Pole gave Rosberg a psychological boost, but would defeat in Spain cripple his title hopes?

1 Comment

MONTMELO – When Nico Rosberg pulled into parc ferme following qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix on Saturday, a huge amount of pressure had been lifted from off his shoulders.

The German driver dominated qualifying at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Saturday, beating teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second and posting two laps that would have been good enough for P1. For the first time in 2015, Hamilton had been second best.

Rosberg’s performance acted as a reminder of the driver that we saw throughout 2014. Although his race pace may have been lacking in a number of straight fights with Hamilton, he usually had the upper hand in qualifying, claiming 11 poles in total. Arguably, without his good Saturday form, the title would have been less of a close-run thing.

It was Rosberg’s biggest strength, which made his poor qualifying at the start of the 2015 season all the more surprising. The first four races saw Hamilton start on pole each time as Rosberg struggled to find his feet. In Bahrain, he failed to get into the right rhythm in Q2, leaving him uneasy in Q3 and ultimately six-tenths off the pace in third place.

Rosberg’s response on Saturday in Spain was an impressive one though, and the enormity of the result was not lost on the German.

“It’s important for tomorrow’s race because it’s better to start first than second,” Rosberg said. “Psychologically, yeah, it’s good. Feels great. I’m happy, so it’s good for tomorrow.”

If this is such a psychological step forwards for Rosberg, what would be the impact of a defeat on Saturday though?

Rosberg’s frustration came to a head in China when he accused Hamilton of not being a team player and deliberately backing him into Sebastian Vettel in third place during the race. However, his real gripe was not that Hamilton had done so, but that the Briton was even in the position to do it. Rosberg was helpless to stop his teammate from playing the game that way.

It is for this reason that Rosberg needs a strong start from pole position on Sunday. He must hold on to the lead in the opening stages of the race so he can then try to play Hamilton at his own game. That said, Mercedes may be somewhat wary of a repeat given the possibility of either two or three stops, thus allowing Ferrari to try and spring a surprise just as it did in Malaysia.

Although losing from pole would be a big blow to Rosberg, he already appears to have turned a corner. After China, he had to change his approach, and we saw that in Bahrain as he fought past Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen during the race. He may have lost out to the Finn at the end, but Rosberg had made an impression.

All champions have their off weekends, and this might be the case with Hamilton in Spain. It is now up to Rosberg to take full advantage of this and bring himself back in the title hunt.

Defeat would by no means cripple his title chances, but in the psychological battle, it would be a blow to lose to Lewis even when the Briton is not at the peak of his powers. He has to capitalize on the opportunity that has been presented to him today..

The Spanish Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

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

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / 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)