Spanish F1 Grand Prix - Race

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.

Pipo Derani set for IndyCar test with SPM at Sebring

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Pipo Derani has become a star in the sports car world the last couple years, courtesy of his drives primarily with Tequila Patron ESM.

Meanwhile for at least a day, the 23-year-old Brazilian will be returning to his open-wheel roots in a big way.

NBC Sports has learned Derani will test for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 in a rookie test for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Derani joins Mexican driver Luis Michael Dorrbecker, who will also make his test debut that day at that test at Sebring International Raceway’s 1.5-mile short course.

Derani raced a partial season in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2014 with Team Pelfrey, before shifting to sports cars later that fall, starting with Murphy Prototypes.

Derani excelled with G-Drive in 2015 before his star turn with ESM last year. This year, his schedule grows even greater, as he’s been confirmed with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing for the first three races of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the No. 67 Ford GT with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

It’ll be interesting to see what Derani does on the Sebring short course in one of SPM’s Honda-powered entries. He’ll be back at Sebring a couple weeks after his IndyCar test, as he prepares to defend his win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with ESM.

‘Uncle Bobby’ Unser turns 83 today

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February 20 is quite a day for birthdays in the North American racing world. “The Captain,” Roger Penske, turns 80, and the Shaker Heights, Ohio native continues at the head of his incredibly successful race team and automotive group without so much as a sweat.

One of Penske’s longtime drivers has his birthday today, as well. Bobby Unser, or “Uncle Bobby,” turns 83.

A member of the famed Albuquerque family, Unser won three Indianapolis 500s (1968, 1975 and 1981) before moving into broadcasting after he retired, working with ABC at the ‘500 and throughout the IndyCar schedule. A legend on Pikes Peak as well, Unser has more than a dozen wins there.

As time has passed, Unser’s forthright, candid insights have really stood out in a time where fewer drivers have properly spoke their minds.

Last May at Indianapolis ahead of the 100th Indianapolis 500, I had the opportunity to chat with “Uncle Bobby” about his life and career at the Speedway. A selection of those quotes are below:

“I’ve been here a long time. I’ve been coming every year since 1959. I saw the lights blinking on track and wonder what just happened!” he said. “This place has been going 100 years, and I’ve been a part of it for a long time.

“There’s been too many changes and I couldn’t remember them all in my head anyway. I don’t like the changes I’m seeing, but it doesn’t mean they’re all bad.

“I don’t know why I got into TV; I didn’t even go to high school. Yet I’m an engineer! Who’d ever thought Bobby Unser would do television? I ended up with a really good group at ABC. I didn’t think I could ever do it – but I did! I enjoyed myself.

“I lost a brother here. And I lost an uncle who was preparing to come here. My brother Jerry was killed here, and my uncle Joe was killed preparing to come here in a car. We were testing it in Colorado. We’ve lost two Unsers here – we don’t need a medal – but it hasn’t all been peaches and roses.

“The evolution of cars was easy. It was better to do it when we’re young! I’m not kidding. One of my heroes was Don Branson. He was a dirt track legend for sure, but he was good here too. He was the upper end of years, and I was gonna get his car. I didn’t know he’d get himself killed… we had it preplanned. But he was gonna quit driving and work for Goodyear as field manager for their racing tires. That was a big step for me.

“Don, I’m not gonna tell you I’m better than him. But he didn’t like the rear-engined cars. I’m young. He’s older. So I stepped into a rear-engined car and it feels fine to me! Some of them couldn’t hack it going from the roadster to rear-engined car. But it was easy for me, and for my brother Al. I think a lot of that is the experience you have, and the age.

“This is a tough place. Arguing about the cars now could be another deal. Most anyone could run the cars today… but I don’t want to go down that road and take up more of your time.

“Mario (Andretti) was one of my closest friends in those days. We’d fly together as I had a junky old airplane that barely made it, but it beat driving to races!

“Foyt’s Foyt. He’s a grouchy old fart, you know? But he’s a hell of a race driver. I wish the younger generation would have seen him when he was young… he was a fireplug. He was fast, he was a chassis man, and he understood engines. He was so good.

“It’s ’68, obviously (my favorite ‘500 win). You never know you can do it. There’s so many guys in this race that could be leading, two laps or 10 from the end the car quits. There’s so many of them like that. How many times are you’re leading Lap 150, and then ain’t gonna win it?

“You don’t know you can win it until checkered flag falls. The next one’s easier.”

Team Penske restores iconic ‘Blue Hilton’ Indy 500-winning transporter

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Photo courtesy of Team Penske
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Few teams have as great an appreciation for their own history as Team Penske, so it’s only fitting that on a day when Roger Penske turns 80, the team reflects on the first transporter that helped launch the team into the national stratosphere.

Penske’s first of 16 Indianapolis 500 victories was achieved in 1972 with Mark Donohue driving, and the transporter that carried that No. 66 Sunoco McLaren Offy was a customized 1972 International Fleetstar truck known in the racing circles as “The Blue Hilton.”

This transporter served Team Penske well, carrying both Indy cars and sports cars that dominated in Can-Am in the early 1970s with George Follmer and Donohue.

More than 8,000 man hours went into the restoration of this transporter, which was only found in 2015 after concerns it’d been scrapped. Penske Truck Leasing’s James Svaasand, Michael Klotz, and David Hall and Team Penske Historian Bernie King led the restoration and can thank Jerry Breon, a long-time Penske team member, who found the truck for sale.

“After we confirmed that it was, in fact, the Blue Hilton that was for sale, I called Brian Hard (president of Penske Truck Leasing) and we agreed that we had to find a way to bring her back to life,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said in a release. “This transporter was there when the foundation was laid for Team Penske and it is symbolic of the way in which we operate today.  Everyone at PTL did an unbelievable job restoring this vehicle.  I can’t wait for Roger to see it in person, as it is something he will cherish.”

The transporter will be on display at Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.

You can read the full release here. A few photos of the transporter are below, courtesy of Team Penske:

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Testing confirmed, races not yet for Mikhail Aleshin in sports cars

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 01:  Mikhail Aleshin of Russia, driver of the #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport IndyCar prepares for qualifying to the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 1, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Mikhail Aleshin will focus primarily on the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, but may still be busy with sports car commitments with SMP Racing.

His sponsor he has in IndyCar is working on a new non-hybrid LMP1 car for 2018, as SMP Racing’s technical partner BR Engineering is working with Dallara on that new chassis.

Aleshin said via a press release he’s already been busy working on the development of that car ahead of its planned introduction next season (more info here via Sportscar365 and Endurance-Info).

The new creation stems from the fact BR Engineering was not granted a place to continue with its BR01 LMP2 chassis, which raced in the FIA World Endurance Championship and also won the pole for the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the ACO confirmed just four chassis constructors would continue in LMP2 in 2017 to coincide with new regulations (Onroak, Oreca, Riley Multimatic, Dallara). BR and other constructors were removed from the field as a result.

Intriguingly though, Aleshin was also listed as the nominated driver for SMP Racing’s Dallara P217 chassis for both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the European Le Mans Series.

Le Mans doesn’t clash with an IndyCar weekend, while the ELMS and IndyCar have one clash, the weekend of August 26 when IndyCar races at Gateway Motorsports Park and ELMS is at Paul Ricard.

Aleshin may be active in a number of sports car races this year, as he has been off-and-on the last two years. But he doesn’t know his exact schedule yet.

“Well we’re working to produce our own car for 2018… and I’m one of the test or development drivers,” Aleshin told NBC Sports.

“I don’t know yet (Le Mans)… maybe I’ll be there. Well, it’s good to be a placeholder! But hopefully not for every event.

“For me the main thing this year is to concentrate on two things. Number one is IndyCar. But I have a very similar responsibility on taking care of our LMP1 project with SMP, as that will be very big.”