Rookie watch: Bianchi still setting the pace

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The majority of the 2013 rookies have failed to set Formula One alight so far, but Marussia’s Jules Bianchi has certainly turned a few heads in the paddock despite failing to score. However, the other four drivers all have their own stories as Formula One prepares to return to Europe in two weeks’ time.

Valtteri Bottas – Williams

Bottas has made a quiet start to his F1 career; a far cry from the revolution many expected him to herald. The FW35 has certainly blighted Williams’ form, but the fact that Bottas has outraced teammate Pastor Maldonado in three of the four races so far this season suggests there is more to come from the young Finn.

Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber

For Gutierrez, his F1 baptism has been a difficult one. Although he has had some tough luck, the Mexican driver has really failed to impress. Finishing behind Charles Pic in Bahrain proves that he needs to improve in order to be taken seriously as a star for the future.

Giedo van der Garde – Caterham

van der Garde’s F1 debut came after many years of testing and hype which appears to have fizzled out in just four races. He has been the last classified finisher in three of the four races so far, and his season looks set to be a battle at the back with Max Chilton.

Jules Bianchi – Marussia

The star rookie of 2013 so far, Bianchi has shown good pace in a car which is barely capable of matching Caterham. Bahrain was a difficult weekend for the young Frenchman, and he could not continue his string of victories over Charles Pic, yet he will be keen on impressing at the Spanish GP next week. Currently the top rookie driver in 2013.

Max Chilton – Marussia

Chilton’s start has been quiet and largely overshadowed by the success of his teammate, causing many to compare the two. It is a question of whether Bianchi is outperforming the car, or if Chilton is underperforming. He will take solace in his victories over van der Garde though, and Chilton will be hoping to build upon his 16th place finishe in Malaysia in the coming races.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”