Getty Images

Maranello Ferrari wins at another intense Bathurst 12 Hours

Leave a comment

Looking purely at the results of this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, seeing the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari start first, finish first and win by a lap would make it seem as though it was a walk in the park at the legendary Mount Panorama for the trio of Toni Vilander, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup.

And that’s why you can’t look purely at the results.

The No. 88 Maranello Ferrari 488 GT3, in the car’s Bathurst debut, was by all accounts the fastest car both in the run up to the race and during the race itself. Vilander’s lap in the Top 10 Shootout on Saturday netted the team the Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy, in honor of the late Dane who made his name with the team at Bathurst as part of his sports car career.

But the race nearly went away from them early on when just before a restart, the usually unflappable and frequently smiling “Lowndesy” got tapped into a spin from Craig Baird in the No. 22 Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes AMG-GT3 at the final corner of the circuit, and was beached into the gravel.

Lowndes was extracted and was able to stay on the lead lap, and from there began a comeback. Several A class all-pro cars went out of the running early while others were delayed.

Vilander’s storming stint in the final few hours of the race was arguably one of the best of his Ferrari factory career, as he gapped the rest of the field including but not limited to Alvaro Parente and Patrick Long. The Finn finished his stint and did the racing equivalent of “dropping the mic,” getting out of his car and walking back through the garage to a standing ovation.

“Sometimes you have those days, you have a clear track and just feel really comfortable in the car. Even all the traffic seemed like it was dropping in the right places with the right timing. I had clear air with the car and it felt like it was working perfectly. Sometimes when you’re fast it feels like it’s easier so today was definitely one of those days,” Vilander said.

With “Wayne’s World” having celebrated its 25-year anniversary at the weekend, this tweet from Mike Hedlund on Vilander’s stint would be an appropriate one:

Alas, the Mercedes – mentioned earlier with Baird having been given a drive-through penalty – wasn’t out of it and in the final hour was the only car on the lead lap able to take it to the Maranello Ferrari, and it had the always entertaining Shane van Gisbergen behind the wheel.

With Whincup running second, van Gisbergen had to play defense although the Supercars combatants’ lead battle would get dicey. Whincup went to the outside on the final straight before the front straight, dipping into the grass before the kink, to complete the pass for the lead with just over 30 minutes remaining.

“The Giz,” then hoping to unleash a bit of hyper speed to make up the difference even though the Mercedes was down all week on top-end speed, made a couple mistakes. He tapped a slower class car into an accident and was staring down the barrel of a penalty for avoidable contact.

In the final 10 minutes, van Gisbergen went over the line at the top of the hill at Mount Panorama, clipping a curb and crashing out of a sure second place. The third member of the Mercedes trio, Maro Engel, was apoplectic in his immediate reaction, kicking tires and storming off into the team’s transporter to cool off.

Engel then said, “All I’ve seen this weekend is a lot of mistakes from Shane” to Channel 7 commentator Mark Beretta in the heat of the moment. The international broadcast carried Radio Le Mans commentary and is streamed live and free both via the RLM and event website.

Van Gisbergen, to his credit, took all responsibility for his mistakes and Engel apologized on Twitter for his outburst after the race.

With the only other lead lap contender out of the way, the trio of Lowndes, Whincup and Vilander could afford to exhale with Whincup bringing the 488 GT3 home to the finish. The 488 GT3 made its international debut in Australia last year in March and won at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on the same weekend, and now has won its debut on Mount Panorama. Maranello most recently won in 2014; this is Whincup and Vilander’s first Bathurst 12 Hour win, and Lowndes’ second.

“The blokes beside me did an amazing job and it was just up to me to bring it home at the end,” Whincup said. “It was quite ironic that my teammate ‘Gizzy’ and I were fighting for the win right at the end there. He was driving like he usually does, all over the place which is good; he’s hard and fair. I certainly enjoyed the battle, there is always a bit of grass action when we’re rubbing panels!”

In second place, a lap back, was the No. 12 Ice Break Competition Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long, Marc Lieb, Matt Campbell and David Calvert-Jones. This car featured the two Porsche factory aces, the up-and-coming Porsche Junior in Campbell and Australian veteran “CJ,” which pressed on nicely despite two moments of contact, one where Long nudged the Mercedes and other when Campbell hit a Lamborghini. This car won the A Pro-Am class.

The newest “Bentley Boy” – ex-Audi factory star Olly Jarvis – shared the No. 17 Bentley Continental GT3 with Guy Smith and Steven Kane en route to third overall in Jarvis’ Bentley debut. Like the HTP Mercedes, this car was down on straight-line speed all week but pressed on regardless.

Defending champions Tekno Autosport had a fraught day with exhaust issues and fire out the back early on in Rob Bell’s stint, this already as the team’s No. 1 McLaren 650S GT3 incurred a pre-race engine change and started from the rear of the 50-plus car field. Nonetheless, Bell, Parente and Come Ledogar pressed on regardless, fighting all day to get back on the lead lap but ultimately ending fifth behind the sole remaining Walkinshaw Porsche in fourth.

The full results are linked here. There were 16 safety car periods, seven different race leaders and 23 changes of the lead, at the start finish line.

The event reported 40,364 people attended, a 9 percent increase on 2016, and there were plenty more who expressed interest in wanting to go via social media.

BATHURST, NEW SOUTH WALES - FEBRUARY 05: Toni Vilander, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup drivers of the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari celebrate on the podium after winning the 2017 Bathurst 12 hour race at Mount Panorama on February 5, 2017 in Bathurst, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)
BATHURST, NEW SOUTH WALES – FEBRUARY 05: Toni Vilander, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup drivers of the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari celebrate on the podium after winning the 2017 Bathurst 12 hour race at Mount Panorama on February 5, 2017 in Bathurst, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

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

Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
2 Comments

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

Getty Images
2 Comments

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.