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)

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
3 Comments

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)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.