MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: German GP

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The Nurburgring is nicknamed the ‘green hell’ as it pushes the drivers to the limit on top of the Eifel mountains, and it has become a firm fixture on the F1 calendar as it alternates hosting the German Grand Prix with Hockenheim. Having last hosted the race in 2011, there isn’t much of a form guide for the race, making the MST picks all the more difficult for this weekend…

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Mark Webber. Webber’s on good form at the moment and at a track where he scored his first Grand Prix win in 2009, he follows up his British GP podium comments and wins on his teammate’s home turf.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. Of the Germans in the field, the Force India is the car that could punch above its proverbial weight and grab a result, and Sutil seems the guy to do it if he’s on the right tire strategy.

Most to prove: Romain Grosjean. Four straight races without scoring points; he needs a result, desperately.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Both he and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg should have an advantage with the Kevlar-belted tires at the Nurburgring, but it’s time for Hamilton to get on the board in 2013.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. I keep waiting for Force India to get on the podium, and they’ve been very close this year. You have to think support from the home crowd can help Sutil, who has shown solid race pace during the season.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. Four crashes in the last three weeks is tough on anybody, but even more so for Massa, who could be causing Maranello to lose patience with him. However, he just needs to worry about his own confidence and getting that righted with a solid result.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Never won a race in July and never won his home GP – that ends here. Seb could pounce as the slightly softer compounds brought to the race by Pirelli play against Mercedes, giving him a slightly belated 26th birthday present.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Massa has shown good pace at the Nurburgring before, coming 2nd in 2007 and scoring a podium in the final race before his accident in 2009. Ahead of the tire blowout, he was running 3rd at Silverstone, so the Brazilian driver could be onto something this weekend.

Most to prove: Fernando Alonso. Essentially, he has to prove whether or not Ferrari can still win the world championship. There is no denying his great ability to pull a dog of a car through the field, but Mercedes and Red Bull just look too quick right now.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Whether by fair means or foul Mercedes are definitely getting into the swing of things at the moment. I reckon the more conservative tyres we’re going to see in the next few races will swing the pendulum further towards them.

Surprising finish: Paul di Resta. Will finally get through Saturday without some misfortune confining him to the back rows.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. At the beginning of the season he seemed to be back at his best but he’s been a temperamental performer since then. Think of the pillorying a rookie driver would get if they crashed as many times as he has in the last three weekends.

Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: