MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Belgian GP

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The return of Formula One sees the return of MotorSportsTalk’s predictions which this week are particularly difficult given that we have lacked racing for almost one month now. Spa-Francorchamps is a track that often shakes up the pecking order, potentially firing a warning shot at Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull ahead of the rest of the season as both parties look for a fourth consecutive title. Alternatively, it could mark yet another spell of Red Bull dominance as per 2012.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Kimi Raikkonen. Traditionally strong at Spa and motivated to get back to winning and close down further in the title chase.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. More often than not he’s had poor luck on his return season but this is a track where Force India has done well. Could see a potential fifth or sixth place result in the offing for him, likely ahead of the McLarens and probably at least one Ferrari.

Most to prove: Romain Grosjean. After his La Source aerial attack a year ago, Grosjean needs a controlled, calm and full race at the legendary circuit.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. At Spa, drivers spend 70 percent of a lap at full throttle, which puts emphasis on reliability. With that in mind, I’ll give the edge to Vettel in the consistent RB9; Mercedes certainly has a winning pace, but Nico Rosberg’s engine failure at Hungary makes me wonder if reliability could still be a question mark for them.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Not sure if anybody else needed F1’s “summer vacation” more than the Brazilian. With his drive at Ferrari basically on the line in these next few events, though, I think he can rise to the challenge.

Most to prove: Paul di Resta. After Force India failed to score at either Germany or Hungary, di Resta needs to take advantage this weekend of what has been a traditionally strong track for the team.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Kimi Raikkonen. The “King of Spa” will be looking to take a fifth victory this weekend, and with Lotus expected to run their passive DRS device, it is hard to look past the Finn.

Surprising finish: Paul di Resta. Force India traditionally run well at Spa, so there’s no reason why di Resta could not battle for the big points and potentially even a podium this weekend.

Most to prove: Esteban Gutierrez. He may claim a point is close, but actions speak louder than words. Gutierrez is in need of a good result with the Sirotkin story doing the rounds, also.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. It beggars belief that a driver of Alonso’s talent has never won at Spa in F1. I think Ferrari will come back strongly from their disappointing end to the first half of the season and get Alonso back into the title battle.

Surprising finish: Mark Webber. He always goes well on the proper circuits. Expect him to do something special on his last visit to one of the world’s great tracks in an F1 car.

Most to prove: Daniel Ricciardo. Rumours increasingly suggest he is going to get the call-up from Red Bull. But though he has often qualified well this year he’s not had the race results to go along with them, and there are questions over whether he’s ready to drive for the world champions.

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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