(Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski dominates again, sweeps weekend with Cup win at Loudon

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Sprint Cup drivers saw a lot of red during Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

As in Keselowski’s appropriately red-colored Redd’s Apple Ale-sponsored Ford Fusion for Team Penske.

Although it may have caused for a few nail-biting moments in the closing laps, Keselowski still managed to make it look easy around the one-mile flat track to win Sunday’s main event, leading 138 of 305 laps in the fifth green-white-checker finish of the season. The race was originally slated to go just 301 laps.

In so doing, Keselowski doubled up for the weekend, also dominating in Saturday’s win from the pole in the Nationwide Series undercard race at NHMS. It was also the third win of the season for the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, tying him with Jimmie Johnson with most wins thus far in 2014.

“It sure feels like it,” Keselowski said when asked by TNT reporter Marty Snider afterward if this is the best Team Penske has ever been. “The Redd’s Apple Ford Fusion was hauling today. It’s a privilege to have cars like this and a team like it. We’re red-hot.”

Keselowski becomes the 13th different winner in the last 13 races at NHMS, earning his first career victory there in 10 overall starts.

“I can’t believe it, to win both races,” Keselowski said. “I thought we’ve done pretty good here the last few years but just weren’t able to close out the deal. … It was a great race, hard fought and Kyle (runner-up Kyle Busch) made me earn it there at the end. … If we keep having cars like this, the sky’s the limit. I’m just real proud of Team Penske.”

Keselowski’s triumph is the fourth straight win by a Ford driver in the last four races (two by Keselowski), the first time that’s happened since 2001.

Busch made a last-ditch effort to get to the front, but just didn’t have enough time or track left to catch Keselowski. It was Busch’s third straight runner-up finish at NHMS, including both races last year.

“It should have been anywhere from fourth to sixth, but we made a gutsy call there at the end to stay out and see if we could make it on fuel. We just barely made it, ran out at the start-finish.”

Rookie Kyle Larson had an outstanding third-place run, followed by Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kasey Kahne finished 11th, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton.

Because of the GWC situation, several drivers ran out of fuel in the final laps including Jeff Gordon (finished 26th) and Kevin Harvick (finished 30th).

There are now only seven races remaining to fill out the expanded 16-driver field for the revamped format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

On Lap 251, Matt Kenseth made what, at the time, looked like could have been the move of the race. With the event under caution due to debris, Kenseth came into the pits in seventh but left in first, taking the lead.

But Keselowski was just too strong and quickly worked his way back up to the front of the pack.

In perhaps the most controversial incident of the race, Joey Logano was running second behind teammate Brad Keselowski on Lap 211 when it appeared Logano cut down on Morgan Shepherd going into a turn.

Both cars made contact and Logano went sailing into the wall, and ultimately out of the race due to irreparable damage. Logano ultimately finished 40th, ironically one place behind Shepherd in 39th.

“The slowest car on the race track took us out, go figure,” a frustrated Logano said to TNT about Shepherd, who was at the time of the incident 15 laps behind the leaders.

“It’s not NASCAR’s fault that he slid up and was the slowest car on the track. I don’t know, if you can’t control your stuff, don’t even be out there. If you’re 10 laps down, what are you doing?”

Shepherd, at 72 years old the oldest active driver in Sprint Cup – and at 72 years, nine months and one day, reset his own mark as the oldest driver to ever start a NASCAR race – continued on in the race, having suffered damage to his car but not enough to end his day, unlike Logano.

Keselowski led 42 of the first 151 laps of the 301-lap event and had a lead at the time of around three seconds over Matt Kenseth, who was running second.

Pole-sitter Kyle Busch was third at halfway, followed by Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, early leader Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in 10th position.

It was not a good day for Jimmie Johnson. He suffered a flat tire early in the race. After coming on pit road, his jack man made a mistake and went to the right side of the car while the rest of the crew remained on the left, following crew chief Chad Knaus’s call for just two left side tires.

The mistake cost Johnson several extra seconds than normal on pit road, going from second-place when he entered the pits to returning to the track in 42nd position and one lap down.

Then on Lap 11, Johnson suffered another tire failure, this one sending him into the wall and causing damage to his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, effectively ending his day with a 42nd-place finish.

Other notable items included:

* Logano wore a tight wrap on his left wrist, which suffered a minor sprain after wrecking during Sprint Cup practice on Friday.

* Aric Almirola crashed in practice Saturday and had to go to a backup car. He started Sunday’s race from the back of the field.

* Jeff Burton, who will segue to a full-time analyst for NASCAR on NBC next season, finished 20th in what potentially could be the final race of his Sprint Cup career. Burton has no plans for additional races in the remaining 17 events on the schedule, but that could change if the right situation presents itself.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Stoffel Vandoorne confirms Super Formula move for 2016

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL9576
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2015 GP2 Series champion and McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne has confirmed that he will race in the Japanese Super Formula series this year.

Vandoorne won the GP2 title at the second attempt in 2015, setting new records for points scored and races won with ART Grand Prix.

The Belgian had been tipped to move up to Formula 1 with McLaren should either Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso not race for the team in 2016, only for both to continue.

As champions of GP2 are prohibited from returning to the series, Vandoorne was known to be considering a move into Super Formula after testing a car at the end of last year.

In a post on his Twitter account on Friday, Vandoorne confirmed that he would be joining the Honda-backed Docomo Team Dandelion Racing for the 2016 season.

Vandoorne will go head to head with the likes of Kamui Kobayashi, Narain Karthikeyan, Andre Lotterer and Kazuki Nakajima in 2016, all of whom have tasted success in racing in the past.

The 2016 Super Formula season is set to begin on April 24 at Suzuka.

DiZinno: Why Honda’s Rolex 24 overall win meant so much

Photo: Honda
Photo: Honda
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The nature of timing, reflection and being backlogged meant I never properly recapped this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona after it happened, which was by any account a spectacular kickoff to the North American road racing season.

But in looking back, while the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class finishes stole the immediate headlines in the aftermath of the race, arguably the bigger story from a “what this means to a particular manufacturer” standpoint was the fact Honda Performance Development did in fact, pull off the overall win.

It’s been a long time coming for Honda, and comes on the heels of a very trying 2015 season as part of a tougher season for Japanese manufacturers on the whole, save for Kyle Busch’s surprise but welcome run to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in his Toyota.

Some 12 months ago Honda, purely from a sports car standpoint, was in transition as a manufacturer.

The several iterations of HPD or Acura chassis from 2007 through 2014, with the one exception of the 2009 Acura ARX-02a, were all consistent evolutions that were based off what was initially a Courage chassis.

The ARX-02a was the first chassis outside the box, and while it was certainly ahead of its time, various factors contributed it to being only a one-and-done project for the 2009 American Le Mans Series season.

The first all new car for HPD since that point – the ARX-04b coupe – was meant to herald a return to Honda’s competitiveness as its own constructor with a brand new chassis coming into fruition from the start of the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, and with Tequila Patron ESM fielding two cars.

The ARX-02a lasted one season. The ARX-04b lasted one race.

A weight imbalance front-to-rear and several other niggling issues left the new car from being anywhere as near competitive.

ESM, which had opted to go to the FIA World Endurance Championship full-time for 2015, suddenly needed a backup plan. They brought the open-top ARX-03b out for two final starts at Sebring and Silverstone, then had a mad scramble to acquire two new Ligier JS P2 chassis by Spa in May.

The nightmare season for ESM would eventually bring about further change for 2016. While long rumored, it wasn’t formally confirmed until the release of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and WEC full season entry lists last week that the two Ligiers will have Nissan powerplants this year in the WEC.

It leaves Honda now out of the championship for the year, represented at Le Mans only by Michael Shank Racing in its race debut.

Where this all ties together – with that perhaps long but necessary background out of the way – is that ESM had a new shot at Daytona still with the Ligier JS P2 Honda, now with the tried-and-true Honda HR35TT twin-turbocharged V6 engine installed in the back. An engine which, even more strangely, was initially developed for a Daytona Prototype and not the LMP2 spec cars that have become the future of top level prototype racing in North America.

ESM’s chassis was one run by OAK Racing at Le Mans last year. It will be the chassis Shank runs at Le Mans this year.

Fittingly, the pair of Ligier Hondas, ESM and Shank, were the class of the field at this year’s Rolex 24. BoP helped, certainly, but was not the overriding factor in the reason for the car’s domination.

Pipo Derani, arguably the revelation of this year’s race, did the bulk of the work but teammates Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek more than pulled their weight as well (Ed Brown ran only limited laps). Derani though got into the 1:39 bracket early and after 24 hours had passed, the car had nearly a one-second best lap over any of the DP-spec cars in the field.

And Shank’s quartet would have been there all 24 as well judging by its early pace, before the drama of engine woes struck and sabotaged their hopes just around midnight. It was a tough blow for Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and Olivier Pla.

To appreciate why the win for Honda and ESM meant so much is to know that last year, nearly everything that could go wrong for either party in sports cars, did. And a little less than two weeks ago, nearly everything that could go right for the two, did.

Steve Eriksen, Vice President and COO of Honda Performance Development, told me going into the race that if the reliability was there, the package was too for HPD to topple the DPs with either of its two entries.

“I think we feel really good about the package,” he said pre-race. “The new 3.5 liter is new to here, but not new to us. I have no concerns about the reliability. It built in some headroom, with any BoP type changes, to where we can deal with it.”

The road-to-track relevance is there in this engine: both entries used the aforementioned production-based 3.5-liter engine, developed for competition by HPD from the Honda “J35” series of passenger vehicle V6 engines, with improvements including twin turbochargers.

Key production-based components include the block and cylinder heads, direct-injection fuel system, valve train components, drive-by-wire throttle, alternator, sensors and fasteners. The engine even utilizes a stock Honda oil filter.

Post-race, HPD president Art St. Cyr expanded on what the win meant.

“Winning a 24-hour race is still one of the ultimate challenges in motorsports,” he said. “We’re proud to add this milestone achievement, the Rolex 24, as our first overall victory at Daytona, and our first win for the new 3.5-liter Honda engine package developed for sports car competition.

“Congratulations to Scott Sharp, Ed Brown, and the entire Patron Tequila ESM team for a truly world-class effort en route to victory. But it’s also a somewhat bittersweet day, as Michael Shank Racing consistently ran at the front of the field, and undoubtably would have also contended for the victory but mid-race mechanical failure.”

While ESM’s U.S. presence the rest of the year is limited to its next race at Sebring before it embarks on its second full season in the WEC, it has helped deliver Honda the best possible start to its year on U.S. soil.

It’s a most needed shot in the arm for both entities ahead of the rest of their respective seasons.

Inexperience no concern for Frederic Vasseur at Renault

Drivers Esteban Ocon of France, left, Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain, second left, Kevin Magnussen of Denmark, right, and Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan Carlos Ghosn pose in from of the Renault R.S.16 during its presentation at the at the Renault's technocentre in Guyancourt, west of Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. French carmaker Renault returned to Formula One as a racing team after agreeing to take over Lotus, which had struggled with financial costs last season.  (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Renault Sport racing director Frederic Vasseur has no concerns about the inexperience of drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer heading into the 2016 Formula 1 season.

Renault will make its full return to F1 as a constructor this year after taking over Lotus at the end of 2015, and officially unveiled its new operation in France last week.

Vasseur has taken over the reins after previously heading up ART Grand Prix’s GP2 team, while ex-McLaren driver Magnussen and rookie Palmer will race for the French manufacturer in 2016.

Renault is set to field one of the least experienced line-ups in F1 this year with Magnussen having just 19 race starts to his name and Palmer yet to enter a grand prix.

Neither driver has raced since the end of 2014, but Vasseur has no concerns about his drivers’ ability or experience heading into the new season.

“Kevin has a good mix of experience and youth. He had a strong race season at McLaren two years ago and showed his ability in the junior categories such as Formula Renault 3.5,” Vasseur said.

“He can target winning races and championships as he has the talent. The fact he had a lack of mileage last year will motivate him and he’ll be chomping at the bit to get back into it all.

“It’s important for us because we all know 2016 won’t be an easy season. We know where we are starting from and we need motivated characters like Kevin to keep pushing hard.

“Jolyon goes from being the third driver for a private team to becoming the race driver for a manufacturer team and the driver with the most experience with the team.

“He has a very mature head on his shoulders and we know from his 2014 GP2 Series title that he can deliver against the very best on track. It’s a rookie year for Jolyon, but we’ve seen that rookies can deliver so we are happy with the line-up we have behind the wheel.”

10-year F1 title drought would be a ‘tragedy’ for Ferrari

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21:  Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, gives an interview while on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after Ferrari's IPO on October 21, 2015 in New York City. Ferrari will trade under the symbol RACE.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne believes that it would be a “tragedy” for Ferrari to go 10 years without a championship in Formula 1.

Ferrari last won a constructors’ championship back in 2008, while its last drivers’ title came courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

2015 saw the Italian marque enjoy a resurgence as Sebastian Vettel won three races and managed to take the fight to Mercedes at the front of the field on a regular basis.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Marchionne said that this upturn in fortunes helped to bring credibility back to the Ferrari brand, but that this must be built upon with a championship in the next three years.

“If we were to string together victories in F1 then it would improve our brand,” Marchionne said.

“I was speaking with one of our car dealerships and we agreed that the results of 2015 helped bring back credibility to the brand.

“If we were to somehow fail to win a title over a 10-year span, it would be a tragedy.”

When discussing Ferrari’s success in 2015, Marchionne was full of praise for new team principal Maurizio Arrivabene who took over from Marco Mattiacci at the end of 2014.

“We won because we brought focus back to the team and began to do the things that are really important. Maurizio Arrivabene’s arrival helped a lot,” Marchionne said.

“He is great at creating a team atmosphere. He knows how to make everyone work together.”