MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Italian GP

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Formula 1 ventures to the spiritual home of motorsport in Italy this weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, based on the outskirts of Milan.

This race is one of the most famous in the history of the sport, having appeared on all but one of the F1 schedules since 1950. It will also see the loyal Tifosi come through its gates to cheer on the Ferrari team, even if its hopes of claiming the race win on Sunday may be shot down by two Silver Arrows.

Following their public fall-out at Monza, will Lewis Hamilton and championship leader Nico Rosberg patch things up? Or could it get out of hand on track for the second weekend in a row? Here’s what the MotorSportsTalk writing team had to say on the matter ahead of F1’s return to ‘la pista magica’ – ‘the magic track’, Monza.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. It’s a toss of a coin picking between Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg once again. Both will be charged up to hit back following a nightmarish weekend at Spa, but you can expect Hamilton to dial his car in and gun for a second victory at Monza.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. As we saw at Spa, Kimi’s still got it. He may not say much, but the flying Finn still has the same fire and pace that won him the title back in 2007. Ferrari must impress at its home race, but it isn’t all about Fernando Alonso, you know…

Most to prove: Mercedes. Quite simply: “Did you drivers listen to you when you said ‘no more contact’?” If the answer is no, we will find out at the first chicane on Sunday at Monza. The battle of Spa may be over, but the war has only just begun.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Mercedes has lost two in a row and it’s not going to be three at a track where power is everything. Rosberg puts the drama of the last two weeks since Spa behind him and returns to the top.

Surprising finish: Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s giant-killing ability with the Ferrari chassis continues to be a storyline, and what better way for him to continue his season than with a podium at the spiritual home of the Scuderia. A win would rank up with Ferrari’s 1988 Monza triumph in the pantheon of upsets… it also has about as much chance happening as that 1988 race. And Jean-Louis Schlesser isn’t making a comeback…

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. If for no other reason than you seem to read about him crashing at least once every race weekend. Yes, points are unlikely for Lotus this weekend, but a simple, trouble-free weekend would be nice to see.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. The Brit won’t be lacking motivation this weekend at Monza, that’s for sure. And having not won since Silverstone, he’s due as well. The World Championship battle between he and Rosberg will tighten up a bit again.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. A fourth place result at Belgium was promising, but now Raikkonen must make the tifosi happy at Ferrari’s spiritual home. Many expect teammate Fernando Alonso to lead the Scuderia’s charge here, but I have a feeling that Raikkonen will finally earn his first podium of 2014.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes dominated the headlines even though they didn’t win. And the guy that did win was Vettel’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo – who’s now up 3-0 on victories this season. The German’s been missing from the podium since Canada – he needs to get back on it this weekend and reclaim some of the spotlight for himself.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard could finally break through with his first win of the season this week. He’ll have a tough battle with points leaders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, but this one goes to Alonso. It doesn’t hurt that he’s in a Ferrari and in the red horse’s home country, either.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. JB has had an uncharacteristically and surprisingly dismal campaign in 2014. At this point, we would thought he’d have had a better year than he has had. He’s due for a decent finish, and this weekend could finally give him that. It may not be a podium finish, but it’ll be close.

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. Being ranked second in the standings, you’d think Lewis Hamilton would have very little to prove. But if has hopes of still winning the F1 title, he has to overtake Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by season’s end. To do that, Hamilton has to get moving – and moving fast.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”