Hamilton holds on to defeat Rosberg in Spain and claim fourth straight win

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Lewis Hamilton has claimed his fourth consecutive Formula 1 victory at today’s Spanish Grand Prix, fending off the challenge of teammate Nico Rosberg in the closing stages of the race to hang on and seize the lead of the drivers’ championship.

The British driver managed to combat a few setup problems and a split strategy compared to that of his teammate to take to the top step of the podium in Spain for the very first time. Rosberg put up a valiant fight to try and deny Hamilton yet another victory, but was unable to pass the 2008 world champion despite closing in the final stages of the race.

Daniel Ricciardo finally secured his first podium finish after suffering heartbreak in Melbourne at the beginning of the year, and led home teammate Sebastian Vettel, who, having started down in 15th place, put in a fine display. Valtteri Bottas lost out to the German driver in the final few laps, but managed to bring his car home in fifth.

The start saw Hamilton make a clean getaway to stay in the lead ahead of Rosberg. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was the big mover at turn one, passing Daniel Ricciardo to jump up into third place. Romain Grosjean locked up when trying to also find a way past the Red Bull, but remained in fifth place. Having started down in 15th, Vettel made a poor start and lost a position, and his efforts were not helped when Kevin Magnussen made contact with him in the final chicane.

Pastor Maldonado didn’t show any signs of backing off despite his crash yesterday, and was lucky to continue after colliding with one of the Caterham cars. He did receive a stop/go penalty for the incident, though.

Having lost P3 off the line, Ricciardo quickly set about re-claiming the position from Bottas, but the Finn kept his Williams as wide as possible to stop him from getting past. The Australian opted to back off to get some clear air, while his teammate finally found his feet to fight past Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil to move up to 13th place behind Jenson Button. However, Vettel then pitted to get out of traffic, and appeared to be set for a three stop strategy.

At the front, Mercedes wasted no time in opening up a lead over the rest of the field. Hamilton and Rosberg were lapping at over one second per lap quicker than the other drivers, but the gap between the two remained constant at around two seconds. When the Briton eventually pitted, Rosberg was released into the lead, and quickly set about establishing a lead over his teammate. Ultimately, he was forced to pit just three laps later, and rejoined the track behind Hamilton. However, he was on a different tire to that of his teammate.

As Bottas remained ahead, Ricciardo took to the pits for a fresh set of tires. Bottas went far longer into the race on his set of starting tires, and as a result lost out to the Red Bull driver. After stopping, Kimi Raikkonen held onto sixth position ahead of Fernando Alonso, but the Spaniard was forced to lock up to avoid hitting his teammate on pit exit. Raikkonen duly set his sights on Grosjean in front, and found a way past on lap 25 to move up into fifth place, with Alonso following suit just one lap later.

Mercedes sought to manage the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg as they were on split strategies, but the race leader began to feel uncomfortable with the back-end of his car. Nevertheless, he continued to eke out a gap to Rosberg, and enjoyed a 4.5 second lead as the race hit half distance.

Sebastian Vettel’s fightback continued at the expense of Kevin Magnussen, and he was soon up into seventh place behind Alonso in the Ferrari. Both managed to find a way past Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn took to the pits a few laps later.

With 22 laps to go, Hamilton dived into the pits for a fresh set of tires and a slight front wing adjustment. A small delay in the pits cost him about a second, and this gave Rosberg a fighting chance to putting the hammer down and catching his teammate. The German pitted two laps later, emerging some way behind Hamilton, although he was on the quicker tire. This soon began to show as Rosberg halved the gap to Hamilton, and with 15 laps to go was just 2.5 seconds behind.

Ricciardo and Bottas both pitted on the same lap as Rosberg, and the Australian looked poised to secure his first podium finish. Bottas came out behind Alonso and Vettel, though, but was released up into fifth place when the defending world champion dived into the pits. Alonso followed Vettel’s example, and came out behind the Red Bull as the duo set their sights on catching Kimi Raikkonen in fifth place. Vettel quickly disposed of Ferrari with a great overtake at turn ten, and Alonso also managed to find a way past before the end of the race to finish in sixth. Vettel himself pushed on to pass Bottas and eventually finish the race in fourth place.

Rosberg refused to lie down at the front, and with lots of fuel in reserve, he cut the gap to just 1.2 seconds with eight laps to go. Hamilton continued to report problems with graining on his tires. Soon, the German was within DRS range, but he was still not close enough to make it past. With just two laps to go, Rosberg was on Hamilton’s rear wing, but he simply could not find a way through, and eventually finished just 0.6 seconds behind his teammate.

With this win, Hamilton takes the lead of the drivers’ championship, and is certainly the man to beat heading to the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. However, Rosberg proved himself to be a worthy adversary today, and it is clear that he will not be backing down in the face of his teammate’s dominance.

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”

F1 Strategy Group meeting reveals shark fin, ‘Shield’ plans for 2018

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Tuesday’s meeting of the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission in Paris took a couple big steps towards forward in the look of Formula 1 cars for 2018, as the cockpit “Shield” and shark fin/T-wings were among the items discussed.

This meeting included CEO of Formula One Group Chase Casey for the first time, along with FIA President Jean Todt and the key other stakeholders in the meeting.

The “Shield” concept for additional frontal protection moves up in the priority list. Per the FIA’s release, the plan is to go ahead with additional track testing this year before a 2018 implementation:

“A number of more integrated solutions for additional frontal protection have been studied, and the decision has been taken to give priority to the transparent ‘shield’ family of systems. The FIA aims to carry out track tests of this system during this season in preparation for implementation in 2018,” the release said.

The ‘Halo’ and aeroscreen ideas were trialled last year (see below):

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP sits in his car fitted with the halo in the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA – APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Meanwhile the shark fins and T-wings, which have come back to the cars this year over the engine cover, are set to be restricted to a box next year. The structural rigidity of those from some teams have come under scrutiny this year.

“Changes in the regulation boxes around the engine cover have been made so that designs incorporating the ‘t-wing’ and ‘shark fin’ will be strictly limited,” the release said.

Three other sporting and technical changes were released:

  • Measures will be taken to ensure that oil will not be used as fuel. In addition, only one specification of oil may be used for any given power unit during an event
  • Pirelli will be allowed to develop 2018 wet weather tyre compounds using previous specifications of cars and wheel dimensions
  • In the event of a red flag period during a race, the race will be resumed from a standing start

In two other bits, from the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14, the sporting regulations will be strictly enforced to ensure drivers’ car numbers and surnames will be made bigger and more visible. Although permanent numbers have come into play starting in 2014, where a driver picks one number for the entirety of his or her career, none has really been that big on an F1 base chassis.

Lastly, per the release “Representatives from the non-member teams will now be invited to meetings of the F1 Strategy Group to have access to the discussions, demonstrating the effective commitment of both the FIA and the Commercial Rights Holder to improve transparency in the sport.”