FIA WEC: Title defense starts poorly for Audi

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In a day that proved “extremely bitter” in the words of Audi Motorsport head Wolfgang Ullrich, both of the 4-Rings’ LMP1 machines failed to see the checkered flag at today’s World Endurance Championship season opener at Silverstone.

Prior to today, the Audi camp had never suffered that particular fate in a WEC event. The last time that Audi was unable to get a single championship point from its prototypes came at Road Atlanta in 2011.

And it all started well enough for Audi, too. Andre Lotterer took the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro from fourth on the grid to the lead early but after light rain started to fall on the famed British circuit, things turned disastrous for the reigning WEC champions.

Lucas di Grassi lost control of the No. 1 Audi and crashed, causing terminal chassis damage, while Lotterer spun the No. 2 into the gravel. The spin cost the car four laps and shortly after it was taken over by Benoit Treluyer, he too spun and crashed at Copse. He was unable to get the car back to the pits.

““We hadn’’t expected the rain to become so heavy, that’s why we continued to run on slicks,” Di Grassi said of his accident. “But, unfortunately, the track was too cold and wet for the tires. That’’s why I had an accident in which the monocoque was so severely damaged that we had to give up.”

“Obviously, not finishing with either car is not what we aim for,” Treluyer said. “In such wet conditions, it’s hard to name a cause. Whether it was the driver, the general track conditions, the curbs in a particular corner or the car is hard to say in such conditions. We’re going to analyze this in detail over the next few days.”

With just two weeks until the next WEC race at Spa-Francorchamps, it’s likely that some long nights are ahead for Audi as they work to replace their battered machines and finish up prep for a third R18 that will be involved as a tune-up for Le Mans.

 

Josef Newgarden dominates from pole to win KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America

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There’s a reason why Josef Newgarden calls Road America his favorite racetrack – and he showed why Sunday, dominating to victory in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.

Newgarden led all but two laps from the pole and was in a class of his own throughout the 55-lap caution-free race on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course in central Wisconsin, defeating runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay by 3.3759 seconds.

“(I wanted this one) really bad,” Newgarden told NBCSN in victory lane. “I wanted to win here since last year. This car has been a rocket all weekend. It wasn’t easy. Ryan was very quick and I knew Dixon was right behind him, so we were working for it the entire race.

“I kind of knew what I had to do, but it was a lot of work. Ryan was really pushing me. It’s good to get a win. It doesn’t matter what car, as long as it’s Team Penske.”

It was Newgarden’s series-leading third win of the season in the first 10 races (also won at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama), pushing him past Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Will Power and Scott Dixon, who both have two wins in the 2018 campaign.

“I was hoping to make it more interesting for the fans here at Road American and on TV,” Hunter-Reay said. “The last two stints, when he put on used red and I had blacks, he was really hooked up. … I was pushing 110 percent, that’s for sure.

“Unfortunately, I just couldn’t catch up to Josef. I was able to close up the gap a little bit here and there, but not like I was early in the race. He found his own way for sure. Definitely, the clean air out front helps, but hats off to him: he had a great race and deserves the win.”

Dixon finished third, followed by Takuma Sato, Robert Wickens, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Spencer Pigot (his best finish of the season), Ed Jones and James Hinchcliffe.

Dixon (393 points) maintains the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead, Hunter-Reay (348) moved up two spots to second place, Alexander Rossi (tied with Hunter-Reay for second at 348) dropped one spot to third, Newgarden (343) climbed one spot to fourth and Will Power (328) dropped two spots to fifth in the standings.

“It’s so tight … so tough,” Dixon said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series, right now, the competition is through the roof. To get a podium these days is tough enough, yet to get a win. But we’ll keep pushing and see what we get.”

There was action right from the opening lap, including misfortune for Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, who suffered engine issues that sent him to the pits after the opening lap.

After trying to work on his car in the pits, Power’s team pushed it back to the paddock to attempt further repairs, but those efforts failed and the car was retired.

Power was third in the IndyCar points standings coming into the race, 36 points behind series leader Scott Dixon. He finished last (23rd) in Sunday’s race and will likely drop to fifth in the standings.

“They replaced the exhaust, and it just blew straight back out,” Power told NBCSN’s Marty Snider. “So, there’s obviously something going on in there that’s gone wrong.

“I feel bad for all the guys. It’s just one of those things, you know – you’ll get that every now and then at some point. No good, but we’ll move on to the next one.”

Also, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi had an issue with what appeared to be brakes- or suspension-related that resulted in a lengthy pit stop after 38 laps. Rossi finished 16th in the 23-car field.

“Hugely disappointing,” Rossi told NBCSN. “It was good enough for fourth … but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

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