MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Russian GP

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Formula 1 heads to Russia this weekend in a somber state as we continue to send all of our prayers and support to Marussia driver Jules Bianchi following his accident at the Japanese Grand Prix last Sunday.

Bianchi is currently in hospital with severe head injuries, and remains in a critical condition as per the last official update on Tuesday. The F1 field is set to run with messages of support for the Frenchman on the cars and helmets this weekend.

As per usual, the MotorSportsTalk writing team has made its predictions for this weekend’s race as the battle for the championship heads to Sochi for the first race to be held on the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Momentum has been everything in this year’s championship, and with three wins on the bounce, Lewis will be gunning to make it four-in-a-row for the second time this year on Sunday.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. After a great drive to fifth at Suzuka, JB will have been boosted as he continues to fight for his F1 career and place at McLaren. The Briton has a knack for tire saving, which could be crucial at a new circuit like this one.

Most to prove: Ferrari. After a record run of 82 races in the points, Suzuka saw Ferrari score nothing at all. If the Italian team is to finish in the top three of the constructors’ championship, a good result in Sochi is needed.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Daniel Ricciardo. At a new street track, and one I’m guessing won’t place the same optimal focus on outright power unit performance as other circuits, the Red Bull-Renault should thrive. I think Daniel could well keep the Mercedes pair at bay this weekend; he’s won three other times this season, so why not at a new track.

Surprising finish: Daniil Kvyat. A new track represents the best opportunity for a rookie to enter on equal footing, and what better place for the Russian to score a top six or seven result than at Sochi. Will be motivated by having received the Red Bull promotion for 2015, and keen to produce a big result on home soil.

Most to prove: Ferrari. The points scoring streak is over. Fernando Alonso’s now heading for the exits. Kimi Raikkonen hasn’t produced the giant-killing performances this year as he did with Lotus. Put up or shut up time at a track where Ferrari, like the rest of the field, isn’t entering with a data disadvantage or a past history there… and thus could deliver a big result if they hit it right first time out.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. After seeing Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton seize momentum in the World Championship with wins, a fourth consecutive loss in Russia is not an option for Rosberg.

Surprising finish: Daniil Kvyat. The Toro Rosso pilot is coming home, and coming off a 2015 promotion to Red Bull. His five points hauls so far this year have been relatively small, but I think his growing confidence has him in line for a bigger one this weekend.

Most to prove: Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen. With Fernando Alonso aiming for a return to Woking in 2015, McLaren’s ex-World Champion and promising rookie have to do all they can on the track to save their respective seats.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Given that this is the first F1 race in Sochi, who wins it is up for grabs. It’s a great place for guys who’ve struggled this season to make some headlines for themselves, drivers like Jenson Button, Nico Hulkenberg, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen. But with the way he’s been going the last few races, really, how can you pick against Lewis Hamilton, even if this is his first time racing at Sochi?

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. We see Massa perhaps earning a podium finish at Sochi, again because it’s a brand new track. It’s what folks in NASCAR call a “wild card track” because of its newness. Massa has had an up and down season. As we close in on the season finish, what better way than for him to try and go out on a high note with at least one decent finish in the season’s closing races?

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. With the F1 championship slowly slipping away, and having gone from three to 10 points back after Suzuka, Rosberg has one last big chance to try and close the points gap that has arisen between himself and teammate Lewis Hamilton. Can Nico do it, or is this where Lewis essentially starts putting the title away in his back pocket?

Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”