Things seem to go better with Coke for Vickers in 2014

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It may just be a coincidence, but for some reason it appears that Coca-Cola products seem to have brought out some of the best in Brian Vickers this season.

Seven races ago, Vickers finished sixth in the Coca-Cola 600 and climbed to eighth in the Sprint Cup standings afterwards.

Although he had fallen back as far as 20th in the standings since then, Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway brought out more of the best in Vickers, who earned his best finish of the season, finishing second to winner Aric Almirola in the rain-shortened 112-lap race.

In addition, Vickers climbed from 19th to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings but is still two spots shy of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup as of this writing.

Sure, a lot of things can happen over the remaining eight races prior to setting the 16-driver field for the expanded and revamped Chase, but Vickers hopes to build upon Sunday’s finish and work to further solidify his potential berth in the upcoming playoffs.

“No, it wasn’t,” Vickers said when asked after the race if it was an easy afternoon.  “There was a lot of strategy going on, and it kept changing. When we started the race, knowing there was a competition caution coming at lap 20, we thought about kind of taking it easy and going to the back, and lo and behold, the lane we were in just kept going forward, so we went to the front, and then it got a little bit too dicey for my comfort that early, and guys were moving around a lot.

“So we went to the back, just had a bad feeling about kind of the energy in the pack and where it was headed, so we dropped back, and at about two laps later there was a big crash and we were fortunate to be out of that.

“Then we kept going there and got to a point where we were ready to go but just didn’t quite have the speed we needed in the car to get from where we were at to the front, and we ended up actually getting into the pack at about the wrong moment and were fortunate enough to get through the last big wreck.

“I saw it kind of starting out of the corner of my eye, a car from the outside to the inside just went way too quick, and I just jumped on the brakes and as soon as I saw it opening downshifted and went to the gas and was able to get through it.  But very lucky to get through that wreck and keep the car out of trouble.”

Vickers owes much of Sunday’s end result to late-race pit strategy by crew chief Billy Scott. Like a Weather Channel meteorologist, Scott read the radar and the approaching rain and devised a plot that would get Vickers up toward the front and hopefully keep him there if the rains came – which indeed they ultimately did.

“The guys did a great job,” Vickers said. “(Scott) called a great race and put me in a position to win there at the end. You know, it was just — we were just a lap away from an opportunity to make a pass.

“I had one shot at the 43 with a run, and the 13 got to my right rear corner and I just couldn’t move up and do anything with it.  We were just stuck there. And then the rain just came at the wrong time for us and the right time for them (race winner Aric Almirola).”

Now that he’s back up to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings, Vickers hopes to build upon the momentum gained at Daytona and hold on to that 16th and final qualifying spot for the Chase.

“I’m just really proud of everyone on this Aaron’s Dream Machine team,” Vickers said. “They’ve done a great job getting the momentum going back in the right direction, and that’s what we need right now.”

Almirola’s win makes him the 12th different winner thus far in 2014 with eight races to go. A number of drivers remain winless including Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and yes, Vickers.

Barring any additional first-time winners this season, with only four spots left still open to drivers to make the Chase on points and not wins, Vickers is well aware of the huge job ahead of him to not only hold on to what he has, but also to pad it in any way he can.

“Obviously the fewer spots there are, the intensity picks up for the guys in that position,” he said. “I think every week you go to every race trying to win and knowing what’s at stake if you do and what’s at stake if you don’t.

“The closer to the Chase you get, the more that intensity is going to pick up. Our job is to go out there and try to win next weekend.  We came close this weekend, but the weather didn’t work in our favor, and that’s that. We’ve just got to get on with it and go to next week.”

And next week can’t come soon enough, as it was at New Hampshire that Vickers earned the third Sprint Cup win of his career and the first since 2009 in the 19th race of last season while driving a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Can he make it two in a row in the early summer race at Loudon?

We’ll find that out next Sunday. But just in case, maybe Vickers should have a bottle or can of Coke next to himself behind the wheel. It may give him the added extra he just may need.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Berlin Formula E race gets new layout at Tempelhof Airport

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Formula E has confirmed that June’s Berlin ePrix at Tempelhof Airport will use a revised layout to the one run in its first season.

Made famous for its role during the Berlin Airlift in the early Cold War years, Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008 and was turned into a public park, becoming the location for Formula E’s first visit to Germany in 2015.

The recent refugee crisis saw Tempelhof be turned into a temporary camp, forcing Formula E to move to the city center for season two.

Government officials in Berlin announced earlier this year that Formula E would not be able to return to the Alexanderplatz region for 2017, with the all-electric series opting to return to Tempelhof.

The series has now confirmed that it will race with a revised layout at the airport for the upcoming double-header in order to reflect the faster nature of the cars used in season three compared to the season one runners.

For us as a German team with German partners, and me as a German driver, it is great news that we will have two home races this season,” ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport’s Daniel Abt said.

“It’s no secret that I loved the track around Karl-Marx-Allee a lot. But now that I have seen the new Tempelhof layout, I can’t wait to get there. The fans will love the unique setting that brings everyone so close to the action and us drivers.

“The track is perfect for great racing and a lot of overtaking. I’m looking forward to meeting my home crowd. We will put on a great 48-hour Formula E party for the fans in Berlin.”

The Berlin ePrix takes place on June 10-11.

Lewis Hamilton: F1 needs Fernando Alonso competing in a quick car

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton says the sport needs Fernando Alonso to be racing in a competitive car so that the Spaniard can show his quality and fight for race wins again.

Alonso won world titles in 2005 and 2006, but is yet to add a third to his collection despite being in contention for the drivers’ crown at the final race in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Since joining McLaren in 2015, Alonso has been mired in F1’s midfield amid ongoing issues with the team’s Honda power unit, preventing him from even finishing on the podium in that period.

2017 looks poised to offer one of the closest title fights in recent years between Mercedes driver Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the latter winning the opening race of the year in Australia.

Speaking about the prospect of a close title fight with Vettel, Hamilton said he relished the idea, but wants to see Alonso battling at the front once again as well.

“I think the fans want to see that but even between all of us. We need [Fernando] to have a good car so he can get up there and fight with us as well, before his time’s up,” Hamilton said.

“We got a hint that it’s another couple of years at least, so that’s good. I feel we’re yet to see the best of Fernando. The sport needs that and he deserves to be able to show that.

“You want to be racing against the best. I think that’s what the fans want to see. That close racing and sheer competitiveness and see the ups and downs of the best doing their best.

“I’m definitely looking forward to racing with all these guys and I hope there’s lots of close racing.”

Alonso and Hamilton were last in contention for a championship together in 2012, when they raced for Ferrari and McLaren respectively, only for Vettel to clinch a third crown with Red Bull.

Honda teams to test at Sonoma Raceway on April 4

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Honda’s Verizon IndyCar Series teams are set visit Sonoma Raceway on April 4 for an all-day test session for the manufacturer.

Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato), Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, and Max Chilton), Dale Coyne Racing (Sebastian Bourdais and Ed Jones), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin), and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal) are all scheduled to run. Of that group, Kanaan, Andretti, and Dixon are former winners at Sonoma Raceway.

The Sonoma test follows Honda’s March 24 test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, Team Penske also scheduled a team test at the 2.5-mile oval on the same day, forcing Honda to share the track with their rival manufacturer.

However, no such conflict appears to be in play on Saturday. The test will be open to the public as well with free admission into the facility. Testing will run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. local time.

Justin Timberlake to play this year’s U.S. Grand Prix at COTA

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Taylor Swift playing last year’s U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin was always going to be a hard act to match, or perhaps top.

Yet COTA has pulled it off with confirmation Wednesday that Justin Timberlake will be playing on the Saturday before this year’s race, on October 21.

Timberlake will play at the conclusion of track activity on Saturday for a full show. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. CT, with more info via COTA’s website. Here’s the pertinent details:

  • The concert will take place at COTA’s Super Stage Festival Lawn, not Austin360 Amphitheater
  • Seating is general admission, first come first served
  • All holders of a Saturday ticket for USGP weekend, including the 3-day GA wristband, will have access to the show

Circuit of The Americas announced a crowd of more than 80,000 last year for T-Swift, for her first and only planned concert of the year.

Timberlake is on par from a stratospheric level as Swift is. And half the draw of the COTA weekend, it seems, is ensuring you can get concertgoers to the track as well.

This should make for a fun end-of-day on Saturday.