Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo pounces to win at Spa as Rosberg and Hamilton come to blows

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM – Daniel Ricciardo has claimed victory in today’s Belgian Grand Prix after capitalizing on a clash between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the early stages of the race.

The two championship rivals touched on the second lap, leaving Hamilton with a puncture that ultimately forced him to retire from the race. Rosberg tried to catch Ricciardo, but could not deny the Australian driver from claiming his third win of the season at a track which Red Bull expected to struggle.

The start saw Hamilton seize the lead from Rosberg after making a great getaway from second place on the grid, but the Briton was soon coming under pressure from Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. The defending world champion tried to pass him around the outside at Les Combes, only to run wide and allow Rosberg back up into second place.

As the German driver closed on Hamilton, the race leader defended from him heading along the Kemmel Straight, only for the Mercedes teammates to touch. Rosberg’s front wing popped Hamilton’s left-rear tire, leaving the Briton with a puncture and costing the championship leader his endplate. He did manage to take the lead, though, but Hamilton’s race was already looking bleak as he pitted for repairs. He emerged down in 19th place and with a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo had passed both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to rise to second position behind Rosberg, and was soon applying pressure to the German driver.

Rosberg soon had to pit for repairs and a fresh set of tires, but his race took a strange turn when a piece of debris got caught on the front aerial of his car. It was soon removed, and he set about recovering the positions he had lost.

Bottas was now on a charge, passing Alonso to move up into third for Williams. The Finn moved into the lead of the race when both of the Red Bull drivers pitted from the top two positions. An early stop for Kimi Raikkonen allowed him to move up into second place behind Ricciardo once all of the front-runners had made their first pit stop.

Vettel came under pressure for third place from Rosberg and Bottas, with the Mercedes driver taking the harder tire on at his pit stop. However, Rosberg could not find a way past Vettel, and eventually lost a position to Bottas after locking up under braking at the final corner.

In order to avoid losing time behind the duelling duo, Rosberg took to the pits a couple of laps after his teammate. However, with Hamilton down in P17, the Briton’s hopes of cutting the gap at the top of the drivers’ standings looked slim.

Vettel moved back up to second place for Red Bull when Kimi Raikkonen took to the pits for the second time. In the sister Ferrari, Fernando Alonso was having less luck, losing out to McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen for fifth place before dropping behind Rosberg. The Mercedes driver was now ahead of Vettel after both had made their second stop.

Rosberg continued to rally, moving up into the top three behind Ricciardo and Bottas, who were both yet to make their second stop. The German was given the call to push in order to force his rivals into pitting, but when Ricciardo did pit, he emerged ahead of Rosberg on track. With fresher tires, the advantage lay with the Australian with 16 laps to go at Spa, and he re-took the lead when Bottas pitted, coming back out in sixth place.

The Finn soon looked to recover the positions he had lost, doing what Rosberg couldn’t by passing Vettel around the outside of Les Combes. When Rosberg pitted for a third time, he entered battle with Bottas, and was unable to keep him back heading down the Kemmel straight. With fresher tires though, the German was soon able to get back ahead of Bottas before passing Raikkonen to move into second place once again. This left the two Finns to scrap over the final podium position, with Bottas eventually winning out thanks to his fresher set of tires.

With five laps remaining, a frustrated Lewis Hamilton pitted from sixteenth position to retire from the Belgian Grand Prix. After coming into this weekend with so much hope and belief, this DNF will come as a bitter blow to the Briton’s title hopes.

Mercedes told its sole remaining driver, Rosberg, to put the hammer down with seven laps to go, and he responded by posting the fastest lap of the race. He continued to carve into Ricciardo’s lead at a rate of over two seconds per lap, setting the stage for a close finish at Spa.

However, it simply wasn’t enough. After seeing the Mercedes drivers falter, Daniel Ricciardo was once again the man to pick up the pieces. He crossed the line with an advantage of 3.3 seconds at the flag to secure his third win of the season.

Bottas completed the podium for Williams ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who secured his best result of the year at his favorite circuit. Sebastian Vettel finished fifth for Red Bull ahead of the McLaren duo of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button, with Fernando Alonso settling for P8 in the end. Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat completed the points.

As Mercedes’ title fight boiled over, Ricciardo once again made the most of it. His victory sees him strengthen his grip on third place in the drivers’ standings ahead of Alonso and Bottas.

At the very top, it is Rosberg who will be the happiest man with a 29-point lead, even if he has some tough questions to answer this evening at Mercedes.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.