Sunderland breaks through. Photo: Getty Images

Dakar 2017: Sunderland, Peterhansel triumph overall in bikes, cars

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Sam Sunderland has become the first British competitor to ever capture a victory at the Dakar Rally, with the Red Bull KTM rider completing his journey on Saturday in the 2017 Dakar Rally to win the bike category.

Coverage from Friday’s stage will air today, January 14 at 6:30 p.m. ET, with 12th and final stage coverage on Sunday, January 15 at midnight ET on NBCSN.

While Sunderland’s story is a remarkable one on it own, the man known as “Mr. Dakar,” Stephane Peterhansel, has continued to add to his own remarkable story. The Peugeot driver has captured his 13th Dakar victory, and second in a row in cars.

Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) and Sergey Karyakin (quads) have captured those class victories.

Today’s 12th and final stage from Rio Cuarto to Buenos Aires was one of the shortest stages in this year’s Dakar, which made big movement up-and-down the field rather unlikely.

BIKES

Sunderland had not even finished his first few cracks at Dakar. Mechanical failures sidelined him in 2012 and 2014, the latter year after he became the youngest stage winner in Dakar history with a win on the first stage in Argentina.

But he wasn’t even able to start in 2013 and 2016, the latter year breaking his femur.

Sunderland secured his first and only stage win of this year’s Dakar on day five, making it five winners in as many days. However, he won the rally with out-and-out consistency, with only one major stoppage costing him any sort of time and recovering to a third place in stage seven.

Sunderland was only sixth in today’s stage – Adrien Van Beveren and Gerard Farres set an identical time of 30 minutes and 29 seconds to tie for the stage win – but with more than 30 minutes in hand of a lead going into the day, the Englishman could afford to bring it home without worry.

“To finish here is incredible. It’s the first Dakar I ever finished. To finish first is an incredible feeling. I’m so lost for words!” Sunderland said after the rally. “I’m so grateful to the team, the organizers, all the people around me. It’s not an individual effort.”

His near flawless run will go down in British motorsport and Dakar history rather nicely. A further breakout post from the Red Bull Content Pool is linked here.

Sunderland won from Walkner by 32 minutes, with Farres moving onto the final podium in third by way of his run today to complete a KTM podium sweep, continuing KTM’s incredible run of form.

Van Beveren finishes this overall rally in fourth, top Yamaha, with Joan Barreda, the Honda rider who led bikes with three stage wins settling for fifth after a one-hour penalty for a fuelling infringement in stage four ultimately putting pause to his chances. Paulo Goncalves, another Honda rider, was sixth with 48 minutes and change worth of penalties.

Of note, American Ricky Brabec captured his first stage win on his Honda in stage seven, but fell out of the rally near the end of the race. Toby Price, the defending bikes winner, has made it home to Australia following his accident early in the rally that left him with a fractured left femur. An outpouring of support came in for him as he is in his recovery process. Other injuries occurred on a brutal 10th stage, including to Pablo Quintanilla, Simon Marcic (in an incident with Peterhansel) and Stefan Svitko.

BIKE STAGE WINNERS

Stage 1: Juan Pedrero (Xavier de Soultrait penalized post-stage)
Stage 2: Toby Price
Stage 3: Joan Barreda
Stage 4: Matthias Walkner
Stage 5: Sam Sunderland
Stage 7: Ricky Brabec
Stage 8: Joan Barreda
Stage 10: Michael Metge
Stage 11: Joan Barreda (awarded three minutes; Paolo Goncalves demoted to second)
Stage 12: Gerard Farres/Adrien Van Beveren

CARS

Stephane Peterhansel at the finish of stage twelve of the 2017 Dakar Rally on January 14, 2017 in Rio Cuarto, Argentina. (Photo: Dan Isitene/Getty Images)

The car battle quickly shifted from a potential three-horse race among the Peugeot, Toyota and MINI competitors to a two-horse race among the two rally legends of this generation, Dakar legend Peterhansel and FIA World Rally Championship legend Loeb, both in Peugeots, rather early on once their rivals started falling by the wayside.

Myriad stoppages saw nearly all of the Toyota Hilux entries fall out early, including past Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, who was the only non-Peugeot stage winner this year. MINI never mounted a serious challenge with Mikko Hirvonen more than half an hour in arrears. And another Peugeot fell out as Carlos Sainz survived a wild barrel roll in stage four.

It left Peterhansel and Loeb to spar the rest of the rally, often separated only by seconds rather than minutes, but with Peterhansel having eked out just enough of a margin of more than five minutes to ensure Loeb didn’t have a realistic chance to close that gap today.

In the end, as in bikes, the competitor who boasted the most stage wins did not win the class overall. Loeb added six stage wins this year to his four from last year, including the last four in a row from stage eight through today’s stage 12.

All the while though, Peterhansel was pushing him closely and the gap never swung too far. “Mr. Dakar” captured his 13th Dakar victory by five minutes and 13 seconds over Loeb. Cyril Despres, the last driver not named Loeb or Peterhansel to win a stage in cars, ended third to complete the car podium.

Nani Roma and Giniel De Villiers upheld Toyota’s honor somewhat with fourth and fifth place finishes overall, but more than an hour back in both cases. In sixth, Orlando Terranova was the top MINI finisher in the car originally slated for American Bryce Menzies, who was ruled out prior to the start of the rally.

CAR STAGE WINNERS

Stage 1: Nasser Al-Attiyah
Stage 2: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 3: Stephane Peterhansel
Stage 4: Cyril Despres
Stage 5: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 7: Stephane Peterhansel
Stage 8: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 10: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 11: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 12: Sebastien Loeb

QUADS/TRUCKS

Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) and Sergey Karayakin (quads) put their stamp on the respective classes as the rally went on. With Gerard De Rooy falling from contention in trucks, it left Nikolaev to control that category. In quads, Karaykin fought off Igancio Casale’s advances, although Casale fell back later.

STAGE MAP

STAGE RECAPS

Stage 11
Stage 10 and (VIDEOS)
Stage nine (cancelled due to weather) and (VIDEO)
Stage eight (VIDEOS)
Rest day VIDEOS
Stage seven
Stage six (cancelled due to weather)
Stage five (shortened due to weather)
Stage four and (VIDEOS)
Stage three and (VIDEOS)
Stage two and (VIDEOS)
Stage one and (VIDEOS)

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

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One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

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Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.