss driver. What would have happened to Grosjean’s career had he been tossed aside after a year or at most, two?

This is the precipice at which Kvyat now stands. Lewis Hamilton made the comment after Sochi that he has 17 races left, and 17 races to give Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg hell.

The same is true for Kvyat, who while offered a rare shot to continue having been the first Toro Rosso graduate to fail at Red Bull, likely only has one season left to save his F1 career… which again, seems really weird to type considering he’s only 22 years old.

But if he thrives in the now-lesser expectations bestowed on him at Toro Rosso, there could be landing places for him in 2017. It’s up to him now to seize this second chance.