The Final Showdown: Hamilton and Rosberg prepare for one final battle in Abu Dhabi


ABU DHABI – After eighteen races, the 2014 Formula 1 world championship has come down to the final round of the year in Abu Dhabi. It’s the sport’s equivalent of game seven – the decider. Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg, for one last time in this sensational year of racing.

Heading into the final grand prix of the year with a 17-point lead, Hamilton certainly has the upper hand. All he has to do is finish second in Abu Dhabi to be crowned world champion for a second time.

However, on Saturday, Rosberg tipped the scales back in his favor by bagging his eleventh pole position of the season, leaving Hamilton second on the grid. All the German can do today is win. In reality, the fate of the title is out of his hands – it is Lewis who will decide the outcome.

Hamilton looked set to claim pole position in qualifying yesterday after topping FP1, FP2, Q1 and Q2 in Abu Dhabi, threatening to deal yet another blow to Rosberg’s slim hopes of a first world title. In the final shootout for pole though, it was Lewis who cracked under the pressure, making small mistakes on his hot laps to end up second on the grid. These wobbles may give a glimmer of hope to Rosberg, who spoke about the pressure Hamilton is under after the session yesterday.

“Of course, pressure is one of the hopes I have,” Rosberg said. “If Lewis feels the pressure and makes a mistake as a result, that’s the sort of opportunity that I’m looking for and trying to push for.

“I push flat out, all the time to try and keep the level extremely high and that’s all I can do really – go for the win and keep the pressure on.”

And that is all Nico can do today. This is not a ‘winner takes all’ fight, but with our title protagonists starting on the front row of the grid, we are left with a mouth-watering prospect. This is the first time since 2000 that we head into the title decider with the contenders P1 and P2 on the grid, when Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen enjoyed an epic duel at Suzuka. Let us hope that a similar race unfolds this weekend.

The shadow of double points does loom large in Abu Dhabi, but the hope is that it does not overshadow the title race. Up to now, it has not had any impact on proceedings as the title race would have gone to the final race of the year anyway. However, if Rosberg were to win the championship by virtue of the ‘gimmick’ (as John Surtees called it at the beginning of the year), it would raise a few questions about the validity of the win. Would it be a hollow victory?

Nico certainly would be a worthy champion, but there are similarities with his father’s title victory in 1982. Despite winning just one race all year, Keke Rosberg clinched the title in Las Vegas at the final race, finishing five points clear of Didier Pironi, who had not raced in the final four races of the year due to a career-ending injury. Nico has won half as many races as Lewis this year, but with ten second-place finishes to his name, he has been consistent.

The 1988 championship is regarded as a classic due to the intense fight between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren. Senna won the title, but it was only by virtue of the dropped score rule. Had every result counted, Prost would have won it, 105 points to 94. Was Senna an unworthy champion? Certainly not. Nico should not be held in the same regard if he does come out on top today.

The other Senna/Prost comparison will come on the run down to the first corner today. In both 1989 and 1990, the championship was decided by a crash between the title contenders, meaning all was settled by turn one. Lewis was quoted at Monaco as saying that he could do something similar to Senna on the run down to the first corner, but it was never a serious threat – at least we hope not. Although both drivers will want to make a point and rattle their rival today, it must all be kept clean, for the sake of the championship and the sport.

Even with double points, Hamilton heads into the race as the big favorite thanks to Mercedes’ enormous pace advantage over the rest of the field. Although Williams did run the Silver Arrows close in qualifying, hinging Rosberg’s hopes on either Valtteri Bottas or Felipe Massa finishing ahead of Hamilton in the race is risky. In Russia, Bottas nearly scored pole, but was well down in the race on both Mercedes drivers. The same is likely to happen in Abu Dhabi. It’s difficult to see Lewis, under normal conditions, finishing third. Of course though, you can never say never…

Hamilton has long stated that he won’t be changing his attitude for the race – that is, winning is everything – but if second place is enough for him, he must take what is on offer. Trailing Nico home in a processional race may not be the championship finale we want, but it could be what we are left with.

That said, this championship fight has been one of the most intriguing in years – there could yet be one more kick in the tail as the sun sets in Abu Dhabi.

Lewis and Nico, we wish you the very best of luck. Thank you for being the stars of our show in 2014.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)