GP2: Vandoorne fights back to claim Bahrain feature race win

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McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne has made a perfect start to the 2015 GP2 Series season by claiming an impressive victory in the feature race in Bahrain on Saturday, finishing ahead of Rio Haryanto and American driver Alexander Rossi.

Starting from pole position, Vandoorne opted to complete the first stint of the race on the prime tire, but this decision appeared to backfire when an early safety car period allowed the option runners to pit and take what was effectively a free stop.

Fitted with a fresher set of prime tires, Rossi managed to fight his way past the drivers that had opted not to pit, and enjoyed a 25 second advantage over Vandoorne once the Belgian had made his mandatory stop.

However, as the prime runners began to struggle with tire wear at the end of the race, Vandoorne began to bring himself back into contention for the race win, gaining seconds hand over fist with each lap that went by.

With two laps remaining, the ART driver eased past Rossi for the race win, and was followed through by Campos driver Rio Haryanto on the final lap of the race as the American racer dropped to third place at the checkered flag.

By setting the fastest lap of the race, Vandoorne secured the maximum score of 31 points from the first race of the year, living up to his billing as the favorite for the championship.

Three of his possible title rivals – Pierre Gasly, Raffaele Marciello and Arthur Pic – all saw their races come to an early end following a four-car pile up that sparked the safety car period earlier in the race.

Marciello tried to overtake Arden’s Norman Nato into turn eight, only for the French driver to swipe across and try to cut off the Italian’s advances. In doing so, Nato hit Arthur Pic and spun him into the wall and into the path of the incoming Gasly. The result was retirement for all four drivers, and an early blow to their championship aspirations.

GP2 debutants Jordan King and Robert Visoiu both impressed in Bahrain, making the best of their strategies to finish fourth and fifth respectively. Mitch Evans fought through the field to see the flag in sixth place ahead of Nathanael Berthon, whilst Julian Leal will start on reverse grid pole on Sunday after finishing eighth.

“Well, it was a very entertaining race!” Vandoorne said after his win. “I had some overtaking to do. It’s always good to come on top after all those moves.

“It’s been a really good start to my campaign with pole, win and fastest lap. It could not have gone any better.”

Despite being pleased with third place, Rossi admitted that he was disappointed not to have won after leading for so many laps.

“To get this result is a good thing, but when you lead for the majority of the race, it’s quite difficult to accept finishing only third,” the American said.

“But I think we got the best result we could get with the strategy that we chose. In the end, it’s a good race for the team.”

You can watch all of the highlights from GP2 in Bahrain on Monday at 2am ET on NBCSN.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).