Hamilton untouchable in charge to Belgian GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship on Sunday by claiming a dominant victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Starting from pole, Hamilton went unchallenged en route to his sixth win of the 2015 season, only losing the lead through the pit stops as Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for second place at Spa.

After coming under increased pressure in recent races, Mercedes stamped its authority on the F1 field once again by easing to another one-two finish.

Ultimately, it was Romain Grosjean who completed the podium for Lotus, scoring his first top three finish since the 2013 United States Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel suffered a tire failure on the penultimate lap of the race.

The first start of the race had to be aborted due to a problem on Nico Hulkenberg’s car, which combined with Carlos Sainz Jr’s issue on the second formation lap meant that just 18 drivers took the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Sainz would ultimately rejoin the race, albeit a lap down.

When the field eventually pulled away, it was Hamilton who made the better start at the front of the field as Rosberg dropped back to fifth. Sergio Perez jumped forward in the Force India, putting pressure on Hamilton at the front before settling down into second place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in third.

As Hamilton began to establish a lead over Perez behind, pulling away at over one second per lap, Rosberg began to fight back. After passing Valtteri Bottas, the German managed to move up into third when Ricciardo made an early pit stop on lap seven. Rosberg recovered P2 when Perez pitted one lap later, but found himself over eight seconds behind his teammate at the front.

Rosberg opted to stay out four laps longer than Perez in a bid to stay ahead of the Mexican driver. He eventually emerged from the pit lane on the medium compound tire in front, moving up to second once Sebastian Vettel had pitted. The gap to Hamilton – who had come in just one lap after Rosberg – in front now stood at just four seconds.

Further back, the race to complete the podium proved to be as close as it was in qualifying as Romain Grosjean joined the fight with Perez and Ricciardo for third place.

Valtteri Bottas had been in the running for P3, but a bizarre mistake by Williams in the pits saw the Finn emerge with three option tires and one prime. The stewards looked dimly on the mistake, handing him a drive-through penalty.

Grosjean seized the initiative in the fight for P3 by making an excellent pass on Perez at Les Combes, leaving the Mexican driver in the clutches of Ricciardo. However, the Red Bull driver’s race soon came to an end when his car lost power at the final corner on lap 20, resulting in a Virtual Safety Car period.

Ricciardo’s car was quickly cleared, allowing the field to get back up to full racing speed just two laps later. Grosjean took advantage of the reduction in speed to make a pit stop, which he hoped would be the last of the race.

Hamilton’s lead had shrunk further by this point, prompting the Briton to suggest to Mercedes that Rosberg had got closer under the VSC when he should have maintained his distance. He soon dug deep and found some more pace, though, extending his lead back out to five seconds before the Mercedes drivers made their final pit stops.

Hamilton was the first to pit, coming in on lap 30 for a set of option tires. Despite requesting to go one lap longer, Mercedes told the leader to stick to their planned race strategy, allowing Rosberg to come in soon after. The German emerged from the pits behind his teammate, setting the status quo that would last until the end of the race.

Behind the Mercedes drivers, Sebastian Vettel had emerged as the leader in the battle to complete the podium after Ferrari opted to roll the dice and try a one-stop strategy. With ten laps to go, Vettel enjoyed a 3.5 second lead over Grosjean behind, but had to keep monitoring his tires in a bid to make it to the end without stopping for a second time.

Drama struck Vettel with just two laps to go at Spa, though. Despite making a good go of getting to the end of the race, it proved to be too much for his right-rear tire which blew on the Kemmel Straight, leaving the German to limp back to the pits after dropping down the order.

At the head of the field, Hamilton had no such concerns. With the gap to Rosberg at a comfortable three seconds, the Briton was able to cross the line after 43 laps to claim his sixth win of the 2015 season and extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship to 28 points.

Rosberg was left to finish the race in second, knowing that his poor start had cost him a shot of taking the fight to Hamilton. Following Vettel’s blow-out, Grosjean completed the podium for Lotus, albeit some 35 seconds behind the cars ahead.

Vettel’s tire failure allowed all of the cars behind to make up a position, resulting in Daniil Kvyat finishing fourth after the Russian made a late charge to pass Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages. They were forced to settle for fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.

Max Verstappen made it a home race to remember as he crossed the line in eighth, having started down in P18. Valtteri Bottas bounced back from Williams’ tire faux-pas to finish ninth ahead of Marcus Ericsson, who rounded out the points for Sauber.

Felipe Nasr finished 11th in the second Sauber, whilst Vettel was eventually classified in P12 following his tire blowout, marking his first finish outside of the top five in 2015. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button made it to the end, albeit a lap down, in 13th and 14th ahead of the two Manor cars.

After thrilling ‘Evel Live,’ Travis Pastrana back in action this weekend

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It’s been 2 ½ months since Travis Pastrana channeled his inner Evel Knievel in “Evel Live” in Las Vegas on July 8.

The legendary motorcycle stunt rider and rallycross driver successfully replicated three of Knievel’s most infamous career motorcycle jumps, capped off by jumping – some would call it flying – over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace.

All without a scratch or any type of malfunction.

“It was awesome,” Pastrana told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview. “Obviously, to do something live, a live stunt which hasn’t been done, is cool.

“And just the nostalgia, to live a day in Evel Knievel’s boots, literally, was awesome. To have the whole Knievel family out there, his three kids, and my mom and dad all out there, it was just a real awesome day.

“And to have the chance to jump the Caeser’s (Palace) fountain, probably the most infamous and iconic stunt location in the world. All that added up to be a really, really great event and I think it came off really well.”

MORE: Travis Pastrana successfully completes all three of Evel Knievel’s most famous jumps

MORE: Travis Pastrana’s goal to replicate 3 of Evel Knievel’s most famous jumps: ‘Try not to die’

LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 08: Travis Pastrana peforms during HISTORY’s Live Event “Evel Live” on July 8, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for HISTORY)

Pastrana spoke at length about the logistics of setting up the three jumps in two different venues, getting from Point A in one part of Las Vegas to Point B (Caesar’s), and dealing with potential weather concerns.

“That’s the greatest part about Nitro Circus (Pastrana’s company) is having an amazing team so that when an idea like this comes up, we can make it turn into fruition and a possibility,” Pastrana said. “The idea came up less than a year before it was pulled off.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of my team and all the guys there. When we called Caesar’s, we thought for sure they were going to say no. Then they said yes.

“Then we talked to the Knievel family and they said, ‘this is going to be great. Go ahead.’ It was like, be careful for what you ask for because it just happened. And then we had a bike just like Evel’s, although a more modern day (version).”

While Pastrana and his team pulled off everything seamlessly, there was a lot of worry and concern, especially on Pastrana’s part, since he was the focal point of the stunt, which was televised live.

“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he said. “And then everything just worked out. It’s what you hope for, for sure. But with every race, every event, everything, there’s always something like a $5 part break in a half-million dollar vehicle. Something always goes wrong.

“The fact that everything went as well as it could – I mean, they were calling for 80 percent chance of rain with wind gusts up to 60 mph (on the day of the event).

“And the storm kind of went 20 miles south, it didn’t get that windy, and you have to think to yourself, ‘Man, that was a live event, and representing Evel Knievel, the stunt man of Vegas, you’ve gotta go for it.’”

Pastrana vowed to perform the stunts rain or shine. But if it had rained, he had his doubts that he’d be able to pull it off.

“Successfully, probably not,” the 34-year-old Pastrana said with a laugh. “That was the thing, what I had said coming up to it.

“When Evel got to Wembley Stadium (to do his infamous 13-bus jump in 1975), he said, ‘Look, the busses are bigger than they are in the U.S., I miscalculated the distance, this bike is not going to go as fast as I thought it would go. I’m not going to make it, but I told you guys I was going to put on a show, and I’m going to deliver.’

“That’s why I wanted to be the guy on this particular stunt. I can’t tell someone else when there are bad conditions or the bike is overheating or something else is going wrong to go, but with Nitro Circus and our history, and his family there, it just has to go, no matter what happens. We were just real fortunate and lucky that it all worked out.”

Pastrana jumped the fountain at Caesars Palace to wrap up a night of replicating three of Evel Knievels most infamous career jumps. Photo: Getty Images.

While he certainly enjoyed doing them, the Annapolis, Maryland native said it’s unlikely he’ll have any more Evel-like jumps in his career.

“This was a perfect storm,” he said. “Everything was just lined up on this one. For me, that was not my last hurrah, if you will, but as far as doing a big stunt, I did my biggest stunt I’ve ever done last year with the double back-flip 360 and kind of realized, you know what, I’ve been lucky long enough, let me just focus on my family.

“But then this came up, and I was like, ‘Put me in, coach.’”

Pastrana returns to the track this Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Nitro World Games at the Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park) near Salt Lake City.

Saturday will feature Nitro Rallycross (NRX) Qualifiers and Heat Races, including some of the biggest names in the sport including Pastrana and rival Ken Block having some “unfinished business,” as well as Scott Speed, Tanner Foust, Patrik Sandell, Steve Arpin, Mattias Ekstrom, Chris Atkinson and Timmy Hansen.

Pastrana and Ken Block have some ‘unfinished business’ in this weekend’s Nitro World Games near Salt Lake City. Photo: Nitro Circus.

On Sunday, the action includes the FMX Best Trick Finals, NRX Semi-Finals and Finals and FMX Quarterpipe Finals.

Among FMX Quarterpipe competitors are Colby Raha, Jarryd McNeil, Axell Hodges, Elijah Aldoff, Corey Creed and Kohl Denney.

And among riders and drivers taking part in the Best Trick Finals are defending champ Harry Bink, along with Pat Bowden, Christian Meyer, Josh Sheehan, William Van den Putte, Blake Williams, and Davi Johnson.

“Having the opportunity to kind of reinvent the sport for the American audience and for the drivers – I mean, we have Talladega-sized berms – right and left turns, dirt and pavement, huge jumps, there’s a triple-crossover,” Pastrana said. “World Games is basically the bigger of international sports. We take the most exciting sports, the biggest air, the least technical … and try to make it even bigger.

“I couldn’t be more excited. I think it’s going to be real exciting for the drivers, lots of options. It’s not a track that’s just built for a one-off event, it’s going to be a permanent place here so people can come out here and practice and keep getting better like European tracks do. So it should be good.”

Pastrana said Nitro Circus does over 70 live shows around the world per year, but he’s also excited about preparing for a lengthy residency in Las Vegas beginning next March.

Given all the things he’s accomplished over his career, Pastrana was asked if there’s anything remaining on his bucket list that he still hopes to do.

“I love racing, I love competing and I feel like I’ve competed in almost everything all over the world,” he said. “But the Daytona 500 is something … and I’ve never done a drag race. So those two would be pretty cool, wouldn’t they?”

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