IMSA: CTMP thoughts and observations

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The latest TUDOR United SportsCar Championship round from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is in the books. A few thoughts and observations gleaned from the series’ lone trip north of the border to the former Mosport circuit:

  • Sometimes, a team just dominates. A great stat brought up during the race broadcast was that the combined margin of victory in the Prototype class through the first six races was just over 13 seconds. Sunday’s at CTMP was 7.886 seconds, and that didn’t nearly showcase the level of domination the No. 42 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan car showed all weekend. The P2s were always going to have the edge at a track where better aero and handling trumps outright top speed; as at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the type of car best suited to the circuit win.
  • Gustavo Yacaman is one of the stars of the year. Considering many in the sports car world consider Olivier Pla one of the best, most underrated drivers worldwide, the fact his OAK Racing co-driver Gustavo Yacaman has been able to match if not beat his co-driver on outright pace all year has been nothing short of impressive. Plus, in each of the last five races, Yacaman has been sensational to watch. His passing attempts spiced up Long Beach; his battle with Michael Valiante in Monterey was incredible; he was consistent en route to third at Detroit; he drove flawlessly at Watkins Glen and again this weekend at CTMP, where the Colombian was simply a man possessed. After OAK cruelly lost out at the Glen, Yacaman was determined to deliver this weekend and did so with his pole and two excellent stints to start the race. Not a bad recovery in 2014 after his series of accidents a year ago with Michael Shank Racing, and his four years in Indy Lights where he was often good, but not great.
  • Painful weekend for several P class cars. A fire knocked the improving DeltaWing coupe out of action before the race, and an accident did likewise for Marsh Racing. Add Memo Rojas’ recon lap shunt for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and a quarter of the 12-car P class field was already wrecked or sidelined before the race got going. Mercifully Andy Meyrick (DeltaWing) avoided serious injuries, while we wish Boris Said the best in his recovery following his cracked rib diagnosis. Good gesture of the weekend goes to Action Express Racing, which ran Whelen decals on its No. 5 Corvette DP after the Marsh shunt and withdrawal.
  • On the No. 01’s actual starting time. While true to the letter of the rulebook, CGR’s start after Rojas’ pre-race shunt was still an eyebrow raiser for me. Here’s the rule: Rule 45.4.3. (TUSC) A Car not starting the race on time and first driven to the pit exit more than one hour after the start of the race must request permission to join. The team requested and received permission to start, as the race had just passed the one-hour mark when the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley was ready to return to the track. I’m all for last-minute heroic repair efforts – the Falken Porsche blowing an engine in Sebring morning warmup and then making it to pit lane with a new one in 2012 still stands out – but so long as you make the grid within a reasonable amount of time, say maybe no more than a lap or two after the actual green flag. This one just seemed off. If you don’t start, you don’t start would make a bit more sense for future rules.
  • American pride in GT Le Mans. Four straight wins for Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia have seen the No. 3 Corvette C7.R establish itself at the front of the manufacturer-driven class, and the Dodge Vipers have been on a roll the last two races as well. The new (old) livery for the Vipers sees the red battling the yellow once again at the front of the field… it’s glorious.
  • Meanwhile, what happened to Porsche? A pair of wins in the 36 hours of Florida (Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring) seem a distant memory for the factory Porsche North America squad, who between the Nos. 911 and 912 RSRs haven’t scored a single podium finish between them in the last four races. The Porsche is on par performance-wise with the BMW, but the German manufacturers are lagging that tiny bit behind the Corvette and Viper at the moment.
  • Porsche on Porsche violence. Credit Jeroen Bleekemolen for taking a deserved victory in the No. 33 Riley Motorsport Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R in GT Daytona, but it’s hard not to feel for Kevin Estre in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America. Estre was merely minding his own business while trying to stay out of the way of the faster GTLM cars through the twists and turns of the circuit, but got bumped by Michael Christensen in the No. 912 Porsche to allow Bleekemolen a hole to stick the Viper through. It’d be one thing if it was a Prototype lapping through, but a fellow car from the same manufacturer affecting a similar car in GTD? Awkward.
  • No cautions… no PCs… it’s a funny coincidence. Post-race after I noted this was the third TUDOR Championship race this year to run caution-free, several people noted there were not any PC cars this race. Indeed, this is true, and indeed, this was also the case at the two other caution-free races at Long Beach and Monterey. Having said that, and although the PC class has come in the crosshairs this year for a number of accidents, it’s not that the fact there were no PC cars at CTMP meant there were no cautions. It merely meant drivers in all of P, GTLM and GTD kept their heads screwed on straight through traffic for two hours and 45 minutes of clean racing. Remember, PC was not the sole cause of cautions at Daytona, Sebring, or Watkins Glen.
  • Remo Ruscitti wins the weekend undercard. The talented young Canadian from Vancouver co-drove the ST class-winning Porsche Cayman in Saturday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race, then swept the pair of IMSA Cooper Tire Prototype Lites races in his first two starts in that series. Remember the name going forward.
  • Commercials out the wazoo. Having been to the first five TUDOR Championship races on site this year through Detroit, I hadn’t had the opportunity to watch purely from my couch, TV in front of me and thus feel the experience of a fan or series stakeholder who might not be able to watch on site. I didn’t see too much of Watkins Glen as it and the IndyCar race from Houston ran concurrently. However for CTMP, to put it mildly, it was difficult to follow the action with all the frequent barrage of adverts that ran almost every two minutes. Unofficial analysis from Twitter user @BadBoyVettes revealed these numbers.  For the positive future direction of the championship, I hope this is something that improves down the road.

Anyway, that in the books, the next round for the championship is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in two weeks on Friday, July 25.

Vettel leads Raikkonen home for Monaco GP win, ends Ferrari’s drought

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Sebastian Vettel extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship by taking his third win of the 2017 season in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, heading up a one-two finish for Ferrari ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

After trailing Raikkonen throughout the first stint of the race, Vettel managed to extend his first stint out longer than his Finnish counterpart and produce a series of quick laps to get the jump through the pit stop cycle.

Vettel emerged from the pits in the lead and never looked back, storming clear to clinch his second Monaco Grand Prix victory and end Ferrari’s victory drought in the principality that dated back to 2001.

Raikkonen controlled the early part of the race for Ferrari, running two seconds clear of Vettel at one stage before the German was able to reel his teammate in ahead of the pit stop cycle.

Raikkonen pitted first, with Vettel opting to push on for another three laps, pumping in a series of quick times that ultimately decided the race.

After coming to switch to super-soft tires, Vettel emerged from the pits ahead of Raikkonen before quickly creating a gap that proved too great for the Finn to bridge, even with the assistance of a late safety car.

The race to complete the podium saw Red Bull and Mercedes enter a strategic battle, with Valtteri Bottas running P3 through the first stint. Red Bull pitted fourth-placed Max Verstappen early, forcing Mercedes to bring Bottas in one lap later to cover.

Bottas stayed ahead of Verstappen, but with the pair losing time behind Carlos Sainz Jr., Daniel Ricciardo was able to leapfrog both when, like Vettel, he pitted later, allowing him to vault ahead into third place.

With Vettel streaming clear at the front, Raikkonen soon found himself coming under pressure from Ricciardo for second, setting the stage for a tense battle through the closing stages.

Vettel’s lead was wiped away with 17 laps to go, though, when the safety car was deployed following a strange incident involving Pascal Wehrlein and Jenson Button at Portier.

Button tried overtaking at one of the tightest points of the circuit, resulting in contact that sent Wehrlein’s car into the air. The Sauber C36 came to rest on its side up against the wall, sparking concern for Wehrlein’s condition. The German quickly reported he was OK, just unable to get out of the car due to where his car came to rest. He was quickly taken away to the medical centre for further checks.

The safety car period was extended when Wehrlein’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, crashed his car after being given the wave-by to unlap himself.

The race returned to green with 12 laps to go with Vettel still leading, but it was Max Verstappen who was the man to watch. Having taken a free pit stop under the safety car and switched to ultra-soft tires, the Dutchman began to pile pressure on Ricciardo and Bottas ahead, keen to complete the podium.

Ricciardo gave his teammate a look-in when he ran wide at Turn 1 on the restart, clipping the wall in the process, but the Australian soon recovered and kept calm to clinch third place. Bottas did well to keep Verstappen at bay for fourth, with the flying Dutchman taking P5 for his first points and, indeed, finish in Monaco.

Carlos Sainz Jr. made good on a strong weekend for Toro Rosso by crossing the line sixth ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who could not rise any higher than seventh after his qualifying disaster. A long first stint allowed the Briton to jump from 13th on the grid to inside the top 10, but he was powerless to stop Vettel extending his title lead to 25 points.

Haas enjoyed its best weekend in F1 to date as it notched its first double-points finish. Romain Grosjean finished eighth, while Kevin Magnussen recovered from an extra pit stop to finish 10th. The pair were split by Williams’ Felipe Massa, who was ninth at the line.

Jolyon Palmer was the sole finisher for Renault in P11 after seeing teammate Nico Hulkenberg retire early on due to a gearbox failure.

Force India had a weekend to forget as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez both hit trouble during the race, leaving them 12th and 13th respectively. The result marked an end to Perez’s 15-race streak of points, which had been the longest active run on the grid, with a late tangle with Daniil Kvyat forcing the Russian to retire.

Jenson Button’s comeback weekend ended just as his original goodbye race in Abu Dhabi did last November as he was forced to retire following the clash with Wehrlein. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne had been on for points, only to crash at Turn 1 after a mistake on the restart after the safety car.

Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with its first visit of the year to North America, venturing to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Button gets pre-race radio message from Alonso in Indianapolis (VIDEO)

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Jenson Button was given a special message by Fernando Alonso live from Indianapolis ahead of his one-off Formula 1 return in Monaco on Sunday just seconds before lights out.

Button stepped away from racing full-time in F1 at the end of last year, but was drafted in by McLaren to race in Monaco when Alonso secured a deal to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Button qualified ninth in Monaco despite not having driven the McLaren-Honda MCL32 car until Thursday, only to be sent to the back of the grid due to a power unit penalty.

McLaren decided to start Button from the pit lane instead, with the Briton getting a special radio message from Alonso – who is up and watching the race in Indianapolis – as he left the garage.

Alonso wished Button the best of luck before telling him: “Look after my car!” Button responded by saying: “OK, I’ll pee in the seat!”

Button to start Monaco GP from pit lane after floor change

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Jenson Button will start his one-off comeback Formula 1 race in Monaco from the pit lane after McLaren opted to change the floor on his car after qualifying.

Button was drafted in by McLaren for the Monaco Grand Prix weekend following Fernando Alonso’s decision to race in the 101st Indianapolis 500, with the Briton previously stepping away from F1 at the end of last year.

Despite having no prior testing heading into the weekend, Button was quick to tame the McLaren-Honda MCL32 car, taking it to ninth place in qualifying.

A 15-place grid penalty for changes to his power unit resigned Button to the back of the grid for the race, prompting McLaren to make setup alterations overnight and favor a pit lane start for Button.

“As the floor is different from the one originally used in qualifying the competitor is required to start from the pit lane,” the FIA race stewards said in a bulletin ahead of the race.

Marcus Ericsson has also been handed a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. The Sauber driver’s qualifying position remains unchanged, though, by virtue of finishing 19th.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Romain Grosjean Haas
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
11. Kevin Magnussen Haas
12. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
13. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
14. Felipe Massa Williams
15. Esteban Ocon Force India
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Lance Stroll Williams
18. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
PL. Jenson Button McLaren

Wolff can see Hamilton finishing F1 career with Mercedes

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says he can see three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton completing the rest of his career with the team, something he did not think would happen one year ago.

Hamilton has raced with Mercedes since 2013, claiming two F1 drivers’ titles in that time and the majority of his grand prix victories.

Hamilton is currently in the second of his three-year contract with Mercedes, and will be 33 upon its expiration at the end of next season.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Wolff said he could see Hamilton remaining at the team “forever”, believing their relationship to be stronger than ever.

“If you would have asked me the same question one year ago, I would not have been very optimistic, but now it is different,” Wolff said.

“I have the feeling that it can’t be much better in a different place, for him and for us.

“This is very strong now, and I am not speaking only about on-track performance because there are going to be difficult moments, but I am speaking about the relationship.

“After five years, this relationship has become so strong in a way that it wasn’t last season. For Lewis it will be important to see whether we are competitive or not.

“But at the moment there is such a solid basis that I can imagine it going on forever.”

Wolff believes there has been a shift for Hamilton in the wake of Nico Rosberg’s departure from the team at the end of 2016 following the German’s world title win.

Hamilton and Rosberg enjoyed a frosty rivalry that saw them clash a number of times on-track, with the latter’s exit helping to ease some of the tension within the team.

“Definitely the biggest positive development I have seen between 2013 and now happened over the winter and after Nico left the team,” Wolff said.

“Drivers are sometimes viewed within teams as contractors and they will always look after their own agenda rather than the team’s interest.

“But Lewis is now in his fifth year with us and that has changed. He has become a part of the team.

“I would not use the world team player because that goes against the DNA of a racing driver, but I think he has realized, acknowledged and respects the whole effort that is happening in the team.

“Somehow it has become natural, he towards the team, and the team towards him. We have built a trustful relationship.”