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After slow 2014 start, Johnson, #48 team firing on all cylinders

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The free-for-all has given way to familiarity.

The first seven races of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series produced seven different winners, and by Memorial Day weekend, that number had grown to nine.

Missing among those winners was Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion.

But while we fretted over if and when he would get on the board in 2014, Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team stayed calm.

Constantly maintaining that he felt no pressure to win, Johnson may have come off like a broken record to some in the early months of the season.

But he knew that his team would figure out the new rules package. He knew that he’d return to form. And in hindsight, we all knew that too.

Now he’s rattled off three wins in the last four Sprint Cup points races, taking over the top seed on the current Chase grid. The Memorial Day weekend win at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 broke open the dam, and has led to his ninth career Dover triumph and now, his first-ever victory at the Michigan International Speedway.

No doubt this familiarity will breed some contempt among the NASCAR fan base who are sick of all things Johnson after years of his dominance of the sport.

But no matter. The 48 team doesn’t care. They’re NASCAR’s answer to the San Antonio Spurs (and yes, I know I’m not the only writer to make that comparison).

They just want to win, they’d prefer to do it with class, and they’ve been together long enough to know success and failure – and that the opinions of the outside world don’t really matter.

“We’ve lost races together. We’ve lost championships together. And certainly we’ve had success,” Johnson said Sunday. “But 69 wins and six championships out of 13 years of racing is a pretty small percentage.

“Some of the losses you have are — you got what you could that day and you went on, but a lot of those losses in there sting, and I think experience through those moments make us stronger and better.

“Everybody knows about 2005 and the milk and cookies meeting that Rick had with us.  I think from that moment on, we were able to be more comfortable, oddly enough, in our own skin, and as a part of Team 48.  Nobody is going anywhere. We’re in this thing together, and we are Team 48.”

In such situations, you build up a lot of trust. It’s that trust that allowed Johnson to sense what crew chief Chad Knaus had up his sleeve heading into what proved to be their final stop with 35 laps remaining.

“When he pulled me to pit lane and the gap that I had over the second spot at that time, I knew that four [tires] would be the call,” said Johnson, who was leading at the time.

“You may as well put four on if you’ve got time for it.  He made that call and got out on the track…Just going off the tone of his voice and what he was asking me to do with the car, and he kept asking me to save my tires in case there was a caution. I knew we were good on fuel, so that gave me a lot of optimism.

“And then honestly, once we had our four tires on and fuel in our car, if the caution came out, I still think we were golden.  We had enough [fuel] to go the distance whereas everybody else was short.”

But Johnson didn’t have to worry about a caution. The race stayed green for those final 35 laps, and as car after car pitted, Johnson kept moving forward until he finally reclaimed the lead with nine laps left.

Of course, Johnson’s been known to have on-track problems ruin his day at Michigan, so it wasn’t signed, sealed, and delivered at that point. But this time, the car held up and it was his day at last in the Irish Hills.

However, even though Johnson and the 48 team have overcome their early-season performance issues, Knaus believes that there’s still some tightening up to do.

“The fact of the matter is I think we’ve got to be a little bit better,” he said. “Last week, [Hendrick Motorsports] were a whisker away from losing that one.  This weekend, maybe we were one pit call away from not winning this one.

“We’ve got to continue to improve our product so by the time we get to the Chase, we’re where we need to be.”

Funny…It sure looks like they’re at that point right now, doesn’t it?

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
© Getty Images
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”

Dennis would not tolerate Hamilton’s behavior at McLaren

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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McLaren CEO Ron Dennis would not tolerate Lewis Hamilton’s behavior if he was still racing for the team, saying that he looks at his former driver with “mixed emotions”.

Hamilton was first signed by McLaren at the age of 13, and would go on to make his Formula 1 debut with the team in 2007 before winning his first world championship the following year.

The Briton walked away from McLaren at the end of 2012 to join Mercedes in a move that former team principal Martin Whitmarsh called “a mistake” at the time.

However, Hamilton has since gone on to enjoy unprecedented success with Mercedes, winning the world championship in 2014 and 2015 to firmly establish himself as one of F1’s all-time greats.

Hamilton has also enjoyed a celebrity status he lacked before, gracing red carpets all over the world and enjoying a party lifestyle that recently left him feeling a bit “run down”.

Speaking to British newspaper The Guardian, Dennis said that Hamilton’s currently lifestyle and behavior would not be tolerated if he were still with McLaren.

“If he was at McLaren he wouldn’t be behaving the way he is because he wouldn’t be allowed to,” Dennis said. “He’s shaking off some chains he didn’t want to have.

“I look at him with mixed emotions. I don’t approve of everything he does or says, but nevertheless, great athletes are great because of the sacrifices they have to make.

“And sometimes sacrifices are in a very formative part of their childhood. They don’t always emerge with the all the right social process or behaviour or tendencies that you like.”

In contrast to Hamilton and Mercedes’ recent success, McLaren has entered a period of decline that will hit a new low this weekend in Abu Dhabi as it prepares to end the year last-but-one in the constructors’ championship.

McLaren has not won a race since Hamilton left, justifying his decision to walk away at the time. Not only did it allow him to shake off the chains he didn’t want, but it also paved the way for a success that he most likely would not have attained had he remained with at Woking.

Formula E unveils driverless support series ‘Roborace’

2015/2016 FIA Formula E Championship.
Putrajaya ePrix, Putrajaya, Malaysia.
Saturday 7 November 2015.
Jerome D'Ambrosio (FRA) Dragon Racing - Venturi VM200-FE-01 leads Robin Frijns (NLD), Andretti - Spark SRT_01E 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT
ref: Digital Image _G7C9287
© FIA Formula E

FIA Formula E has today announced the launch of ‘Roborace’, a driverless support series that is set to join the electric-powered championship’s roster for the 2016-2017 season.

In partnership with Kinetik, Formula E plans for Roborace to become a competitive platform for autonomous driving solutions and technologies.

“Roborace is aimed to take place prior to each Formula E race, using the same circuits in major cities across the world,” a statement reads.

“Ten teams, each with two driverless cars, will compete in one-hour races over the full championship season. All the teams will have the same cars however will compete using real-time computing algorithms and AI technologies.

“The mission of Roborace is to demonstrate that the future of automotive and information technology is already here and can even work in extreme conditions.

“Roborace believes that there is a lot of independent talents in the world that might contribute to this initiative. That is why one of the race teams will be organised as a crowd-sourced community team open for enthusiastic software and technology experts all over the world.”

Founder of Kinetik and Roborace Denis Sverdlov believes that the championship will be the perfect platform to showcase the advancements in autonomous driving and AI technologies.

“We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world’s vehicles will be assisted by AI and powered by electricity, thus improving the environment and road safety,” Sverdlov said.

“Roborace is a celebration of revolutionary technology and innovation that humanity has achieved in that area so far. It’s a global platform to show that robotic technologies and AI can co-exist with us in real life.

“Thus, anyone who is at the edge of this transformation now has a platform to show the advantages of their driverless solutions and this shall push the development of the technology.”

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag added: “We are very excited to be partnering with Kinetik on what is surely one of the most cutting-edge sporting events in history.

“Roborace is an open challenge to the most innovative scientific and technology-focused companies in the world. It is very exciting to create a platform for them to showcase what they are capable of and I believe there is great potential for us to unearth the next big idea through the unique crowd-sourced contest.”

Fong to test for Sauber in Abu Dhabi next week

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Thursday 26 November 2015.
Adderly Fong (HKG, Carlin) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL5941
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Sauber has confirmed that Adderly Fong will take part in next week’s Pirelli tire test following the conclusion of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi.

Fong, 25, first tested for the team in October 2014 before taking part in practice for last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Fong has since been racing in the GP3 Series and in the GT Asia series while also working with Lotus F1 Team as part of its development programme.

On Friday, Sauber announced that Fong would be returning to one of its cars for next week’s tire test in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“I am very pleased and thankful to have another opportunity to drive for the Sauber F1 Team,” Fong said. “I will do my best to give valuable feedback. I am looking forward to it, as well as the aim of extending my superlicence after completing 300 kilometers.

“Last year it was great to have the chance to drive the Sauber C33-Ferrari during FP1 here at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Now I am curious about testing the current car.”

Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added: “We are pleased to have Adderly in the car again and to give him the opportunity to drive a current Formula One car.

“He immediately put in a solid performance in his last opportunities for us. We are confident Adderly will again put in every effort in this tire test.”