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)

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”

Pirelli: Slow puncture caused Vettel’s British GP tire failure

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pirelli has determined that a slow puncture was the cause of Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 tire failure towards the end of last Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

Vettel suffered a failure on his front-left tire on the penultimate lap of the race at Silverstone while running third, forcing him into a late pit stop that ultimately left him P7 at the checkered flag.

The incident was just minutes after Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen had also hit trouble with his front-left tire, although Pirelli stressed after the race that the incidents were unrelated.

Pirelli announced on Friday that, after conducting extensive analysis of the tire, it could confirm that its initial belief that Vettel had suffered a puncture was indeed correct.

“As appeared clear since Sunday afternoon, a full investigation has now confirmed that the original cause of the failure was a slow puncture,” Pirelli said.

“The consequent driving back to the pits on an underinflated and then flat tire led to the final failure.

“Kimi Raikkonen’s damaged tire shows less evidence of what occurred, so further tests and analysis are still ongoing in Pirelli’s laboratories and indoor testing facilities.

“It will take a few more days to reach a definitive conclusion.”

BMW completes first test with 2018 M8 GTE in Germany

BMW
Leave a comment

BMW has completed the maiden track test of its new M8 GTE car that will race in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2018.

BMW announced back in September that it would be returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans through the WEC in 2018, entering the GTE-Pro class.

The German manufacturer has since been developing its new M8 GTE car which will also replace the existing M6 GTLM in the IMSA-run series, where it is raced by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

BMW announced on Thursday that it had completed a three-day test last week at the Lausitzring in Germany, with factory drivers Martin Tomczyk and Maxime Martin both enjoying time behind the wheel.

“To see the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack makes me very proud. Everyone involved has done a magnificent job in recent months to allow us to reach this milestone in the development of our new flagship for the GT racing scene,” said BMW head of motorsport Jens Marquardt.

“In the first instance, the purpose of a test like this is obviously to get to know the car. In this regard, greater emphasis is placed on the safety aspect than performance. However, the first impression of the BMW M8 GTE out on the track is a very positive one.”

“Firstly, I feel very honored to have been able to drive at the first real test of the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack. I had great fun with the car,” added Tomczyk.

“The BMW M8 GTE is good to drive from the outset, and it is easy for us drivers to work out the way it handles, which is important. We got a lot of kilometers under our belt, and gathered a lot of data. We also took our first steps with regard to performance, which is by no means a given at a first test.

“We will obviously work more intensively on that at the coming tests, and will build on the strong basis we established here at the Lausitzring.”

The BMW M8 GTE is set to enjoy another on-track test next month, with Antonio Felix da Costa due for some lap time.