Rosberg proved his doubters wrong in Austria, but how was the race won?


Following the Chinese Grand Prix in April, I wrote a feature explaining how if Nico Rosberg did not change his mindset, the title race with Lewis Hamilton was already over.

Five races later, the German driver has claimed three wins and two further podium finishes to bring himself to within 10 points of his teammate at the top of the drivers’ championship.

And without question, today’s victory in Austria was Rosberg’s best of the season so far.

The race really hinged on three pivotal moments, all of which swung the race in Rosberg’s favor. However, this was then underpinned by a searing pace and good level of control that allowed the German to claim his 11th career victory.

Firstly, we have the start of the race. Pulling away from pole, Hamilton failed to get a clean start thanks to a supposed clutch setting issue that, according to NBCSN’s Will Buxton, has been blighting the Briton since Spain.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Rosberg had no such problems, though, getting on the inside for the first corner to force Hamilton to back out and settle for second place heading on the run up to turn two.

The defending world champion had no plans to remain there for long, though, and was side-by-side with Rosberg at the second corner as he tried to hang his Mercedes around the outside. Yet again though, Rosberg was able to hold his line and retain first place, even if Hamilton remained just behind.

Then came the second big moment: Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso’s hefty crash at the second corner. The severity of the incident was made obvious by the finishing position of the cars, and although both thankfully walked away unharmed, the safety car had to be deployed to allow the mess to be cleaned up.

As a result of the safety car, the early battle between Rosberg and Hamilton was curtailed. On the restart, Rosberg had the measure of his teammate and was able to eke out a steady lead throughout his stint, even if his tires did begin to give way before his pit stop.

Finally, we have Hamilton’s mistake at pit exit following his stop for fresh tires on lap 35. The Briton put two of his wheels over the white line on the track, prompting the stewards to hand him a five second penalty that would be added to his final time. By this point, the fight was over.

The third part of this is perhaps the most important, particularly when you consider the worry that Rosberg had at the end of the race with the vibration on his front-right tire. Had Hamilton not needed a five-second lead over Rosberg, would he have pushed to take the lead?

Yes, he would have. But it is another matter entirely whether he would have made it past with relative ease. All weekend long, Rosberg had been the man on top. Hamilton had struggled for rhythm at the Red Bull Ring and failed to really worry his teammate, except for in qualifying when his second time in Q3 was enough for pole.

In reality, it was a flawless display from Rosberg. Hamilton’s penalty certainly eased the pressure at the front, but after the early safety car period, Rosberg never looked too worried at the front.

Rosberg now trails by ten points once again, and with three wins in the past four races, he will be hoping to carry this momentum to the British Grand Prix – Hamilton’s home race – in two weeks’ time.

His mindset has most certainly changed, but can Nico really take the fight to Lewis this year? Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff thinks so.

“Like in 2014, we are seeing the advantage swing from driver to driver across the races, and I’m sure they’ll be battling all the way to the end of the season,” Wolff said after the race.

Even without double points to keep the title race alive, Rosberg’s recent form suggests that he could still be within striking distance come the final race in Abu Dhabi.

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”