Vettel fights off Lotus challenge to win home grand prix

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Sebastian Vettel has won the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring after a stunning performance that saw him stave off Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean to claim his first win on home soil.

The German driver took the lead at the start of the race and never looked back, although Lotus’ strategy did appear to threaten Red Bull’s dominance, nor was Vettel’s cause aided by a safety car following a bizarre incident.

The start saw Red Bull display just why they are three-time world champions, launching off the line as both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber passed pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton into turn one, who immediately had to fend off Raikkonen behind. Ferrari made a good start as Felipe Massa leapfrogged Daniel Ricciardo, but Fernando Alonso could not do the same and they both began to drop back from the leaders as they ran on the medium compound. Things soon went from bad to worse for Massa though, with the Brazilian spinning at turn one and stopping on the inside of the corner, ending his race there.

Pirelli had predicted that the first round of stops would come early on, and it turned out to be the case as Hamilton pitted on lap 6 in order to try to get the jump on the Red Bulls. Vettel managed to maintain his advantage, putting Rosberg between himself and Hamilton, but there was a disaster in the Red Bull garage as a problem with Webber’s wheel saw him lose an entire lap as well as sending a Pirelli bouncing along the pit lane. Hamilton could not pass Rosberg, falling into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen whose teammate, Romain Grosjean, was setting a blistering pace at the front as Vettel also charged in P3 behind Alonso. Ferrari soon pitted their sole remaining driver despite not even meeting half of Pirelli’s prediction for the medium tire. Grosjean gave up the lead when he stopped, but the Lotus emerged an excellent P3 ahead of the Rosberg-Hamilton-Raikkonen battle, easily passing second-placed Button on his outlap. The Frenchman then set about catching Vettel; a task many have tried and failed to complete over the past few seasons.

Mercedes’ tire troubles emerged once again as Hamilton dropped behind Raikkonen and came under heavy pressure from Alonso for P5, eventually pitting for fresh rubber once his Pirelli’s had given up. Jenson Button was having no such problems, going deep into the race on his first set of mediums before finally pitting on lap 22. Jules Bianchi’s race came to an early end thanks to an engine failure, leaving plumes of smoke across the track, but his Marussia then began to roll down hill onto the circuit, requiring a safety car. This triggered the second round of stops with Vettel maintaining his lead over Grosjean and Raikkonen.

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On the restart, Webber managed to move up to P15 after unlapping himself under the safety car, but Sergio Perez faced a stiffer challenge from Pastor Maldonado in the battle for 8th. Vettel, Grosjean and Raikkonen all exchanged fastest lap times as the Lotus drivers closed on the home favorite. Struggling to find a way past, Grosjean opted to pit on lap 40 for the final time, trying to utilize the undercut but Vettel pitted just one lap later, which released Raikkonen into the lead. The Finnish driver did not react in kind, instead staying out and setting personal best after personal best in order to try and create a gap. In the meantime, Nico Hulkenberg slipped past Rosberg for P10 and the final points-paying position, bringing some delight to the troubled Sauber team. Hamilton soon followed as his teammate suffered with heavy tire wear before the Briton passed Hulkenberg and began to catch compatriot Paul di Resta.

Raikkonen eventually had to bail and pitted for fresh tires, coming out behind Vettel and Grosjean on the softer compound ahead of Alonso who also took on options. Both drivers began to put in some quick lap times, catching the leading pair lap by lap. Thanks to DRS, Raikkonen closed right up to Grosjean before passing at the chicane with five laps to go. Grosjean soon fell back, allowing Alonso to close. Raikkonen continued to cut Vettel’s lead, with the gap standing at just one second with two laps to go.

However, it was not enough as Sebastian Vettel finally broke his July curse by winning for the first time in the month, as well as winning his maiden home race. Lotus will be delighted to have completed the podium after Grosjean held on ahead of Alonso, whilst Lewis Hamilton recovered well to finish 5th ahead Button and a charging Mark Webber. Sergio Perez, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg completed the points.

With 200 IndyCar wins in the books, Penske looks for No. 201 at Indy

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The history of Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a storied one that features 16 Indy 500 wins, including a pair of four-time winners in Al Unser and Rick Mears, and number of utterly dominant performances.

Yet, they’ll head to this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 looking to avenge a pair of relatively subpar performances in each of the last two years.

Power was the only Penske driver to finish in the Top 10 in 2016, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finishing 11th and 19th after fuel strategy intervened late in the race. And last year, all the Penske cars were somewhat down on pace compared to other teams, notably the Honda cars.

Power was the only Penske driver to qualify for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout last year – he qualified ninth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were 18th and 19th in the grid, while Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were 22nd and 23rd.

And only Castroneves was in winning contention in the final laps as he battled eventual winner Takuma Sato – Montoya was sixth, while Pagenaud was 14th and the only other Penske running at the end. Both Newgarden and Power crashed out on Lap 183.

This year, however, could see a return to the dominant form we’re used to seeing from the Penske outfit. All four cars entered – Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, and Castroneves – qualified inside the top nine, with Pagenaud and Power on the front row.

They have all been near the front of the time sheets, especially in laps without a tow from another car, and the indication is that the Penske cars may be the fastest ones in the field.

All told, it leads to very high expectations for a team that already expects highly of itself.

Leading the way for Penske is current points leader and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third in 2016, but he only has one other Top 10 there – ninth in 2015.

But, with an IndyCar title now under his belt, Newgarden has his eyes set on an Indy 500 win.

Josef Newgarden looks to add an Indy 500 crown to his 2017 championship. Photo: IndyCar

“I think Indianapolis…is certainly next on the list for me,” he detailed in a press conference ahead of qualifying. “It’s not next on the list for the team, they’ve won it many times. The good thing is we have four great opportunities, especially having Helio back. I think we have one of the best opportunities in the entire field to win this race.”

Pagenaud, like Newgarden, is also looking for his first Indy triumph, though his record there isn’t quite as good. He has been fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only has two Top 10s to show for it – eighth in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and tenth in 2015 in his first year with Penske.

And a Pagenaud win would be somewhat historic – it would be only the fourth time a French driver has won the “500,” and the first since 1920 (Gaston Chevrolet).

Pagenaud explained that this race always holds a place as a top priority, and that success at Indy is all about preparation.

Simon Pagenaud looks to become only the first French driver to win an Indy 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Photo: IndyCar

“It really is our number one goal. In Roger and Tim’s heart, it’s the most important one,” Pagenaud declared. “We prepare really hard. The team does a fantastic job at just understanding every bit and component of this new aero kit, trying to extract the best out of the equipment.”

Pagenaud added, “On the driver side, there’s a lot you can do obviously to review the past races, try to focus yourself, try to put yourself into the race before it happens, try to just improve. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s the goal. That’s why this group is so good. We push each other so hard that you always try to push the limits away.”

Power, the man who delivered Penske his 200th IndyCar win, is no stranger to success at IMS, having won the Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course three times. But, he is yet to find Victory Lane on the oval, and that leaves a void in an otherwise stellar career.

Will Power has won the INDYCAR Grand Prix three times, and looks for his first win at the “500” this weekend. Photo: IndyCar

Power spotlighted the opportunity in front of him, and detailed that running in traffic has been a strength thus far through practice.

“It’s fantastic to have that opportunity. Obviously very focused on (trying to win),” he revealed. “I feel like we have a really good opportunity to win this year. I mean, I think Chevrolet has brought a really good engine. I feel like we’re really fast. Running in traffic and such, I felt like we’ve been pretty strong, especially when you get to the front.”

Castroneves is the only Penske driver with Indy 500 wins on his resume. But, with three wins to his name, Castroneves is more than familiar with IMS glory.

Now a part-time IndyCar driver who races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with the Acura Team Penske outfit, Castroneves’ sole focus is on getting that elusive fourth win.

Helio Castroneves looks to join the four-time winners club at the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

And he has momentum on his side too, coming off a debut IMSA win for the Acura Penske outfit at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A fourth Indy 500 win would put an exclamation point on the month for Castroneves.

“I think about it every day,” he said when asked about how often he ponders getting that fourth win. “It was one of those incredible ones, I have phenomenal car, the Pennzoil car was really strong last year. Obviously coming back here, first of all, I want to thank Roger and (team president Tim Cindric) for giving me the opportunity to be back at the Indy 500. It’s such a special place for so many people. Just to be back and able to continue our goal and pursue for the number four, it’s incredible.”

Pagenaud and Power will flank pole sitter Ed Carpenter on the front, starting second and third respectively. Newgarden starts fourth, while Castroneves will start eighth.

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