Kovalainen finishes fifth on Super GT debut in Japan

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Former Formula 1 driver Heikki Kovalainen made a strong start to his new racing career in the Japanese Super GT series by finishing fifth on debut in the opening round of the 2015 season today.

After spending 2014 in the racing wilderness, Kovalainen confirmed in February that he would be moving to Japan to race in the Super GT championship. The series is one of the most competitive touring car championships in the world.

The one-time grand prix winner is partnering Kohei Hirate in the no. 39 Lexus Team SARD car in 2015, and the duo managed to finish seventh in qualifying on Saturday at Okayama.

In damp conditions in the race on Sunday, Kovalainen and Hirate finished fifth despite having to make an extra stop on most of their rivals after misreading the weather during the race.

The opening round of the season was won by Andrea Calderelli and Ryo Hirakawa in the no. 37 Lexus KeePer TOM’S car, with former GP2 driver Takuya Izawa finishing in second place for Honda.

The next round of the Super GT season takes place at Fuji Speedway in one month’s time.

Sergio Perez wins rain-delayed race in Singapore over Leclerc; Verstappen seventh

Sergio Perez Singapore
Clive Rose/Getty Images,

SINGAPORE — Max Verstappen’s Formula One title celebrations were put on hold after the Red Bull driver placed seventh at a chaotic Singapore Grand Prix, won by his teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday.

Perez’s second win of the season saw him finish 7.6 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. in third place.

Perez was investigated for a potential safety car infringement but still kept the win after a 5-second time penalty for dropping too far back after being warned.

Verstappen had won the past five races but needed to win here and finish 22 points ahead of Leclerc to be crowned champion for a second straight season. That could happen next weekend at the Japanese GP.

Verstappen made a mistake after the second safety car restart, following AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda’s crash on Lap 36. When Verstappen tried to overtake Lando Norris’ McLaren, he locked his tires and needed to pit again.

Leclerc started from pole position with Verstappen going from eighth after a team blunder in qualifying.

The race start was delayed by more than an hour to clear water off the Marina Bay Circuit track following heavy rainfall. Drivers had to finish the 61-lap race within a two-hour window; 59 laps were completed.

Tricky conditions saw the virtual safety car deployed three times and DRS was allowed with about 30 minutes remaining.

Perez made a good start and jumped past Leclerc while Verstappen dropped several places. The first safety car was on Lap 8 when Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo was cut off by Nicholas Latifi’s Williams.

Perez got away cleanly at the restart, while Verstappen climbed into seventh behind Fernando Alonso – whose 350th F1 race ended disappointingly when his engine failed on Lap 21, bringing out the first VSC.

With the track still damp, drivers decided against changing to quicker tires – apart from Mercedes’ George Russell, who struggled for grip.

Hamilton made a rare mistake on Lap 33 and thudded into the crash barrier. Soon after, the leading drivers changed tires in a flurry of stops. They did so just before the safety car was deployed again following Tsunoda’s error.

Verstappen overtook Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin right at the end for seventh place.