MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Brazilian GP

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Following a wonderful event in Austin last weekend, Formula 1 stays in the Americas by heading south for the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos on Sao Paolo.

The event is a firm favorite on the F1 calendar, with the old-style circuit providing some entertaining racing and proving to be the deciding race in many a world championship. On the current grid, all five of the world champions racing have won a title in Brazil, while Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen have seen their hopes go up in smoke at Interlagos.

This year, it is Hamilton who leads the way once again, but teammate Nico Rosberg is within striking distance if the Briton hits trouble. However, Lewis knows that finishing second in Brazil and in Abu Dhabi will be enough for him to win the title.

Ahead of this weekend’s race, the MotorSportsTalk team has once again made its predictions – will any of us get three from three?

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Let’s be a little bit different and look outside of Mercedes for this weekend’s race. It is going to pour down at Interlagos, and with Hamilton’s record in Brazil only so-so, and with Rosberg ailing, I’m going to take a punt on Seb claiming his first win of the season in his penultimate race for Red Bull.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. With the home crowd behind him, Massa will be hoping to get some luck in Brazil and reach the podium. Few would begrudge him such a big result on the site of his title defeat in 2008, and it would be no less than what Williams deserves after such a great year.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. Speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton today in Brazil, Rosberg said that winning the title would be “quite cool” – it doesn’t smack of the obsessive hunger that Hamilton shows on the other side of the Mercedes garage. This weekend, he must prove that he wants this championship as his hopes continue to fade.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Unstoppable at the moment, and like Vettel last year we’re starting to run out of superlatives.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. Traditionally goes well at Brazil and I could see him turn in an inspired drive much like Webber did here last year.

Most to prove: Sauber. Scoreless and with both its drivers now on the outside looking in for 2015, a headline-catching weekend is crucial for both Sutil and Gutierrez.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton’s has been nothing short of sensational these last five races and has seemingly knocked all the fight out of Nico Rosberg in their duel for the World Championship. Barring reliability problems, the Brit’s on course for a sixth consecutive win.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. Always a good bet to push well into the points when it’s pouring (rain is expected to have a major impact this weekend), Button should bounce back from a disappointing finish in the U.S. and continue to bolster his case for a seat at McLaren in 2015.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. Rosberg needs a miracle now in the championship, so we’ll go with Massa, who’s going to be counted on by his countrymen to score at least a podium on home soil. He will likely have to see off Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to earn ‘best of the rest’ honors behind Hamilton and Rosberg.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. How can you stop someone who just seems unstoppable? Frankly, you can’t. Hamilton is on a Michael Schumacher-like roll and it’s not going to stop until he earns the championship. Even though he has a substantial lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, this is not a time for Hamilton to coast. And frankly, coasting to a championship isn’t in his DNA. If there are still races to be won, Hamilton wants to win them.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. The Brazilian native would love to have a strong finish in front of his countrymen. Plus, Massa is on a slight roll, having moved up one place in the rankings, from ninth to eighth after the U.S. Grand Prix this past Sunday. Massa still has a chance to overtake Jenson Button for seventh place in the overall season standings, but time is running out.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. Even though he’s 24 points behind Lewis Hamilton and likely out of the championship hunt, this is no time for Rosberg to give up and concede the title to his teammate. Rather, Rosberg has to go out in each of the two remaining races and compete as if there’s still a championship to be won. He needs to make it as tough as possible on Hamilton to earn it.

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.”