Detroit Grand Prix delivers another dynamic event weekend

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Say what you will about Long Beach being North America’s marquee street race – for my money, it’s still a personal favorite and the gold standard for street race operations – but Detroit’s getting pretty close to usurping that “gold standard” title after just three years since coming back on the schedule in 2012.

For the second consecutive year (I wasn’t on site in 2012, so I can’t properly comment on that year), everything about the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix weekend on Belle Isle Park, run to near perfection by Roger Penske’s organization and with Bud Denker leading the on-site staff’s efforts, ran like clockwork.

The track flows in such a way that once you’re inside, everything runs in close proximity. The paddock is just behind pit lane and covers all four series that were in action – the Verizon IndyCar Series, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge and SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks. Victory Lane and the media center are just next to the paddocks, which reduces a lot of unnecessary time spent going back-and-forth to get where you need to go.

The fan zone here is laid out in grand, open style, with a mix of vendors, booths, food options, family friendly activities and a giant concert stage – put onto great effect with Lifehouse and Shaggy performing on the two weekend days. Rising singing star Anna de Ferran, daughter of former Indianapolis 500 and CART champion Gil, also performed during the weekend.

Where this race really nails it is on the corporate side. Penske’s organization focuses heavily on the corporate suite side of things and works effortlessly to ensure the suites get sold out. The Shinola-backed suites were on the outside of the front straight this year, and combined with other corporate chalets, these offered a great vantage point for those clients on site.

The track is transparent with its grandstand numbers. On Friday, Trackside Online reported the numbers, from the track posting, as a total of 15,229 grandstand seats among the five grandstands. It’s not a huge number, but it’s also not the event’s primary focus.

The volunteers go out of their way to be friendly and helpful, almost to a fault. Occasionally you’ll be at an event where volunteers do whatever they can to make your life miserable; not so in Detroit.

As for the weekend on-track? Yes, the course is bumpy but that’s one of its defining characteristics. Denker confirmed at Thursday’s media lunch that a full-scale repave will occur before 2014 to eliminate some of the rough concrete bits.

It will smooth things out, although Cadillac Pirelli World Challenge driver Johnny O’Connell, who won both races this weekend joked during Sunday’s press conference, “With Detroit being a little bit on the bumpy side, I think that works to our advantage. It was funny, I was talking to Roger Penske and I said, please don’t make this track too nice. A couple of bumps are good for me!”

Chevrolet, too, has committed to the event for another two years, through 2016. Denker confirmed to’s Marshall Pruett that next year’s weekend again features a Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader and the Pirelli World Challenge, while also hoping to confirm the return of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

This was the last of two weekends this year – Long Beach as well – where all three series competed alongside each other on the same card.

For IndyCar, this weekend was once again a showcase of varying strategies, which adds an extra layer of spice and intrigue because you never know which strategist or team will nail it.

You also had the emergence of rivalries in greater doses. The “#IndyRivals” campaign premiered on Sunday and it was rather appropriate that it did, considering Will Power appears to be on a quest to be the new Darth Vader of the paddock.

Perhaps, as I suggested on Twitter right before the end of Sunday’s race, Team Penske should revert his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet back to the all-black colors it premiered in when Power was a then-unheralded part-time third driver for the team in 2009.

The Power-Simon Pagenaud battle has enough momentum to where it can be promoted as “the new rivalry.” Power’s had brief encounters with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon before, after having one with Dario Franchitti for a few years. But now him and Pagenaud are the best at-odds thing to promote.

It’s a good thing for the sport, and Pagenaud’s the likeable underdog as the Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports lacks the resources of a Penske, or a Ganassi, or an Andretti Autosport, but still brings the fight and the bark on every weekend.

Penske and GM ruled the weekend, but those on site will once again attest this was another first-class event through and through. Kudos to all who made it happen.

Rosberg: New season can’t come soon enough

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Nico Rosberg says that the new Formula 1 season cannot come soon enough after capping off 2015 with a third consecutive victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Rosberg saw his hopes of winning a maiden world championship end in Austin, Texas last month as teammate Lewis Hamilton wrapped up his third title with three races to spare.

Since then, Rosberg has found a second wind to claim his first career hat-trick with victories in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Speaking on the podium after his most recent success, Rosberg said that he was relishing the start of the new season and that it cannot come quickly enough given his momentum.

“Austin was a low point of the season, it was a tough weekend,” Rosberg said. “Since then I’ve just come back a lot stronger and I’m very happy about that.

“I’m excited about how the end of the season went, and next year can come any moment – it could start tomorrow for me, no problem, I don’t need any holidays!

“Anyway it’s great to end the season like this, go on holiday like this. Thank you so much, you’ve been awesome again this weekend for all your support and everything.

“Thanks to my team, absolutely stunning car you’ve all given me again today, unbelievable. I’m ecstatic.”

Rosberg struggled to compete with Hamilton for much of the year, but said that his recent successes were all the sweeter given the ability of his Mercedes stablemate.

“It’s always tough to race Lewis, he’s doing an awesome job and is one of the best out there,” Rosberg said.

“Even better feeling to win definitely against such opposition. It’s a great battle internally all of the time, and that’s what I race for, this battle. I look forward to more next year.”

Rosberg ends 2015 with third straight F1 win in Abu Dhabi

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Nico Rosberg rounded out the 2015 Formula 1 season with a third consecutive victory after seeing off the challenge of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to win Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Rosberg controlled proceedings from the front of the field, leading the majority of the race before coming under pressure in the closing stages after Mercedes switched Hamilton’s strategy so he could push hard on the final stint.

However, the three-time world champion was unable to bridge the gap, allowing Rosberg to claim a sixth win of the season and a third in a row to finish off a year that largely saw him struggle for form.

A poor start from Hamilton allowed Rosberg to retain his lead from pole position heading into the first corner, but the Briton managed to fend off Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez to hold on to second place. Rosberg was able to build on his good start, opening up a two second lead over Hamilton in the opening stages of the race before the first round of pit stops.

Further back, Fernando Alonso’s miserable 2015 season showed few signs of mercy even at the final race as he clashed with Pastor Maldonado at the first corner. The stewards deemed Alonso to be at fault, handing the Spaniard a drive-through penalty. The damage to Maldonado’s suspension was enough to end his race early.

There was further drama at the first round of pit stops when Williams released Valtteri Bottas into the path of Jenson Button, causing damage to the front of the Finn’s car. Bottas pitted again one lap later for repairs, and was duly hit with a time penalty for the unsafe release.

Mercedes had no such problems with its pit stops, but Hamilton was left scrambling for pace. A late push from Rosberg at the end of the first stint allowed him to create a five-second gap over Hamilton into which Sebastian Vettel – still yet to pit after starting on primes – dropped in to. Hamilton made light work of the Ferrari driver just three laps later, but the gap to Rosberg had already swelled to over six seconds.

Hamilton managed to work the gap down with a series of quick laps throughout the second stint of the race, though, piling the pressure on Rosberg at the front. The German’s led was halved in the space of a few laps as he struggled with graining on his tires and by the time he came in for a second time, the gap to Hamilton lay at just 1.3 seconds.

Rosberg was the first to pit once again, taking on another fresh set of primes on lap 31, but Mercedes opted to extend Hamilton’s stint before bringing him in. Rosberg was told to pick up the pace in reaction to this, closing the gap at the front so that he would be ahead once Hamilton made his final stop.

Just as he did in Brazil two weeks ago, Hamilton argued with Mercedes over strategy as he tried to get ahead of Rosberg once again. The Briton wanted to try and make a one-stop strategy work by going to the end, only to be told that this would be “impossible”.

All the while, Rosberg continued to close, giving him a lead of 12.5 seconds once Hamilton had pitted. Instead of putting on a set of options to make up for the longer second stint, Mercedes fitted another set of primes to Hamilton’s car, leaving him with the task of making up one second per lap in the final stages of the race.

It was one that Hamilton took in his stride, immediately laying down a quick pace on his fresh tires. Despite running 1.7 seconds per lap quicker than Rosberg at one point, Hamilton was unable to sustain this pace until the end and struggled with traffic, ending his hopes of victory in Abu Dhabi.

Instead it was Rosberg who crossed the line to take his third consecutive win and finish the 2015 season in style, beating Hamilton to the flag by 8.2 seconds.

Raikkonen rounded out the podium for Ferrari after enduring a rather lonely race, having been waved past Vettel due to their differing tire calls. Vettel managed to make his prime-prime-option strategy work perfectly to finish fourth, passing Perez in the closing stages to demote the Mexican to fifth.

Perez held on to finish fifth, two places ahead of Force India teammate Nico Hulkenberg to cap off the team’s best-ever F1 season in style. Daniel Ricciardo split them in P6, while Felipe Massa followed eighth ahead of Daniil Kvyat.

Romain Grosjean’s last race for Lotus ended in style as he passed Carlos Sainz Jr. for the final points-paying position with just three laps to go. He was then able to pass Daniil Kvyat one lap later to secure ninth position, leaving the Russian to settle for P10 at the checkered flag.

Max Verstappen enjoyed an eventful race en route to P12, but was under investigation from the stewards when the flag fell after ignoring blue flags. They handed him a time penalty that ultimately dropped him to P16. Button and Bottas recovered from their earlier clash to finish 12th and 13th ahead of the Sauber duo of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.

Despite threatening to retire the car at one point, Fernando Alonso finished his race in 17th place two laps down on Rosberg. Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the classification for Manor.

Magnussen set for Mercedes DTM test next week

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and McLaren Honda waves to the fans during the drivers' parade before the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Former McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen will try his hand at a DTM car next week in Spain at a test with Mercedes.

Magnussen raced for McLaren in 2014 before being dropped to make way for Fernando Alonso in 2015, and was released from his contract earlier this year after the team opted to retain Alonso and Jenson Button for next season.

The Dane is known to be evaluating his options in Formula 1 for next year, and has said that he would be open to another reserve role with a team.

Magnussen enjoyed a successful test with Porsche in Barcelona earlier this month, trying out the LMP1 919 Hybrid car that he called “the most advanced race car in the world”.

Magnussen had been tipped as a candidate to take Nico Hulkenberg’s place in the third Porsche entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, but it was confirmed on Saturday that the German marque would be scaling down to just two cars for 2016.

Now, Magnussen will test at DTM car with Mercedes at Jerez next week at the series’ annual rookie test.

“Yes, I’m going down there testing,” Magnussen told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.

“It’ll probably be on the third day [Thursday]. It will be a great experience and I appreciate the opportunity. I’m looking forward to trying another new race car for the first time.

“They are evaluating drivers and might need one for next season, but I’m not tied to anything for next year. For me it will be a great chance to try a racing car I’ve never driven before and then we’ll see what the future brings.”

Magnussen is set to be joined at the test by another ex-F1 driver, Giedo van der Garde, who will also be testing for Mercedes according to a report from Autosport.

Hamilton laughs off criticism about his lifestyle

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain waves after he captured the second position at the qualifying at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Lewis Hamilton has laughed off criticism from former boss Ron Dennis about his lifestyle and behavior, saying that his activities away from Formula 1 have had a positive impact on his on-track performances.

Hamilton was signed to McLaren by Ron Dennis at the age of 13 before making his F1 debut with the team nine years later in 2007.

He won his first drivers’ championship with McLaren the following year, but left for Mercedes after the 2012 season.

Since then, Hamilton has gone on to win two more world titles and establish himself as one of F1’s all-time greats, while McLaren has failed to claim a single race victory in the same period.

Earlier this week, Dennis said that Hamilton’s celebrity lifestyle and behaviour would not be tolerated if he still were at McLaren, and that he looks at the Briton with “mixed emotions”.

When asked about the comments on Saturday, Hamilton laughed them off.

“I don’t know why he is touching on that subject,” Hamilton said. “Maybe he has nothing else positive to talk about!

“Who I am today, regardless of whom I was working for, is my own creation. I do a lot of things outside the sport, and I think it has a positive impact on my career.”

Hamilton admitted earlier this month that excessive partying following his third world title success in the USA had left him feeling “run down”, and also attributed his busy schedule to a minor car accident in Monaco ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix.