In racing and in soccer, Germany’s success perpetuates

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HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY – Being a German sports fan at the moment must be pretty great. Not only has your national soccer team just won the FIFA World Cup, but you have a German driver and a German team leading the F1 world championships.

Mercedes has dominated proceedings so far this season, and although the fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is set to rage on this year, the advantage currently lies with the latter by four points.

In fact, since the turn of the century, there have been just three championship victories that have no relation to Germany: Fernando Alonso’s titles in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, and Kimi Raikkonen’s victory in 2007 with Ferrari. Michael Schumacher won every championship from 2000 to 2004; Sebastian Vettel secured four titles on the bounce between 2010 and 2013; Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button won their titles in 2008 and 2009 using Mercedes-powered cars.

Frankly, it is a staggering record. Even if you look at soccer, there is a clear pattern of success as this golden generation comes to the fore. Bayern Munich has become one of the most dominant club teams in the world, winning the UEFA Champions League in 2013, and Germany’s World Cup win wasn’t exactly surprising – they had the best team, consensus suggests – and the dismantling of Brazil will go down as one of the great all-time soccer games.

The feeling in Germany at the moment is wonderful. Being English, I’ve never had the chance to revel in a World Cup win (1966 was quite a bit before my time), so it is interesting to come to a country that is doing exactly that. There is World Cup fever still almost a week since the final. German flags are still draping from buildings and are stuck to car windows; German football shirts are being worn on every street corner; even Coca-Cola has branded its cans with names such as “Bastian” and “Mesut” in honor of the victorious players.

You only have to look at the parade that took place in Berlin following the final. The nation is unified – quite literally in the sense that this was the first World Cup win not as West Germany – by success.

And the same can be said for Formula 1 at the moment. Sebastian Vettel went from a “crash kid” (to quote one team principal) to champion of the world four times over, and is perhaps one of the greatest we have ever seen. Nico Rosberg has stepped out of his compatriot’s shadow, and is now putting the dominant Mercedes W05 Hybrid to good use in his first bid for a world championship. German engineering is dominating in both F1 – Mercedes – and in endurance racing. Audi has won 13 of the last 15 24 Hours of Le Mans races, and Porsche’s return to the LMP1 class has also been successful.

Back in F1, Nico Hulkenberg is one of the most underrated drivers on the grid, and is sniffing at a move to Ferrari in the near future. Adrian Sutil has been solid if unspectacular, and other drivers such as Timo Glock and Nick Heidfeld have podiumed in the past. Then, of course, we have the greatest: Michael Schumacher. 91 race wins, seven world championships, and a statistical record that is second to none.

So what is it that causes Germany’s racing success to perpetuate? Much of it comes down to the last name on that list: Schumacher. “For us, we’re the generation after Michael and Michael was a big inspiration,” explained Vettel on Thursday. “So for sure, when Michael made Formula 1 really a sport in Germany and made it big, a lot of fathers with their sons went to the go-kart tracks and wanted to do like him.

“I think it’s chances. In the end, if you have a thousand kids trying rather than ten, the chances that one or two end up in Formula 1 are obviously a lot greater.”

Brazilian driver Felipe Massa made a quick getaway from testing last week so he could see the match against Germany. Naturally, our first question in jest to him was “have you recovered from the result?”. He laughed and smiled, but then went on to make some very interesting points about Germany’s recent success both on the track and on the soccer pitch.

“If you see how Germany rests and how Germany is preparing everything on the sport, about Formula 1, about the World Cup, about the other categories,” he began. “It’s the country that has the most drivers racing. It’s the country that has more championships as well.

“In the football as well, the job they did was brilliant, amazing, the preparation, the way they worked.

“I think it’s something we need to learn and we need to always try and improve, but definitely we expect – by being Brazilian, by playing the World Cup at home – to be in the final fighting, and we were not, so now we need to concentrate to improve things for the future.”

After all, it was meant to be Brazil’s World Cup to win; the sixth star. Instead, it fell apart in the semi-final at the hands of Joachim Löw’s squad.

Massa’s point about Brazil needing to play catch-up is also relevant in racing. The nation has a wonderful heritage in motorsport, but if Massa were to leave F1 and not be replaced by a fellow countryman, it would be the first time in over 40 years that there has not been a Brazilian driver in the sport. Felipe Nasr is the only Brazilian of note coming through the junior ranks, currently racing in GP2, but there are few other than him.

Instead, there are a number of European h youngsters coming through the ranks that are attracting attention: Sainz, Ocon, Marciello and Vandoorne to name just four. Germany also has one to watch for the future in the shape of Marvin Kirchhofer in GP3. It’s all down to preparation.

The good feeling in Germany is set to last for some time following the national team’s victory in Brazil. However, one eye will unquestionably be on the future; how can the team continue to grow and develop in order to create a legacy?

The same will be on the mind of the management at Mercedes. It is an inevitability that the German marque will win the constructors’, and one of its drivers will definitely win the main title. However, it cannot go down as a flash-in-the-pan success like we saw with Renault in 2005 and 2006. The groundwork was made in the years leading up to Fernando Alonso’s title wins, but it did not go beyond that when he left for McLaren. Mercedes has a perfect opportunity to lay down a Ferrari-esque streak (2000-2004) and create a legacy in F1 with Rosberg and Hamilton leading its charge.

Germany’s sporting scene is in superb shape right now. However, with expectation comes pressure – will the weight prove to be too much for Nico Rosberg this weekend at Hockenheim? A win for Lewis would put the momentum firmly in his direction as we pass the halfway point in the championship.

For Germany, now is about letting the good times roll and the party atmosphere continue. The fans at Hockenheim have their tents up in the woods around Hockenheim, and following the example set by his soccer-playing compatriots, all eyes will be on Nico Rosberg to step up to the plate this weekend.

INDYCAR reveals road course/short oval renderings of 2018 kit

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INDIANAPOLIS – INDYCAR has released the road course/short oval renderings of its 2018 new common aero kit, which follows the reveal of the super speedway kit earlier this year, shortly after the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March.

This is the third round of renderings for this year, as the initial drawings were revealed at the North American International Auto Show in January.

INDYCAR is yet to confirm the supplier of the common kit, and additionally has not formally announced its first scheduled on-track test date.

But NBC Sports understands that is likely to come in July, at a track to be determined. In discussions about the new 2018 common kit, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye has explained how he has worked hand-in-hand with the INDYCAR technical team on the design process.

The road course and short oval rendering is above with the superspeedway one below, for reference.

These renderings and a link to more information can be found here, via indycar.com.

NASCAR, not Indy 500, on Jenson Button’s radar after Fontana visit

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Jenson Button would like to enter a NASCAR event in the future after enjoying a visit to March’s Auto Club 400 at Fontana, but has no interest in following former McLaren Formula 1 teammate Fernando Alonso into the Indianapolis 500.

2009 world champion Button will make a one-off return to F1 this weekend while Alonso races in the Indy 500, with the Briton believing he had made his final Grand Prix start in Abu Dhabi last year.

Button has not raced in any discipline since the season finale at Yas Marina, instead preferring to focus on his triathlon training after qualifying for the upcoming world championships.

When asked if he would consider following Alonso’s lead and entering the ‘500 in the future, Button revealed he would prefer to try out NASCAR.

“Indy’s not really been something that I’ve ever thought about. Personally, I was surprised that Fernando was interested in doing it, but we all like different things,” Button said.

“I would like to race in NASCAR, I think that would be fun. I went along to one of the races this year, Jimmie Johnson invited me, and I had a great time.

“I loved seeing the show as it is, and it’s very different to other motorsports. Equally, it’s a challenge, it’s a massive challenge. Who knows?”

Button was a guest of Johnson at Auto Club Speedway back in March over the Australian Grand Prix weekend, with the Briton noting at the time that there was much F1 could learn from NASCAR.

Button added that he would also like to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans one day, but only in a competitive seat such as the one Nico Hulkenberg had with Porsche when he won the race in 2015.

“We’re racing drivers, we’re not just F1 drivers, and we like trying different sports,” Button said.

“For me, I would like to do Le Mans one day. I think it would be a great experience, a great team atmosphere. Obviously it has to be the right opportunity like Nico had.

“And then there’s other motorsports that I love like rallycross as well. So there are many things. But Indy hasn’t been up there for me for many different reasons.”

Hamilton and Vettel’s friendly rivalry faces test in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) The chummy rivalry between Formula One champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel could be tested at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, an unforgiving circuit where drivers are often pushed to the limit.

After five races, four-time F1 champion Vettel is six points clear of three-time champion Hamilton. They have two wins each and are relishing what is, surprisingly, their first championship tussle.

When Vettel was dominating for Red Bull, winning his titles from 2010-13, Hamilton lagged behind with McLaren. As Hamilton started dominating for Mercedes the following year, Vettel struggled with Red Bull. After switching to Ferrari in 2015, the German driver failed to significantly challenge Hamilton or his former Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg.

Although they share a total of 99 F1 wins, this is the first year Hamilton and Vettel have really gone head-to-head on track.

“You have to respect if other people do a good job,” Vettel said. “We’re very different. But I think we have a very strong connection.”

Hamilton has been equally praiseworthy.

“To have that close battle with him, with a four-time champ, is awesome,” the British driver said. “This is what the sport needs to be every single race.”

Fans are thrilled, and it is equally a relief for Hamilton to be challenging a driver he respects so much and, additionally, one from another team.

For the past three years, Hamilton was embroiled in a tense fight with Rosberg and their thorny relationship caused frictions within Mercedes.

An air of relief has swept through Mercedes since Rosberg retired after winning last year’s title. Not because he was unpopular, but because the team no longer has to deal with an ongoing saga that the media feasted on.

“This season I have re-discovered why I love the sport,” said Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes motorsport. “We are in a massive fight with Ferrari.”

In other words, the fight has been taken outside of Mercedes itself and the rivalry with Vettel is more healthy.

However, an incident in Spain two weeks ago, where Hamilton won ahead of Vettel, suggested cracks could start appearing in the smooth facade of their relationship.

Vettel came perilously close to nudging Hamilton off the track as they fought for space heading into a turn. Hamilton had seemed somewhat irked by Vettel’s aggression – although it was exactly the kind of in-your-face driving Hamilton revels in.

With the F1 title shaping into a two-way race, neither can afford a slip.

That will heighten the pressure on both in glitzy Monaco, where F1 lovers mingle with millionaires, and which Wolff describes as “the crown jewel” of F1.

The smallest braking mistake on a tight and sinewy 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile) circuit through the winding streets of Monte Carlo, past its famed casino and around its glittering, yacht-laden harbor, can send a distracted driver into the barriers.

“There is no such thing as a low risk lap in Monaco, it doesn’t exist if you want to be fast,” said Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who crashed in last year’s race.

With overtaking notoriously difficult, pole position holds increased value. That makes qualifying crucial, where drivers juggle speed with not pushing the car too hard.

“It is a mentally exhausting weekend,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said. “One mistake will cost you.”

But one advantage for drivers this year is that the Pirelli tires are far more durable, increasing time on track and limiting pit stops.

Still, that advantage is offset by another factor: the size of the cars.

F1 rule changes this year led to cars being made faster and wider. On a narrow track, this poses “a massive challenge” when pushing the car close to the limit, Hamilton said.

“It’ll be a real test of your awareness of where the car is,” the Englishman said. “You need to be sharp and clear.”

Ganassi team confident amid high expectations for Indy 500

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Chip Ganassi Racing was uncharacteristically quiet during last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Tony Kanaan was the only member of the team to lead laps, heading the field for 19 circuits. Charlie Kimball took advantage of a strategy similar to winner Alexander Rossi’s to finish fifth, while Scott Dixon was never in contention much of the day and finished eighth. Max Chilton, in his first “500,” soldiered home in 15th.

For the 101st running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the team has a much different outcome in mind. Once again partnered with Honda, which had the superior speedway package last year, Chip Ganassi’s outfit appears to be in a much stronger position heading into this year’s race.

Most notably, Scott Dixon captured the pole, with Tony Kanaan joining him in the Fast Nine shootout before qualifying seventh. And while Chilton and Kimball start 15th and 16th, they could easily be dark horses heading into race day.

Team owner Chip Ganassi was bursting with enthusiasm when asked about returning Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a May 19 press conference.

“I mean, I’m excited. I mean I think — you know, when you come back here to Indianapolis, it’s the real thing. It’s what we’re all about. It’s why we got in this sport in the first place, is because of the Indianapolis 500. We want to win this race, and that’s what we’re here to do,” he asserted.

Mike Hull, managing director of the Verizon IndyCar Series side of Chip Ganassi’s operation, detailed the team’s success, and potential for more success, is down to people and communication, and that on the driving front, he thinks they have all their bases covered.

“In order for race drivers to win races, they have to support their teammates and their teammates have to give very unselfishly to each other when you race at a major event like this one,” Hull explained. “And it’s really, really neat to see these four drivers interact with each other knowing full well that one of the other ones could win. That’s very special, and that’s what we have at Chip Ganassi Racing.”

Dixon, the polesitter and holder of one of the fastest speeds Indianapolis Motor Speedway has seen since 1996, is not only Ganassi’s longest tenured driver but the team’s best bet for success on race day, in tandem with engineer Chris Simmons. Dixon alluded to missed opportunities (such as in 2015, when an overheating problem dropped him from the lead late in the race, and in 2011, when fuel strategy put paid to his chances) as added motivation to secure his second “500” triumph.

Scott Dixon might be the favorite going into Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Photo: Indycar

“I think we came up short in a couple where we could have maybe stolen a couple wins there which would have definitely helped that list. But yeah, you know, it’s all focused right now on this event and preparing as well as we can,” he said.

“I think the first couple of days were definitely trying in a lot of ways but I think we found some good headway, but it’s the goal. We finished second here a couple of times and it’s almost the worst place to finish when you come so close, especially under caution.”

One might assume that as a former winner, Dixon may hold a mental edge on most of the field. But, he later revealed that isn’t necessarily the case.

“Every year is very different. The target constantly moves. The situations change. How the race plays out changes,” he said. “I think because you’ve had the sense and the feeling of that victory, you want it that much more again. So I think it maybe even adds to it.”

Teammate Tony Kanaan, who won this race in 2013, echoed those sentiments. “To me every year it’s like the first year,” he added. “I mean, I don’t get to think that I won this thing until Monday. If everything goes wrong, I might, you know, just say ‘All right, at least I won one.’ That’s the way I really think. But up until then I still get as nervous as I was the first time. I still want to win as bad as if I hadn’t won.”

Tony Kanaan is looking for his second Indy 500 triumph. Photo: IndyCar

So far, Kanaan has endured a difficult 2017 campaign. With only two finishes inside the top ten, he languishes back in 11th in the championship. Still, he recognizes that this year presents as strong a chance as he’s ever had at Indianapolis, and the strength of Ganassi’s organization creates a heightened sense of pressure to perform.

“I got extremely lucky when after I won the “500” I got hired by Chip and Mike’s organization. I think I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. So they cut my work in half by doing that,” he added. “They give me great cars, great people, and it’s just an awesome place to be. So for me, you know, I think I have one of my best shots this year.”

Outside of Dixon and Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton are often the overlooked men of Chip Ganassi’s four-car armada. However, each has shown the potential for success.

Kimball, a former IndyCar race winner, has very quietly established himself at the Indy 500 with consecutive finishes inside the top five (third in 2015 and fifth in 2016) to go along with two other finishes inside the top ten (eighth in 2012, ninth in 2013). Like Kanaan, Kimball has endured a difficult 2017 season, one in which he didn’t even make it through the opening lap in any race until Round 3 at Barber Motorsports Park.

Charlie Kimball has quietly put together a strong record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo: IndyCar

Kimball explained that his success is down to a simple love of the race track, and that the surrounding team may be the most vital component to ending the day in victory lane.

“I love racing around here. And on Race Day the fact that it’s a 500-mile event: it’s challenging mentally, physically, not just for us as drivers but especially for the teams, the guys on the stand, the engineers, the strategists, the guys, the crew that go over the wall. I mean, that focus that they need for those six, seven-plus stops is critical to the job we do on the racetrack,” he said.

And for Max Chilton, who has raced at such world-renowned events as the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, competing at the Indy 500 left an indelible impression on him.

“I’ve done some big races, Le Mans 24 Hours, Monaco Grand Prix a number of times, but this one stands out last year,” he said. “(It was) the 100th running of the biggest race we’ve ever had here. To me that was still very incredible.”

An Indianapolis 500 victory would the first career IndyCar win for Chilton. Photo: IndyCar

While a victory for him would be an upset of sorts, Chilton knows he has everything he needs to do so. “I’m going to work as hard as I can. I feel like we got the car in a good place (in practice) and I can’t wait to be here on the 28th of May and be zooming around,” said the Briton, who was fastest during Monday practice.

The team has moved a number of pieces around – Kanaan and Kimball swapped engineers with Eric Cowdin coming back to Kanaan and Todd Malloy going over to Kimball – and other crew members have also been rotated. But as Hull explained, that comes from the strength of depth within the organization based on Woodland Drive in Indianapolis.

“We’re lucky, we have quality people in all positions, so we can do that,” Hull said. “But what it does is it provides fresh thinking even though the thinking is in the same room. And it’s all about the interaction of people. That’s what teamwork is all about and teams of people are all about. They have to pinch each other every day to remember what the priority actually is, and our priority is to win. We try to match the people up that we think can do that.”

An Indy 500 victory in 2017 would be the fifth for Chip Ganassi Racing, the previous four coming at the hands of Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Scott Dixon (2008), and Dario Franchitti (2010, 2012).

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