Hamilton happier than he’s been “for a long, long time” in F1

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MONTMELO – Lewis Hamilton has said that he feels happier than he has been “for a long, long time” in Formula 1 following a near-perfect start to the 2015 season.

The defending world champion has won three of the opening four races of the year, scoring 93 of a possible 100 points to move into a 27-point lead at the top of the championship standings.

For this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, most of the teams are expected to bring a number of updates for their cars.

Although Mercedes is not making widespread changes, Hamilton is confident that the team can retain its advantage at the front of the field.

“I feel confident that the team have done everything we could to be as strong as we can this weekend, and to improve,” Hamilton said.

“I think others will have improved as well. We’ve not come with a ton of upgrades. Lots of the teams just pile on lots of different things. We’ve come with the quality upgrades rather than quantity, so hopefully it’ll be good.”

Hamilton admitted that he is feeling very comfortable in F1 at the moment, believing that he is in even better shape than he was during his 2014 championship campaign.

“I feel very happy with how it’s gone,” Hamilton said. “I left the last race, sitting on the plane, thinking ‘wow, it’s been a great couple of weeks’.

“When you had a year like last year, to continue with it was not easy, to repeat what you’ve done before or even do better, it’s not easy. So far, I think it’s been better than last year, so I’m really happy with it.”

Hamilton has spent some time in the United States over the past few weeks, and was spotted at the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas last weekend.

The Briton admitted that he enjoyed being able to do things such as go to the fight and remain at the peak of his powers for racing on track.

“I’m probably the happiest I’ve been for a long, long time career-wise,” Hamilton said. “Outside, it’s great when you can do things that you want to do which are not distractions, and then you can perform.

“I’m very careful with the things I choose to do, and they don’t come in the way of ultimately preparing for my racing.”

With his contract set to expire at the end of the 2015 season, Hamilton has been engaged in contract negotiations with Mercedes for many months now, but had little new information to give on it.

“There’s nothing really to comment on at the moment,” he said. “However, I have read it several times, so I’m fluent in lawyer jargon.

“It’s been good in that sense because I think when I retire I could write some contracts… so if any of you guys need a manager, I think I could do a good job for you!”

Dakar Rally champs: Walkner (Bikes), Sainz (Cars), Nikolaev (Trucks), Casale (Quads), Varela (UTV)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET and Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

For most of the 545 entrants into this year’s 40th Dakar Rally, just four words remain: Wait ‘til next year.

That’s right, the 14-stage, 15-day Rally, which began January 6 in Lima, Peru, carried through Bolivia and concluded Saturday in Cordoba, Argentina.

Overall class winners were:

  • BIKES: Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  • CARS: Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  • TRUCKS: Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev
  • QUADS: Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  • SxS UTV: Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela

Here’s how the Rally finished both in Stage 14 and, more importantly, the overall final standings:

BIKES

One year after finishing second, Austrian Matthias Walkner did one better by capturing his first-ever Rally championship in the motorcycle class.

Walkner, 31, finished eighth in Saturday’s Stage 14, but it was good enough to earn him the title by more than 16 minutes ahead of Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, who won Saturday’s final stage.

It was also a big day for KTM, the brand of bike Walkner rode throughout the Rally, as the company captured its 17th consecutive Rally title.

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Honda, 1:26:41

2 Australia’s Toby Price, KTM, 1:27:35

3 France’s Antoine Meo, KTM, 1:29:30

4 Spain’s Daniel Oliveras Carreras, KTM, 1:30:06

5 France’s Johnny Aubert, Gas Gas, 1:31:00

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Austria’s Matthias Walkner — CHAMPION

2 Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 16:53 behind

3 Australia’s Toby Price, 23:01 behind

4 France’s Antoine Meo, 47:28 behind

5 Spain’s Gerard Farres, 1:01:04 behind

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CARS

South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers captured Stage 14, but it wasn’t close enough to unseat overall Rally winner Carlos Sainz of Spain.

Sainz had built a big lead and just had to maintain with defense, needing to finish just ninth in the final stage to take home his second consecutive Rally crown.

France’s Stephane Peterhansel finished second and Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah finished third to wrap up the final stage, but while both were strong challengers throughout the Rally, they were unable to overtake Sainz when they needed to do so the most.

As for American riders, Ricky Brabec had consistently finished most stages in the top 10 to top 20, including two stage finishes early on as high as fourth place.

But a poor run Saturday relegated him to a disappointing overall finish of 39th in the Rally.

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers, Toyota, 1:26:29

2 France’s Stephane Peterhansel, Peugeot, 1:27:09

3 Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 1:17:10

4 Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez, Toyota, 1:27:12

5 Netherlands’ Peter van Merkstelin, 1:28:35

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Spain’s Carlos Sainz — CHAMPION

2 Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 43:40 behind

3 South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers 1:16:41 behind

4 France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 1:25:29

5 Poland’s Jakub Przygonski 2:45:24

AMERICAN RIDERS – Stage 14 finishes

13 Shane Esposito, KTM, 1:38:13

14 Mark Samuels, Honda, 1:38:22

25 Andrew Short, Husqvarna, 1:41:21

39 Ricky Brabec, Honda, 1:47:15

57 Bill Conger, Husqvarna, 1:53:38

AMERICAN RIDERS – FINAL OVERALL FINISHES

17 Andrew Short

21 Mark Samuels

25 Shane Esposito

39 Ricky Brabec

66 Bill Conger

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TRUCKS

While the Netherlands’ Ton van Genugten was one of the stronger performers in the latter stages of the Rally, including winning Saturday’s final stage, he could finish no higher than eighth in the overall standings.

Frankly, no one could do much in the final stages to unseat eventual champ Eduard Nikolaev of Russia, who obliterated his nearest competitors in the last few stages.

Nikolaev won the overall Trucks class by nearly a four hour advantage over Belarus’s Siarhel Vlazovich and nearly a 5 ½ hour edge over Russian teammate Ayrat Mardeev.

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Netherlands’ Ton van Genugten, Iveco, 1:39:47

2 Czech Republic’s Martin Macik, Liaz, 1:39:58

3 Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov, Kamaz, 1:43:22

4 Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, Kamaz, 1:44:04

5 Netherlands’ Gert Huznik, Renault, 1:44:42

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev — CHAMPION

2 Belarus’s Siarhel Viazovich, 3:57:17 behind

3 Russia’s Ayrat Mardeev, 5:22:34 behind

4 Kazakhstan’s Artur Ardavichus, 6:38:22 behind

5 Czech Republic’s Martin Macik, 7:58:45 behind

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QUADS

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Chile’s Ignacio Casale, Yamaha, 1:43:25

2 Paraguay’s Nelson Sanabria Galeano, Yamaha, 1:44:46

3 Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, Yamaha, 1:45:01

4 France’s Alex Dutrie, Yamaha, 1:45:08

5 Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, Yamaha, 1:46:27

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Chile’s Ignacio Casale – CHAMPION

2 Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:38:52 behind

3 Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:08:14

4 Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:30:00

5 Peru’s Alexis Hernandez, 4:38:53

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SxS UTV

Here’s the top 5 Stage 14 finishers:

1 Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, Can-Am, 1:45:55

2 Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 1:53:59

3 France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 1:58:08

4 France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 2:01:12

5 Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 2:01:18

FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS

1 Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela – CHAMPION

2 France’s Patricie Garrouste, 57:37 behind

3 France’s Claude Fournier, 10:09:25

4 Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 10:13:20

5 Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, 27:54:15

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MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 13 wrapup

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MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

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