Photo courtesy of IMSA

Taylors dominant before surviving dramatic finish for Rolex 24 win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R dominated nearly all of the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, but the race came down to the final 20 minutes and saw a head-to-head battle between Ricky Taylor in his car and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac.

While battling for the lead in the final 10 minutes of the race, Albuquerque came down while Taylor went for a gap into Turn 1 to try to attempt to take the lead. In the moments between Lap 647 and 654, the gap between the two ranged from 0.248 of a second (the lowest on Lap 654) and 0.803 of a second (on Lap 647).

Once the two cars collided, IMSA officials immediately reviewed the incident, and determined no further action need be taken.

It gives Wayne Taylor Racing its first win at the Rolex 24 since 2005, and sees Taylor and brother Jordan Taylor finally secure their first wins in the race. Meanwhile Max Angelelli wins in his final start and Jeff Gordon wins in his Rolex 24 return.

Action Express’ No. 5 car, driven by Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, finished just 0.671 of a second behind.

The finish enlivened an otherwise straightforward race where the No. 10 Cadillac led the majority of it, although with the No. 5 Cadillac occasionally getting ahead during pit stops.

The fact Ricky Taylor even had a chance in the dying stages came after an earlier restart around the one-hour to go mark. He’d pitted with an hour and eight minutes remaining for his second-to-last stop, but a caution came out when the hood on the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Andy Lally became dislodged on the track.

The No. 5 Cadillac moved to the front on this sequence, having pitted just before the yellow, and had a several-car gap on the ensuing restart. Albuquerque launched cleanly but teammate Mike Conway drove somewhat aggressively in the sister AXR car, the No. 31 entry, which balked Taylor’s progress as he tried to pass the lapped Conway and a few other cars. IMSA reviewed that restart and took no further action.

Ricky Taylor was undoubtedly the lead driver on the quartet this week. He qualified, started and finished the race, and additionally, he’d made an earlier move for the lead going into the Bus Stop that was shaping up as the key moment of the race before the debris caution with one hour to go.

In third, again on the podium with a new car, a new lineup and a new team manager, was the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson entry of Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and two-time Rolex 24 winner Rene Rast. That car avoided any major delays despite a handful of niggling issues throughout the week, and despite a pace deficit, made it onto the podium.

Other class winners were Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (GT Le Mans), Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (GT Daytona) and Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 (Prototype Challenge).

Ford emerged at the head of a thrilling scrap in GTLM with three other manufacturers, Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche, to score the new Ford GT its first Rolex 24 at Daytona win and second on-the-trot in 24-hour races.

The same trio of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais won this race in the No. 66 Ford as they did at Le Mans last summer. Mueller was the driver that brought it home on this occasion, seeing off challenges from Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR and James Calado in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, all of which took shots at the lead in the waning stages but didn’t quite have enough to get past.

Pilet’s aggression coupled with an otherwise clean, reliable debut of the new mid-engined 911 RSR saw that car move into win contention. He shared the car with Dirk Werner in his first start as a Porsche factory driver, and Fred Makowiecki. Calado led the charge for Risi in the later stages, while Toni Vilander impressed throughout the race and Giancarlo Fisichella – usually known for his aggression – was actually the Risi driver who flew under-the-radar.

Corvette was unlucky to podium despite outstanding pit work from the Corvette Racing crew to its No. 3 Corvette C7.R, driven by past Rolex 24 winners Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Audi veteran Mike Rockenfeller. A straight-line speed deficit was simply too much to overcome despite Garcia’s best efforts, and there’d be no encore of last year’s photo finish with the sister Corvette, or a third straight win in this race for the manufacturer.

GT Daytona saw seven of the nine manufacturers entered lead at some point during the race, as the class lived up to the hype entering the race.

At any point, it seemed full-time series entrants No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 or either of the Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s would win the race. But instead, it went to the two part-time entrants from Alegra and Montaplast by Land Motorsport that emerged at the front of the queue in a dramatic final few hours, once the rain stopped and the track conditions went back to requriing dry weather slick tires.

The window for the Nos. 28, 29 and 33 cars opened when apparent engine issues struck Sam Bird, who was leading in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, in the final three hours. Bird, Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Matteo Cressoni drove an otherwise great race, with Bird standing out in his battle with Shane van Gisbergen’s Mercedes in the overnight hours.

Once the polesitting car and apparent class pace-setter fell off the map, Alegra moved into contention once Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen took over for the finish to the race.

Christensen stealthily took the No. 28 Porsche up the order before closing on the Land Audi, driven at the time by American Connor De Phillippi, and worldwide GT ace Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes.

Alegra leapfrogged to the lead on pit strategy and from there, Christensen pulled out of enough of a gap to see off the challenges elsewhere in class.

The win will be a popular one for IMSA’s Development and Single-Make Series, because besides Christensen the car features three IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup class champions in Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Michael de Quesada. De Quesada’s father Carlos, who along with Alegra won this race in 2007 in class, got to share the car on this occasion for the opportunity.

Land’s Audi was second with De Phillippi, full-time teammate in ADAC GT Master Christopher Mies, Jules Gounon (who impressed throughout) and Jeffrey Schmidt. Bleekemolen came home third in the Mercedes with Ben Keating, Adam Christodoulou and Mario Farnbacher.

Stevenson’s Audi of Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell, Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell was fourth with Acura finishing in the top-five on debut for Michael Shank Racing. Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer and IndyCar champion/Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay doing the business in the team’s No. 86 NSX GT3.

NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell was unlucky to lose over four minutes earlier in the race due to an improper wave by, but along with teammates Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo and Pierre Kaffer rallied to sixth in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi. The top Lamborghini and BMW were seventh and eighth.

PC didn’t have much going for it all race other than a number of spins and garage trips. The one car that didn’t, Performance Tech Motorsports’ Oreca FLM09, proceeded to walk away with the easiest class win of the race.

Despite all four drivers being 27 years of age or younger, the quartet of James French, Pato O’Ward, Kyle Masson and Nick Boulle all drove beyond their years as they captured the final PC class win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the watches that go with them.

BAR1 Motorsports got both its cars home and as a result, made the podium. Starworks Motorsport’s pair of cars endured a miserable race with multiple spins, collisions and mechanical issues, and perhaps for the mercy of the crew who’d spent hours repairing them, were retired with a couple hours remaining.

Results: 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.