SST/World Challenge Round-up from Detroit and New Jersey

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s Stadium Super Trucks and Pirelli World Challenge events that took place in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and New Jersey Motorsports Park. NBCSN will broadcast the Detroit PWC round on Sun., June 15 at 2:30 p.m. ET and the Detroit SST round on Fri., June 20 at 1:30 a.m. ET; for more details on the New Jersey PWC round, we’ll refer you to World-Challenge.com. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

This year’s Detroit Grand Prix gathering on Belle Isle Park really was all about sweeps.

In addition to Team Penske winning both Verizon IndyCar Series events (Will Power on Saturday, Helio Castroneves on Sunday), former IndyCar driver E.J. Viso won all three Stadium Super Truck races, while Johnny O’Connell and Dean Martin claimed both Pirelli World Challenge races in GT and GTS respectively.

On Sunday, Viso had to deal with Burt Jenner on the final lap to complete his Motor City trifecta. But the Venezuelan got past him for the lead in Turn 4 of the Belle Isle street circuit and after the two made contact, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Robby Gordon were able to overtake Jenner for second and third before the checkered flag.

“I am obviously starting to feel more comfortable with the truck,” Viso said in a release. “It was a great weekend and a great track. This new series is going to be the next thing, it’s really catching on with the fans, sponsors and drivers.

“The trucks are very fun to drive and I had a blast. This is only my second opportunity in the trucks, and I hope there are many others. Now I am looking forward to X Games next weekend in Austin, which I am sure is going to be a different animal but I am ready for that challenge.”

Meanwhile in Pirelli World Challenge action, O’Connell (No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R) and Martin (No. 50 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S) not only triumphed twice in their respective classes but did so in wire-to-wire fashion.

O’Connell, the reigning GT champion in PWC, now has three wins on the season, while Martin now has two in his pocket.

“There are certain tracks that you know that you have to do well at. When we are on the street circuits we have an opportunity,” said O’Connell. “The hardest thing for any driver is winning the first time at any track and once you win you wake up the next morning knowing that you can do it again.”

While O’Connell’s sweep no doubt pleased the General Motors crowd, Martin’s sweep was also a home win for Ford, which is situated in nearby Dearborn, Michigan.

“We are committed to doing a full season in the series with our Mustang; the Mustangs really show their strength here in Detroit, our home territory,” Martin said. “It’s really great to bring home a win for Ford here. Hats off to our crew – [this was a] brand new car that was originally built as a show car and we tore it down and took what was left from the race car from Barber.”

Martin was one of multiple Mustang drivers involved in an opening-lap pileup during the first GT/GTS race of the Barber weekend back in April.

Winning on Belle Isle in the GT-A subcategory for gentlemen drivers were Dan Knox (No. 80 ACS Manufacturing, Inc./Performance SpeedTech SRT Viper GT3-R) on Saturday and Marcelo Hahn (No. 0 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2) on Sunday. Hahn is now the first driver to pick up multiple GT-A wins this year.

As the GT classes battled on Belle Isle, the PWC’s Touring Car-based categories stayed busy with a weekend twin-bill on the road course at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

There were a few sweeps in Jersey as well, with Michael DiMeo winning both rounds in TC and Shea Holbrook pulling the same feat in TC-A. Brian Price (Saturday) and Tyler Palmer (Sunday) split wins in TCB.

DiMeo and his No. 71 Grand Alarms Honda Civic Si have been unstoppable in TC this season, and now have a sparkling record of six wins in six starts. Holbrook’s chalked up three TC-A wins now in 2014 with her No. 67 TRUECar/Lucas Oil/Radium Honda Civic Si, and her win on Sunday came as part of a 1-2 TC-A result for Shea Racing as teammate Jason Cherry finished P2.

Price’s TCB win on Saturday was a wire-to-wire triumph, but Palmer’s TCB win on Sunday wasn’t decided for him until late. In that race, Palmer, Price, and Paul Holton all took turns at the front, but it was Palmer (No. 37 Mini Cooper) who pulled off the winning pass on Price with two laps to go.

“We were switching positions nearly every corner,” Palmer said of his late-race battle. “I don’t know how many lead changes there were or position changes in general.

“Price got loose in Turn 1 and I took that corner great, I had speed coming out of 2, went to the inside for 3, cleared him and was hoping he wouldn’t be close enough to get around me on the front straight with the power of the Hondas. That was the best race of the year excitement wise for the fans by far.”

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.