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Le Mans: GTE stunners and spoilers

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Some classes are more wide open than others in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans field. Here’s a look at likely contenders for the GTE-Pro and the GTE-Am class victories:

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GTE-Pro: Porsche and Ferrari have the slightest of edges over Aston Martin, with Corvette lurking with its new C7.R.

  • AF Corse Ferrari: The No. 51 (Gianmaria Bruni/Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella) edges the No. 71 (Davide Rigon/James Calado/Olivier Beretta) on pace and experience, and overall in GTE-Pro, it’s hard to find a better driver lineup than the No. 51. But will the F458 Italia have the outright pace?
  • Porsche Team Manthey: Both the No. 91 and 92 lineups are stacked, as are the 991-spec 911s. Frederic Makowiecki has the ability for a star turn in the No. 92 after departing from Aston Martin, and co-driver Marco Holzer is another one to watch. The No. 91 features the more veteran trio of Patrick Pilet, Jorg Bergmeister and Nick Tandy, although Tandy’s in only his second Le Mans, and first in a factory seat.
  • Aston Martin Racing No. 97: Just the Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Bruno Senna car has a shot this race, and a win would make three different manufacturers on top in GTE-Pro in as many FIA World Endurance Championship races this year (Porsche and Ferrari have split the first two).
  • Corvette Racing: Either of the two new C7.Rs seek a bounce back from a miserable 2013. Staying out of the garage remains key as ever and the Corvette contingent isn’t exactly sure where it stacks up on straight line speed. But the veteran savvy and winning legacy of the team endures, and will no doubt keep at least one of the two cars in contention until the morning.

Ram Racing’s No. 52, in the team’s Le Mans debut and the Craft-Bamboo No. 99 AMR entry are seriously unlikely to fit into the equation.

GTE-Am: Like LMP2, hard to project an exact winner, but a Ferrari’s a good bet with 11 of the 19 cars entered in class.

  • Ram Racing No. 53: As solid a lineup as can be assembled within the GTE-Am regulations. Johnny Mowlem, Mark Patterson and Archie Hamilton are a podium-contending trio.
  • Krohn Racing: A bit of a Jekyll and Hyde at Le Mans in terms of performance and reliability; Krohn was the last and latest entry into this year’s field but could well finish strongly if they stay out of trouble.
  • AF Corse No. 61, 81: The two WEC-entered AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italias have better lineups than the primarily gentlemen No. 60 and 62 cars. The No. 81 includes rising star Sam Bird and must be watched closely.
  • JMW Motorsport: The mix of the JMW squad with Flying Lizard elements (Thomas Blam and Eric Ingraham for strategy plus Spencer Pumpelly and Seth Neiman driving) is a good one. Podium’s very much possible for the No. 66, ironically, Pumpelly’s old number at TRG back in the day.
  • Prospeed Competition: Both the No. 75 and 79 are the 2012-spec 997-based 911 GT3 RSR, which is one of the most proven GTE cars at Le Mans. Markus Palttala is the driver to watch in the No. 75; the No. 79 features Jeroen Bleekemolen.
  • Dempsey Racing/Proton Competition: Both the No. 77 and 88 are the newer 2013-spec 991-based 911s, and either’s a podium contender. Dempsey Racing is particularly motivated to podium, if not win, after just missing out in 2013.
  • 8Star Motorsports: Decent lineup of Frankie Montecalvo, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti could be a podium contender.
  • Aston Martin Racing: A win for the No. 95, the all-Danish crew of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thiim is the emotional favorite a year after Allen Simonsen lost his life in that car. The sister No. 98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Christoffer Nygaard is also as strong a lineup as can occur within the class.

Of the rest, I’m not expecting too much from Team Sofrev ASP, both older Imsa Performance Matmut cars and the Team Taisan and SMP Ferraris. Yes, the No. 76 Imsa car won last year in GTE-Am, but much for 2014 will be determined on how well Nicolas Armindo can bring along the other two in that car.

Magnussen scores breakthrough points for Renault in Russia

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Kevin Magnussen believes that his charge to seventh place in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix was no less than Renault deserved as he score its first points since its return to Formula 1 as a constructor in 2016.

Renault last raced in F1 with its own team back in 2010 before taking over the Lotus operation at the end of last year.

The French manufacturer has said that 2016 is very much a year of rebuilding, yet the chiefs were known to be disappointed with its point-less start to the season.

Magnussen made the most of a messy start to charge from 17th on the grid to eventually finish the race seventh, marking Renault’s first F1 points as a constructor since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The result was also Magnussen’s first top 10 finish since the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix when he finished ninth for McLaren.

“Feels good. It’s nice to finally get points on the board, and not even just one,” Magnussen told NBCSN after the race.

“I’m really happy. I think the whole team deserves it after the hard work and tough races. We have points on the board now, so it gives us a bit of a boost.”

Magnussen made up a number of positions on the first lap when a number of drivers got caught up in incidents before maintaining his placing throughout the race.

“First lap was really messy, we knew it would be difficult with something like that,” Magnussen said.

“Everyone was spinning and hitting the wall. I went outside all the front wings. But we made it up just before Turn 1 and 2, and gained it back into Turn 3. The guys in front didn’t finish.

“In the end of the day, a bit lucky but we made the best of it and we deserved.”

Grosjean hails ‘great job’ by Haas after returning to points in Russia

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Romain Grosjean ensured that Haas’ first Formula 1 points drought lasted just a single race by finishing Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix in eighth place.

Grosjean gave NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas’ eponymous operation a fairytale start to life in F1 by scoring points in its first two races in Australia and Bahrain.

However, Haas came back down to earth with a bump in China two weeks ago when both Grosjean and teammate Esteban Gutierrez failed to score, spending the entirety of their races outside the top 10.

Grosjean started 15th in Russia and struggled with the setup on his car all weekend long, but a messy first lap for the cars ahead allowed him to make up a number of positions.

Grosjean found himself running P8 in the closing stages of the race, and managed to soak up the pressure from a charging Sergio Perez to hold onto the position at the flag and pick up another four points for Haas.

“75 percent is a good score!” Grosjean told NBCSN after the race, citing Haas’ points ratio thus far in F1.

“Very difficult weekend. We did a very good first lap to get around all the incidents. Lost a position at the pit stop. I’m still not 100 per cent happy with the behavior but it should be better for the next race.”

Haas’ biggest strength so far this season has been its strategy calls, but the lack of tire wear in Sochi meant that a one-stop race was the only logical move for all teams to take.

“It was a very close strategy in terms of tires,” Grosjean said. “Everyone knew it would be supersoft, soft.

“But we avoided incidents and pushed where we could. At the end we did a great job.”

Kvyat comes under fire from Vettel, Ricciardo, paddock in Russia

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Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat put himself in the headlines and in the crosshairs for the second consecutive Grand Prix, although this time, his aggression appeared to get the better of him on home soil in Sochi, Russia.

Kvyat barged into Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at Turn 2, which left Vettel driving wounded for the next corner, but the German didn’t even make it much further because Kvyat hit him again at Turn 3.

The second blow took Vettel out of the race, his second first lap retirement in four races.

Kvyat was later assessed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for causing a collision. He ended his race in 15th after the messy day at the office.

While Kvyat could have been excused for going for it in Turn 1 at China two weeks ago, ultimately getting past Vettel inside to Vettel’s chagrin post-race, most agreed he was at fault on Sunday in Sochi for this incident.

Kvyat, meanwhile, was defiant when speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton post-race.

“Obviously in future days we’ll see a lot of clever comments from everyone,” the 22-year-old Russian told Buxton.

“My point of view, I locked my rear wheels. Simple as that. I didn’t brake too late. Ran into his back. Felt like someone pushed me from behind. Car was a bit of out of control.

“The main problem came in Turn 3, not Turn 2, when I think Sebastian had a problem with his car. He stopped very suddenly and I was just two meters behind him, and at that speed there was not much I can do to avoid. I apologize for ruining his race. But I’m human. His sudden deceleration was too much for me at that point at Turn 3.”

Vettel exploded on the radio in the immediate aftermath of the collision but was far more restrained and diplomatic when speaking to Buxton after he got taken out.

“Today it’s fairly obvious, he did a mistake again, obviously, it doesn’t help me now because I’m not in the car,” Vettel said.

“In the end we’re here to race. Massively pumped up. Had a super start, made progress into the second corner and got hit, then a second hit, which destroyed our race.”

Kvyat, meanwhile, continued with his point that he thought Vettel’s sudden slowing was more to blame for the Turn 3 contact.

“Exactly, yeah. Turn 3 is very fast. It wasn’t deliberate. Maybe after the first light contact in Turn 2, maybe there was problem with the car. To be sure he dropped his speed rate suddenly. I still expected to keep him. He was flat out util then.

“The stewards thought I crashed into him deliberately. The penalty was very harsh… but probably fair enough. It cost us points. These things happen and I usually learn from them.”

While Vettel was the main driver taken out in the opening turns, he wasn’t the only one who had his race compromised. Nico Hulkenberg and Rio Haryanto also retired in the melee.

And worse for Kvyat, his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo also got caught up in the scrap. Ricciardo, the usually ebullient Australian, expressed his Kvyat frustration to Buxton post-race.

“It was a first lap incident that shaped the race for us,” said Ricciardo, who finished outside the points in 11th, his first non-score (and non-fourth place) this year.

“From then we tried putting the medium (tires) on it but it didn’t work. Too much damage. I saw the right hand side of the car and there was a lot going on. First lap, and people getting a bit impatient I guess.”

Asked whether he felt Kvyat owed him an apology Ricciardo replied, “Yeah. I expect an apology. He owes it to a few people today.

“I saw a bit of a replay during the safety car. Tried to look at the screens. I have a feeling that’s what happened. I’ll watch again, but it seems, that had us over.

“We’ll see. It’s up to him.”

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner also appeared less than pleased with Kvyat, judging from quotes via Mobil 1 The Grid, and linked below:

When Kvyat was told Ricciardo wanted an apology from him, he replied thusly:

“Probably the whole paddock wants an apology from me, but we’ll speak inside the team after analyzing.

“It’s easy to attack now. Go on, attack me, no problem.”

Hamilton: No doubt I could have won Russian GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP collects his trophy for second from Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia on the podium next to Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton says there isn’t a doubt in his mind that he could have won Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix had it not been for a water pressure issue on his car during the race.

Hamilton was forced to start 10th in Sochi after suffering a failure on his power unit after Q2 in qualifying on Saturday.

The Briton made a good start to run fifth at the end of a messy first lap before picking off Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas to sit second behind teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap between them stood at 12 seconds after the pit stops, but Hamilton was able to whittle this down to just 7.5 seconds with over 20 laps of the race still to run.

However, Mercedes told Hamilton to back off after a water leak emerged on his car, allowing Rosberg to ease to his seventh straight win by 25 seconds.

“Not the easiest first corner but all races have been the same so far,” Hamilton said on the podium after the race.

“Really happy for the team and I’ve got the points.”

When asked if he had the pace to win the race, Hamilton said: “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I could win it.

“I had the pace, but I had a problem with the engine again so I had to back off. Just trying to look after it.”

Hamilton heads to the start of the European season in Spain on May 15 with a 43-point deficit to Rosberg, but with 17 races remaining in the season, the championship race remains firmly alive.