German GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday

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And so ends another grand prix weekend. Just like that, we’re already halfway through the 2014 Formula 1 season, and we’re still no closer to knowing who will be crowned world champion at the end of the season.

Today, Nico Rosberg capped off a near-perfect two week period by winning his home grand prix in Germany, but the real star of the race was Lewis Hamilton. His charge from 20th to third was a joy to watch, but going by his reaction on the podium and in the post-race press conference, you would have been forgiven for thinking he’d crashed out. Clearly, losing more ground to Nico has perturbed him.

Here’s the final round-up from the paddock at the Hockenheimring.

RACE REPORT

  • Nico Rosberg was the man to clinch victory in the German Grand Prix today, but it was a very entertaining and interesting race away from the front. Bottas, Hamilton, Alonso, Ricciardo and Vettel all gave us some great action on track.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

It’s quite hard to believe that we’re now closer to the end of the season than we are to the beginning. Ten races down, nine to go, and just 250 points left on offer (and yes, that does include Abu Double – I mean, Abu Dhabi).

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are set to continuing tussling at the top of the standings until the end of the year, and the internal battle at Mercedes is certainly an interesting one. Both drivers have the bit between their teeth, but Rosberg has the slender points advantage. Lewis called his crash in Q1 a “gift” for Nico, and maybe he was right; maybe it did gift him the win.

However, Lewis shouldn’t been disheartened by his performance today. He was in supreme form, and it is probably one of his best ever drives. His overtaking moves reeked of desperation – ‘you will move or we will crash’ – but it was still mightily impressive. Damage well limited.

Mercedes’ strategy in the final stages of the race with Lewis was interesting. The decision to go option-option and pit three times instead of going with one prime third stint at the end was a surprise, but it did have the effect of piling the pressure on the leaders. Come the end of the race though, he didn’t have enough life left in the Pirellis; Bottas had done 40 laps on his tires, and was fine. Anticipating the safety car in that fashion – which Lewis of course lamented not doing in Monaco – backfired.

But then again, it should have been a safety car. Had it come out, Lewis could have won the race; it would have essentially been a 15 lap race to the flag against Nico. Adrian Sutil’s Sauber was in a dangerous position, and seeing the marshals running across the track to recover it was bizarre. Of course, the cynics will cry conspiracy and note that a German driver was leading the German GP at the time. (For the record, the driver steward was Danish this weekend).

We were also treated to another fine Red Bull versus Alonso battle. Fernando went into battle with both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo; it was a masterclass of wheel-to-wheel racing. Sheer joy for the F1 fan.

And to finish, a big well done to Valtteri Bottas for another fine performance. There is no doubt that we’re watching a future grand prix winner, if not a future world champion.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”