Rosberg claims first F1 world title, as Hamilton wins Abu Dhabi GP despite defying team orders

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Nico Rosberg clinched his first Formula 1 drivers’ championship by finishing second in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, following home Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton in a nail-biting end to the 2016 season.

Rosberg kept his cool to dodge any bullets fired at him through the race, getting through his pit stops cleanly before Hamilton backed his teammate into the chasing pack in a late attempt to win a fourth world title, defying Mercedes’ order to up his pace in the closing stages.

Despite having his mirrors filled with the chasing Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel in the final few laps, Rosberg managed to see it home and wrap up his first F1 world title, emulating his father, Keke, who was champion back in 1982.

Rosberg got the start he needed, making a clean getaway to hold on to second place behind Hamilton through the first corner, allaying any fears of an early setback.

Even better news for Rosberg was the fact that the threatening Red Bulls, both starting on super-softs, dropped back: Daniel Ricciardo dropped behind Kimi Raikkonen into fourth, while Max Verstappen fell to the back of the pack after a tangle coming out of Turn 1.

Hamilton was not able to immediately drop Rosberg as he may have liked, with the gap between the two Mercedes drivers hovering at around one second. Raikkonen remained a further second back, making him an ever-present threat for the title fighters.

Hamilton was brought into the pits at the end of Lap 7, handing the lead to Rosberg. The Briton took on a set of soft tires, but was forced to wait an extra second in the pits as Raikkonen brought his Ferrari in.

Rosberg followed Hamilton’s lead by coming in one lap later, also taking on soft tires, and also having to wait for Sebastian Vettel ahead to come into his box. Rosberg emerged from the pits fractionally ahead of Raikkonen, while the recovering Verstappen now split the two Mercedes.

Ricciardo failed to make his super-softs last much longer than the ultra-soft runners, coming into the pits just one lap later. The Australian came out just behind Raikkonen, the two entering battle, as were Rosberg and Verstappen ahead, the title contender being told that he had to make a pass given Verstappen’s strategy. Yet again though, Hamilton did not escape up the road as perhaps would be expected of the Briton. A gentler pace allowed him to not only look after his tires, but also continued to back Verstappen towards Rosberg.

Further back, Jenson Button’s (probable) final race in F1 came to an early end when he suffered a front-right upright failure on his car, causing his wheel to buckle and forcing the Briton to box. Upon returning to the pits, Button jumped on top of his cockpit and greeted the cheering crowd that offered a standing ovation to the outgoing McLaren racer.

Verstappen showed few signs of letting up on the super-soft tire, telling Red Bull that he wanted to extend the stint. Mercedes responded by giving Rosberg the hurry up, prompting the German to attempt a divebomb move at the end of the back straight. Remarkably, the two drivers avoided contact, but with Verstappen left off-line, Rosberg was able to cut back and complete the overtake – one that was significant in his bid for a maiden drivers’ championship.

Verstappen came in for fresh soft tires one lap later, with Red Bull hoping to get the Dutchman to the end of the race without coming in again. Rosberg asked Mercedes how much he could push, with the go-ahead resulting in the German posting the fastest lap of the race and cutting the gap to Hamilton to less than five seconds. With Raikkonen now a further five seconds adrift of Rosberg, Hamilton was running short on championship outs.

The second round of pit stops was sparked not long after Verstappen came in, with Red Bull opting to bring Ricciardo in for his stop early at the end of Lap 25. Raikkonen followed one lap later, but came back out behind Ricciardo after the Australian made the undercut work perfectly. Ferrari’s hopes of a podium to close out 2016 were, like the light, fading fast.

Hamilton made his final pit stop at the end of Lap 28, taking a fresh set of soft tires that would see him to the end of the race. Having been told that second place was safe for now, Rosberg dived in one lap later. A flawless stop from the Mercedes crew sent Rosberg on his way, with just 26 laps separating the German from his first F1 world title.

Rosberg soon found himself edging into battle with Hamilton once again, prompting the Mercedes pit wall to ask the net leader why he was running so slow on-track. Although there was no answer, the reason was clear to all watching: it last-ditch attempt to back Rosberg into the chasing Red Bulls and keep his dreams of a fourth world title alive.

Hamilton began to hit the pace mark given to him by Mercedes, lapping around the 1:45.3 range as the team expressed concern about leader Vettel, who had extended his second stint to fit a set of super-softs for the final stint. Vettel pitted at the end of Lap 37, once again releasing Hamilton into the lead with Rosberg still lurking just over a second behind.

With his fresh boots fitted, Vettel began to light the timesheets up purple. The four-time world champion made light work of teammate Raikkonen to take fifth before setting his sights on the Red Bull duo some eight seconds up the road. Verstappen found himself coming under pressure from Ricciardo behind, but neither could respond to the pace of the oncoming Vettel. The German’s pace was such that Mercedes told Hamilton to up his pace at the front, believing that the 10-second gap could be bridged late on.

Hamilton kept badgering the Mercedes pit wall for more information on the race unfolding behind, asking for information about the pace of the Red Bulls in the hope that they could come to his rescue and catch Rosberg. With fresher tires, the Mercedes cars remained quicker, making Hamilton’s best hope of the title a late safety car period. A clash between Carlos Sainz Jr. and Jolyon Palmer had the potential to cause one, but both drivers were able to continue unharmed.

Vettel’s charge continued at the expense of Ricciardo on Lap 46, again piling the pressure up on Mercedes drivers up front. Rosberg requested that he be let past Hamilton, telling the team that “this is really slow”. Mercedes responded, instructing Hamilton to up his pace, only for the Briton to snap back: “I suggest you guys let us race.” With just seven laps remaining, Hamilton was taking matters into his own hands.

As Rosberg continued to protest over team radio, Hamilton continued to trundle around at the front, allowing Verstappen and Vettel to close as the laps ticked down. Vettel look the quickest of the quartet, crawling all over the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull, before making a superb pass with five laps to go. Rosberg was next on his hit list.

Vettel moved to within half a second of Rosberg, getting DRS on his compatriot, but Verstappen was not able to follow the Ferrari driver into the fight, dropping about a second back. Hamilton was not yet willing to up his pace, continuing to back Rosberg into the clutches of Vettel behind. After yet another call from Mercedes, Hamilton remained defiant: “I’m losing this world championship. I don’t really care if I lose this race.”

The battle for the world championship went down to the very last lap. Rosberg was informed once again that he only needed third place for the championship, but the German remained strong in P2. He fended off Vettel through the final DRS zone, before rounding out the final few corners – with Hamilton ahead going at a crawling pace and taking the race win – to secure his first world title.

Rosberg celebrated the title by completing donuts on the main straight, sending plumes of tire smoke into the air in a release of emotion. After three years spent in Hamilton’s shadow, Rosberg was finally on top of the world.

Hamilton returned to the pit lane knowing that, although the title had been lost, he had secured his 10th victory of the season – a record for a driver not to win a championship – and put up a fight to the very end. The two championship rivals embraced in the pit lane, acknowledging their battle throughout the year.

Vettel was the man to round out the podium, finishing less than half a second off Rosberg in second, reporting to Ferrari over the radio that Hamilton had been playing “dirty tricks”. Verstappen was a further eight-tenths of a second behind in fourth, completing a remarkable fightback from his first lap clash.

Ricciardo was P5 at the checkered flag ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, while the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Segio Perez were P7 and P8, ensuring the team finished the year fourth in the constructors’ championship, its highest-ever result.

Felipe Massa bowed out of F1 with grace, finishing P9 for Williams after a late fight with former teammate Fernando Alonso, who crossed the line 10th for McLaren.

Haas F1 Team’s debut season came to a close with Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez 11th and 12th respectively. Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein were P13 and P14 for Manor, the two drivers having clashed late on. Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were 15th and 16th, with Jolyon Palmer the last classified finisher in 17th.

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

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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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.”