Tony DiZinno

Rosberg, Mercedes big winners in Japanese Grand Prix

2 Comments

Nico Rosberg has taken another key victory in the pursuit of his maiden Formula 1 World Championship, following an authoritative display in the Japanese Grand Prix.

The German, who won the opening four races and was poised for another four-in-a-row run before coming third last week at Malaysia, secured his ninth win of the season, and first yet in Japan.

The day was also an excellent one for Rosberg’s Mercedes AMG Petronas team, which clinched the Constructor’s Championship on the day, with the win and Lewis Hamilton coming third. It’s the team’s third straight.

But Hamilton’s day was an exercise in frustration after a nightmare start, and he was lucky to even get back up that high.

He fought to no avail to get by Max Verstappen in the final 10 laps of the race, and the Dutch teenager ran a clean, quiet, smart and untroubled race en route to second for Red Bull Racing, with Hamilton rounding out the podium and now 33 points back of Rosberg with just four races remaining.

The race was good as decided though off the line as Hamilton had the aforementioned miserable start from second on the grid. The three-time and two-time defending World Champion looked to have a fine grid spot and a good run down to Turn 1, but instead bogged down and fell to eighth into Turn 1. Hamilton said simply on the radio, “Sorry, guys.”

Rosberg led away from Verstappen, Sergio Perez in a rocket start from sixth to third for Force India, Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Hamilton and Haas F1 teammates Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez. Raikkonen’s would-be third spot on the grid became eighth after a late five-spot grid penalty assessed for a gearbox change.

Perez and Hulkenberg were third and sixth by the end of the first lap. Elsewhere, Grosjean was lucky not to run in the back of Hulkenberg going into Turn 1 and Fernando Alonso went wide around the outside of Turns 1 and 2 when battling his old Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa.

By Lap 3, Vettel had overcome his three-position grid penalty for his Malaysian Grand Prix first corner contact, with a move of Perez for third going into Turn 1.

Hamilton hadn’t made up much ground early, down almost 20 seconds to Rosberg and only up a position by Lap 8, past Hulkenberg for seventh.

On Lap 9, Raikkonen had a lurid moment at Degner just ahead of Hamilton, but the Ferrari driver’s car control was on full display as he saved his car from a possible accident.

Alonso was into the pits on Lap 10, which kicked off the first round of pit stops. The McLaren driver – who infamously called his Honda engine a “GP2 engine” in last year’s race – started on Pirelli’s soft tires.

A lap later the two Red Bull Racing drivers were in with Verstappen in just before Ricciardo, as both drivers switched onto the hard compounds.

Rosberg pitted from the lead and joined the soft-to-hard switch on Lap 13. Behind them, Ricciardo was out ahead of Perez and Raikkonen.

Hamilton opted for the same strategy, and emerged just ahead of Raikkonen, who made a three-wide pass to the inside of Perez and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer into Turn 1. It was a needed net gain for Hamilton, who looked to continue his charge forward after the miserable start.

At Lap 16, the Williams pair of Bottas and Massa hadn’t pitted and ran fifth and eighth, opting for an off-sequence strategy. They were the only two drivers in the top 10 who hadn’t been to the pits by that point. But they lost ground on their tires they started on, while those who pitted used the fresher tires to their advantage.

Esteban Gutierrez’s 10th place grid spot was undone by a tough opening stint, and exacerbated when he spun at the Casio Triangle trying to pass Carlos Sainz Jr., although he was less than pleased on the radio with Sainz. The Mexican resumed, but down the order, continuing his run of Grands Prix without points to now three years since this race last year, with Sauber.

Raikkonen was first of the frontrunners to be in for a second stop, with another stop at halfway to switch from one set of hards to another. A couple other teams – Renault, Williams and Sauber – opted to go for one-stop strategies to try to make it into the minor placings.

Rosberg made his final stop from the lead on Lap 30 and like others, stayed from hards to hards.

The battle was behind him though with Verstappen assured in second, then differing strategies as Mercedes put Hamilton still onto hards, while Ferrari put Vettel onto softs, and Ricciardo had an issue on the right front on his last stop which cost him time to Raikkonen. The gamble by Mercedes was an interesting one because Hamilton had a set of softs available to him.

While it seemed as though this seemed a strategic misfire, Hamilton was able to gap Vettel at a decent rate because the softs went off faster on Vettel’s car, and eventually set sail on Verstappen for second.

And then that set up the battle for second, as Hamilton caught Verstappen within the final 10 laps of the race, and was within one second for position. But he was unable to make a passing attempt stick, blowing the Casio Triangle on the second-to-last lap.

Vettel was fourth, Raikkonen fifth and Ricciardo sixth. The two Force Indias and two Williams runners completed the points, with the Williams pair doing so on a one-stop strategy.

Grosjean made it back to 11th, the seemingly perpetual hard luck position for Haas.

That capped the first half of the field, and the remaining runners 12-22 made it all 22 starters that finished the race.

Results are below:

WATCH LIVE: Japanese GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from midnight ET

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 08: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 8, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nico Rosberg has paced all three practice sessions for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, then secured the pole on Saturday. So the German is determined to extend what’s currently a 23-point lead over Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Here’s the catch: Rosberg’s also won the pole position for the last two races in Japan, and both times he’s lost the race while Hamilton’s won the last two from second on the grid.

Hamilton, who’s been in the news more this week for how he reacted to an engine failure in Malaysia, his Snapchat activity during the Thursday press conference and his comments (or lack thereof) with the media, needs a win to be the story line folks are talking about after today’s race, which is the 17th of 21 this season.

Either Rosberg or Hamilton carries the strongest chance of winning the race. In Japanese Grand Prix history at Suzuka, in 27 prior runnings, the front row starters have won 85 percent of the races, and only 15 percent have been outside that window. One of them famously came when Kimi Raikkonen won from 17th in 2005, and the Finn starts third on Sunday as he looks for his first win since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, then driving for Lotus.

You can watch the Japanese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday, 9 p.m. PT on the West Coast. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at Suzuka providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

2016 Japanese Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Sergio Perez Force India
7. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari*
8. Romain Grosjean Haas
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
10. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
11. Valtteri Bottas Williams
12. Felipe Massa Williams
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
15. Fernando Alonso McLaren
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Jenson Button McLaren
18. Kevin Magnussen Renault
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Felipe Nasr Sauber
21. Esteban Ocon Manor
22. Pascal Wehrlein Manor*

*Grid penalty assessed

Red Bull GRC: Speed, Keyes win Saturday races in LA

p-20161008-00212_news
Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
Leave a comment

Editor’s note – there’s been a late add to the programming schedule with today’s first Red Bull Global Rallycross Supercars race airing tonight at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT on NBCSN. Coverage continues as scheduled on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT on NBC. Full recaps from today’s races are below:

LOS ANGELES – Scott Speed (Supercars) and Alex Keyes (GRC Lites) have claimed victories in the second-to-last races of Red Bull Global Rallycross’ 2016 season at the Red Bull GRC Los Angeles presented by Honda.

Both drivers dominated their races from pole, but that did not mean both races were lacking in action. It was far from it in both categories.

Speed, who entered 13 points behind Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammate Tanner Foust entering the weekend (465-452) launched off the line and was well clear of Foust, with both of the #PinkBeetle cars running away from the rest of the field.

Foust’s best chance to overtake him came when he took the Honda Joker Lap on the 12th and last lap of the final.
Although that cut the deficit significantly once Foust took the Joker, he was unable to overcome the deficit Speed had built up in his No. 41 Beetle GRC the rest of the race. The win is Speed’s fourth this season.

Steve Arpin launched from the fourth and final row of the grid, 10thh place, up to fifth by the end of the first lap in his No. 00 Ford Fiesta ST for Chip Ganassi Rallycross. Only a couple laps later, he was up to third, where he ran for the remainder of the race.

The most dramatic moment of the race came when Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE’s Joni Wiman and Subaru Rally Team USA’s David Higgins actually collided in mid-air going over the jump on Lap 5 when engaged in a battle for fifth place. Wiman went to Higgins’ inside and his right rear tire of his No. 31 Honda Civic Coupe hit the No. 75 Subaru WRX-STi, which punctured it. Wiman limped around from there and ultimately retired. Brian Deegan leapt to fourth in his No. 38 Ganassi Ford behind the top three.

The final battle in the race occurred for fifth, with Wiman’s teammate Sebastian Eriksson prevailing in a last-lap scrap over Patrik Sandell of Bryan Herta Rallysport. However, after the race, Eriksson was dropped to ninth place for aggressive driving, with a five-second penalty assessed.

Higgins was seventh ahead of teammate Chris Atkinson, who had a miserable start and spent the race recovering, with Supercars debutantes Mitchell DeJong (Honda) and Tanner Whitten (SH Rallycross/DRR) completing the top 10. Wiman and Austin Dyne retired from the race.

In GRC Lites, Keyes took his No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry to an early lead over points leader Oliver Eriksson (No. 16 Olsbergs MSE X Forces), teammate Miki Weckstrom (No. 45), Colin Braun (No. 54 CORE autosport) and Travis PeCoy (No. 3 AF Racing).

Weckstrom used the Honda Joker Lap to get past Eriksson and Braun into second before the drama intensified behind them.

Braun darted to the inside of Eriksson into the left-hander before the jump, which knocked Eriksson off the road and out of the race.

Keyes won from Weckstrom, Braun, Cabot Bigham and Christian Brooks on the road. Braun was disqualified from the race after the contact with Eriksson, and that brought everyone from Bigham in fourth up one position.

Points standings will follow in due course ahead of tomorrow’s season finales, when the championships will be determined.

Today’s first Supercars race will air tonight at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT on NBCSN, a bonus broadcast. Full coverage from the weekend airs Sunday at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT on NBC.

PWC: O’Connell wins GT pole at Monterey

johnnyomrlspole
Photo: Cadillac Racing
Leave a comment

Johnny O’Connell needs to win and hope Patrick Long and Alvaro Parente in front of him don’t score any points if he is to retain his Pirelli World Challenge GT championship. He’s off to the best possible start in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, scoring the pole for Sunday’s GT race finale.

A Cadillac release is below. Meanwhile, Long will roll off second in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, and Parente will start sixth in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3. Parente leads Long by nine points (1554-1545) with O’Connell more than 100 back, but now having secured seven points for pole today.

The full grid for Sunday’s GT/GTA/GT Cup race is linked here.

Cadillac Racing driver Johnny O’Connell will start the Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) season finale on pole at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca tomorrow.

O’Connell (Flowery Branch, Ga.) drove his No. 3 Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe in Velocity Red to the GT pole position this morning. He posted a time of 1:23.960 around the 2.2-mile, 11-turn Laguna Seca circuit. The pole is his first on the season for the four time PWC driver champion and takes care of one goal on the weekend – start from the front. With O’Connell securing the pole, both he and teammate Cooper (Syosset, N.Y.) remain mathematically possible for the championship.

“It was a total team effort,” O’Connell said. “In the first open practice on Thursday morning, 10-minutes into the session I got hit exiting the Corkscrew. The Cadillac Racing crew had to build a lot of the race car. They actually got me back out later in the day. This is my first pole of the year, so that keeps my streak going of getting one in every PWC season. Needless to say I was motivated. We are doing what we need to do, get the points for the pole and remain in a fight for this championship.”

Teammate Cooper will start his No. 8 Cadillac Racing ATS-V.R Coupe directly behind O’Connell in third in that valuable Laguna Seca inside lane.

“A good run for Cadillac Racing with Johnny on the pole,” Cooper said. “I was a little off on where I wanted to be with the set-up. We will work on it and get it set for the race. I am on the inside second row, which is a good place to be. A lot can happen on the outside of Turn 1. We can race from that position.”

Red Bull GRC: Saturday heat races, pre-race notebook

p-20161008-00287_news
Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES – Once again, there are lots to get through before the semifinals and finals start today at Red Bull Global Rallycross’ season finale weekend, Red Bull GRC Los Angeles presented by Honda.

Here’s a recap of a number of nuggets around the paddock:

Heat race winners are:

  • Supercars: Heat 1A: Scott Speed; Heat 1B: Joni Wiman; Heat 2A: Scott Speed; Heat 2B: Joni Wiman
  • GRC Lites: Heat 1A: Alex Keyes; Heat 1B: Oliver Eriksson

The track here at Port of Los Angeles is painted pink in portions (pictured, top) at what’s ordinarily red curbing and off-course areas. Susan G. Komen Foundation representatives will be on site to educate and bring attention to the initiative, as well as accepting donations. This weekend’s course will also feature pink and white stripes on the infield to promote awareness.

Per the series, it took five people over three days to paint the track with two primary painters and the other three people assisting.

Great crowd thus far from those who’ve made it on the grounds at the Port of LA. It was a really long line for fans to get in:

Henry Ford III is here to provide a Ford family presence on site this weekend. There’s five Ford Fiesta STs entered within GRC’s Supercars class (two Chip Ganassi Rallycross, one Bryan Herta Rallysport, one SH Rallycross/DRR and one AD Racing) among the 13-car field, which is most in the field. By comparison, there’s three Hondas and Subarus apiece, and two Volkswagens.

On Friday, IndyCar veteran Oriol Servia made it out to the track for a day of ride-alongs and taking in the atmosphere. The Catalan rode shotgun with Steve Arpin, driver of the No. 00 ENEOS USA Ford Fiesta ST for Chip Ganassi Rallycross. Servia had a blast doing so, although I’ll admit it was weird to see him as a passenger and not driving himself!

Servia, who lives in nearby Santa Monica, is not the only member of the IndyCar world here this weekend. It actually feels as though it’s an IndyCar weekend with the high volume of IndyCar people present.

To wit, we’ve seen:

  • Michael Andretti and Rob Edwards (Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross)
  • Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan (SH Rallycross/DRR)
  • Bryan Herta (Bryan Herta Rallysport)
  • Dennis Reinbold (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing)
  • Conor Daly (Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar; guest of Honda this weekend)
  • Dale Coyne (attending his first GRC race)

Many of the IndyCar team owners or co-owners often can’t attend Red Bull GRC races owing to IndyCar conflicts.

Daly, who’s here as a guest of Honda this weekend, is expected to test drive one of Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE’s Honda Civic Coupes on Monday after the weekend. The talented, young American overachieved this year with Coyne’s IndyCar team and remains determined to continue in the championship for a second full season, although nothing for him is done yet.

Had a long chat with Buddy Rice, who is program manager for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s GRC Lites team. Rice hailed the camaraderie of the Red Bull GRC paddock, noting how much other teams will help pitch in when cars go down with damage or mechanical failures. Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion, drove for DRR during portions of his IndyCar career, which spanned from 2002 through 2011.

DRR’s two GRC Lites drivers are motivated to succeed this weekend. Alex Keyes won his first heat race in the No. 24 Traction Factory/WIX Filters entry, Heat 1A. Keyes told NBC Sports the track at LA this year is significantly wider and faster, but it’s still difficult to pass.

Cabot Bigham meanwhile, suffered a setback in his heat race in the No. 2 Paratek Pharmaceuticals/WIX Filters entry and the crew was thrashing on his car after his heat race.

Past DRR Lites driver Miles Maroney and his father Michael are on site this weekend, catching up with drivers and teams in the paddock. The younger Maroney, now 23 and who made his debut in the American Le Mans Series as a 17-year-old in PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ Prototype Challenge car at Long Beach in April 2011, is looking to get back into the series, with a Supercars drive the target for the talented Californian.

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Patrik Sandell’s No. 18 Cuttwood Ford Fiesta ST for Bryan Herta Rallysport features King Taco signage on the left and right rear window covers. The California restaurant was also on Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda of Andretti-Herta Autosport for the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend here in April.

More to follow after this afternoon’s semifinals and final round races.