Hamilton’s title chances compromised after rough start in Japan

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Lewis Hamilton’s won the last two Formula 1 World Championships and three overall, but the Mercedes AMG Petronas driver’s chances at his first career title three-peat have taken a hit following a third place finish in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton went into Suzuka, a place he’s won the last two years, needing to win his third straight at the circuit to regain any momentum versus teammate Nico Rosberg and cut into his 23-point deficit.

He leaves the race now 33 points back, having had to play catch-up during the race as he recovered from eighth back to third, while Rosberg won again.

Hamilton’s race pretty much went away from him before it even got going. He bogged down off the line from second on the grid, which was surprising to witness considering it looked as though his grid position was cleared from earlier dampness.

Anyway, the Englishman fell to eighth by Turn 1, and hadn’t even moved forward one spot until a few laps later when he dispatched of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India.

Where Hamilton got ahead of Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen was on the first pit stop sequence, getting up to fourth after switching from softs onto hards.

Hamilton then jumped Sebastian Vettel for a podium position in the final pit sequence, just past halfway, with the pivotal decision by his team to keep him on hards while Ferrari gambled to put Vettel on softs. Vettel was faster initially but lost the pace, while Hamilton set sail looking to catch Max Verstappen, and came up short.

Hamilton didn’t have much to say on the podium but did say thanks to his crew for their efforts, as he helped Mercedes clinch its third straight Constructor’s Championship. He was much more succinct about the start.

“Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who came out. So thankful for this team to get them points, congrats to everyone at the factory at Brixworth and whole of Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“I did the best I could with where I was in the race. I’ll give it everything I got and we’ll see what happens (from here),” he added.

Hamilton expanded in a separate post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“Yeah it was from the get-go, lots of wheel spin. I lost ground as everyone else gained traction. Could have been the wet patch but in general, the getaway was not good,” he admitted.

“It was really hard. There wasn’t a lot I could do. I didn’t have the pace in front of me so I didn’t try to attack them. The second half I could put better times in. After that, generally happy with it.”

Vettel and Ricciardo told Buxton post-race they figured Hamilton had had an issue on the damp line of the track, and that was why he fell back.

“It was a fantastic start… too good again! I couldn’t make use of it. Lewis had an issue,” Vettel explained.

Ricciardo added, “The Raikkonen gearbox penalty was the opposite of a blessing in disguise. It put me in the wet side of the grid. And Hamilton suffered a bit with the wet patch.”

Vettel said of his team’s call to try to beat Hamilton, “We tried to do something else to increase our chances at the end. A risk we took but it didn’t come up.”

Hamilton nearly edged ahead of Verstappen, but opted not to comment on when he ran wide at the Casio Triangle as he hadn’t seen the replay. He did admit his engine power was at full tilt.

“I was at max chat on my engine, so I didn’t go up anymore,” Hamilton told Buxton. “But at the end Nico was cruising. He had a Sunday drive after getting the gap.

“I don’t feel like commenting on it (Max). It didn’t feel ideal at the time, but I’ll watch the replay. Fortunately we didn’t hit and we move forwards.”

Hamilton now sits 33 points with four races remaining, and his championship destiny is out of his hands.

Even if he wins out, the most points he could gain would be 28 if Rosberg finished second in each.

It caps off a second successive frustrating weekend for Hamilton, whose weekend began with “Snapchat-gate” as he used the social media app during Thursday’s press conference, featured a media conference walkout on Saturday and then today’s race.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”