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.

Comedian Adam Carolla makes pro racing debut in Trans Am

Adam Carolla pilots the No. 33 GoShare Corvette at Willow Springs International Raceway. Photo: Burtin Racing
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As the host of such shows as CarCast, Ace on the House, and Adam Carolla and Friends Build Stuff Live, and with a massive classic car collection to boot, funnyman Adam Carolla is an unapologetic gearhead who is well-versed in the car industry. He even made a documentary honoring Paul Newman in recent years. However, he recently took his love of all things automotive one step further: he contested his first professional car race.

He joined the Burtin Racing team, which fields Corvette C7.Rs in the Trans Am presented by Pirelli West Coast Championship, at California’s Willow Springs International Raceway for the High Desert Challenge, the season opener for Trans Am’s 2017 season. He piloted their No. 33 GoShare entry as a teammate to Richard Wall, who signed as a last-minute entrant for team’s the No. 7 machine.

Carolla was not daunted by the challenge. He quickly came to grips with the 850-horsepower beast and qualified a solid fifth for the 100-mile feature. In the race itself, he worked his way up to third before facing a tough challenge from Trans Am veteran and former champion Greg Pickett, who previously ran the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing effort in the American Le Mans Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Photo: Burtin Racing

However, Carolla was unfazed by Pickett’s advance and he held off the former champion to claim third, not far behind teammate Wall, who crossed the line in second. Tomy Drissi won the event in the No. 8 Ghost in The Shell Chevrolet Corvette.

For Carolla, simply contesting the Trans Am event was an honor. “For me, Trans Am has always been huge,” said Carolla, who earned the COOLSHIRT Systems “Cool Move of the Race” award for his performance.

“I have old Trans Am cars from the 70’s and 80’s. I have some 2.5 (liter) Trans Am cars from the 70’s and I have Paul Newman cars that were raced in Trans Am. So just the idea of being asked to race in the modern Trans Am was a huge honor. Just being able to hold my own in modern Trans Am was exciting to me.”

Team owner Claudio Burtin was ecstatic with Carolla’s performance. “I think we all have to take our hat off to Adam Carolla on his debut in Trans Am,” he said of Carolla. “This is a fast and difficult track at Willow Springs, and the team is ecstatic with Adam’s podium finish. GoShare is thrilled with the results and we will work to improve one step higher on the podium next time.”

The Trans Am presented by Pirelli West Championships resume action on April 29-30 at Auto Club Speedway.

Preferred Freezer Services expands partnership with Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing

Mike Finnegan/Ed Carpenter Racing
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Preferred Freezer Services, which has been a sponsor of Ed Carpenter Racing and driver J.R. Hildebrand since 2014, is set to expand its partnership with both driver and team. Hildebrand’s No. 21 Chevrolet with sport the white and blue Preferred Freezer Services livery at four races during the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the first being at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 7-9. The expansion also includes the entire month of May, which will see the brand on the No. 21 for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. They will return as a primary sponsor for the Honda Indy Toronto in July and will be an associate sponsor throughout the season.

“Preferred Freezer Services was a big part of helping me get to running just the Indy 500 with ECR the first year in 2014. We’ve been fortunate to see the program grow and help it expand over the last few years,” Hildebrand said of the relationship. “I’m really excited to be able to continue that partnership and have them on board for a few more races this year! It is great to work with these guys again and I can’t wait to kick it off at such an awesome event as Long Beach.”

As Hildebrand explained, the partnership between sponsor, driver and team dates back to 2014, when Preferred Freezer Services adorned a then one-off No. 21 entry for Hildebrand, incidentally his first start for Ed Carpenter Racing. They expanded their partnership in 2015, adorning Hildebrand’s entry at that year’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indy 500. Their presence grew even more last year, when they appeared on the cars of Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hildebrand has finished in top ten in the last three Indianapolis 500 mile races. However, his best finish remains his infamous second place at the 2011 race, in which he crashed in the final corner while leading, which yielded victory to Dan Wheldon.

Pippa Mann returns to Dale Coyne Racing for fifth straight Indy 500

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Dale Coyne Racing has confirmed Pippa Mann will be back in the team’s third car for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which will mark her fifth consecutive year with the team and sixth start in the race overall.

She joins Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Ed Jones as Coyne’s three drivers in for the race, as the Coyne team is expected to focus just on these three after running four cars last year.

“I’m very happy to be rejoining Dale Coyne Racing for my fifth consecutive year with the team at the 101st Indy 500,” Mann said in a release.

“Dale has invested heavily in the team over the winter, and it’s an exciting time to be part of his organization. I’m looking forward to working with the same familiar faces from my 2016 campaign, like my race engineer Rob Ridgely, as well as working with the new members of the team, including my new teammates Sebastien (Bourdais) and Ed (Jones). I’m thrilled to be getting back on the race track this May for my sixth Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Mann continues her relationship with Susan G. Komen, the supporters of the pink No. 63 Honda for the last three years in an effort which first began in 2014.

As she’s done for the past four consecutive years, Mann will continue to raise awareness for the Get Involved Campaign alongside her racing program. This year, the campaign that raises money for Susan G. Komen® is partnering with Auction Cause, a premier cause marketing agency, that will run the auction on eBay for Charity. The campaign will launch May 1 and close the week following the Indy 500. The funds raised will be used to support Komen’s global breast cancer research, and community based programs throughout the U.S.

Komen continues as a key partner and Mann has announced another partnership with OrthoIndy, with further partnerships to be released soon.

“I’m also excited about the link up with Auction Cause and eBay for Charity this May,” she added. “They have so much experience running online campaigns, I feel like it’s a huge step for me, and for the Get Involved Campaign to partner with them. This new format has allowed me to reach out to more drivers, get them involved with more signed items, and I’m hoping we’re able to reach more race fans, and raise even more money for Susan G. Komen than we have ever done before.”

“It’s always a pleasure to have Pippa on board for the Indy 500 and to help promote the Get Involved Campaign, raising funds for Susan G. Komen,” Coyne said. “Pippa works hard every year to put together this program and to race in the Indy 500. With her perseverance and enthusiasm for our sport, it’s only fitting that we continue this relationship that started five years ago.”

Newgarden hails ‘spectacular’ Montoya after JPM’s first 2017 test

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At 26 years old, Josef Newgarden was watching Juan Pablo Montoya win races in CART, then Formula 1, then NASCAR as his own career was starting out.

When Montoya returned to IndyCar in 2014 at age 38, Newgarden was just 23, and the two had the chance to share a race track together for the first time.

After Newgarden’s subsequent rise over the years, he was scouted by Team Penske, and eventually signed to replace Montoya in the team’s No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

But Montoya remains part of the Team Penske landscape in 2017, driving the team’s fifth car during the month of May at both the IndyCar Grand Prix in Indianapolis and the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He’s also been mentioned as the leading candidate to drive with Penske’s highly likely but not officially confirmed future sports car program, which Penske discussed openly during a media roundtable at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener.

At last week’s test at Barber Motorsports Park, Newgarden and Montoya had the chance to work together as teammates and as Newgarden explained, having the chance to study his predecessor’s data was something he relished.

“Juan’s fun to be around. He’s an interesting guy,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “He’s so competitive… and you can tell how competitive he is interacting with him. But it’s fun to look at his data, and have the privilege to look at that.

“I’m excited to see that at Indianapolis, because that’s the big race for all of us together at Team Penske.”

Montoya has mentioned his appreciation for Newgarden in the past, particularly after the two raced so closely for position at the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America last season.

Newgarden said he’s looked up to Montoya for years and seeing him in this element provided such a rare glimpse into his world.

“The level of respect I have for Juan is tremendous,” he said. “He’s been so spectacular, and is even more so on ovals. I’ll be so thankful to get the chance to look at his data.”

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Newgarden, who today is promoting the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 9, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and has that sandwiched in-between two tests at the Indianapolis oval. Team Penske used a team test last Friday and will be back in action as part of a Chevrolet manufacturer test on Saturday.

“It’s a great couple days to get my feet wet,” he said. “I hadn’t been around there with Team Penske yet. It’s good to get that type of knowledge early on.”