Practice fails to deliver expected raft of reliability problems

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Late last night, we reported on FIA race director Charlie Whiting’s contingency plan in the unlikely event of all 22 cars retiring from this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, such were the concerns raised earlier this week.

Following a tenuous winter testing period in which every team suffered some kind of reliability problem, and with the known issues for Renault-powered teams, many were expecting the opening salvo of practice sessions at Albert Park to be all about who managed to complete any meaningful running, with a bloodbath of stricken drivers being forced to return to the pits via unconventional means.

But no. Doomsday did not strike on Friday in Melbourne.

However, it wasn’t without a concerning start. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came to a halt after just five minutes of the opening session on Friday, but the team soon revealed that this was due to a problem with the W05’s oil pressure sensor. The Briton responded by finishing as the fastest of all in FP2, underlining Mercedes’ title favorite credentials.

As the day wore on, some of the teams did indeed encounter problems. Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson both failed to post a time on Friday, meaning that Caterham have a lot of work to do this evening and across the rest of the weekend. Lotus also had a nightmarish day as Pastor Maldonado failed to post a time, losing power during FP1 and being left with a smoking cockpit, whilst Romain Grosjean also struggled to work with the E22. The Frenchman ended the day in the gravel after spinning off at turn three with a few minutes to go in FP2.

Another driver that suffered a minor issue in FP2 was Nico Hulkenberg. The German driver spun out at the same time as Grosjean, albeit at a different corner, and this was purely down to driver error as he put a wheel on the grass under braking at turn nine.

Red Bull’s day got off to a difficult start as the team had to rebuild Sebastian Vettel’s RB10 throughout FP1. However, he managed to get out midway through the session and comfortably finished inside the top ten, before going on to finish FP2 in fourth place. Given the problems that the team had over the winter, it was a great day for the world champions.

Finally, Ferrari also had one stoppage on Kimi Raikkonen’s car, but this was a result of the Finn failing to find first gear upon exiting the pits. The F14 T was wheeled back to the Ferrari garage, reset and sent on its way again.

All in all, it was a good day of practice in Melbourne, and a far cry from the doomsday predictions that many were making heading into this race weekend. However, with the rest of the weekend still to come, it’s best to remain quietly confident that we will enjoy a race with a large running field on Sunday instead of making any outright assumptions.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)