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.

INDYCAR: What Drivers Are Saying about Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America

Helio Castroneves leads the field early at last year's IndyCar race at Road America. Photo: IndyCar.
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Here’s What Drivers Are Saying about this Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (courtesy IndyCar Media Relations):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m not shy on saying that Road America is probably my favorite track. I really love racing there. It’s a fun road course with a lot of great INDYCAR fans, so what’s not to love? These cars with the new aero kit have been super exciting on road courses and this weekend will be no different. The entire No. 1 Verizon Chevy team and I are pumped to get on track there. I thought we were strong at Texas after not living up to our standards at Detroit, but we just ran out of luck. Myself and the entire team are ready to really come back strong to gain more points to continue our hunt for another championship.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Road America is a pretty cool track. It is one of my favorite tracks in the world and my favorite track in the U.S. Last year, I had a great weekend there in Indy Lights, winning the first race as well as the pole position. Each time we work together as a team, we are developing the car and getting quicker. I think we might have a great car for this weekend and I’m looking forward to it.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Road America is one of the coolest tracks in North America. It’s the kind of track that lets you really stretch an Indy car’s legs and really push it. We had a solid test in the Arrow Electronics car there last week, but testing is one thing and racing a whole other, so I’m excited to get there and see what we’ve got.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I’m really looking forward to Road America. I think, in the last few races, we’ve shown our potential. We’ve shown that we’re quick. Now we need to try to get back on the podium. Road America is always a fun track, and it’s where I got my first taste of INDYCAR with SPM so I can’t wait to actually race the Lucas Oil car here.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Obviously I’m happy with where the team has been running these past few weekends, but we’ve been there the whole season. We just haven’t shown the results for one reason or another. While most had the weekend off, we had the opportunity to compete again at Le Mans, which is a very special deal. So now we’re back, and after a few short days at home, it’s Road America. We had a great car here last year picking up the win for the No. 9 team, and I’m hoping we can do it again this weekend with the PNC Bank car.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m really looking forward to Road America. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. It’s been a great last few races for the team, and it shows we have the speed in the cars we need in order to win and compete at the front. I hope we can keep up the momentum this weekend with the First Data car. It was nice having a weekend off in the schedule, and the team will be refreshed and ready to attack at Road America.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was awesome to have some time off after the long stretch – especially to spend time with my wife and son on Father’s Day. It was really great for me and the rest of the team. It has been quite a whirlwind for everyone since Indianapolis, so it is nice to have the schedule calm down a bit. Texas was a tough one for myself and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team. It was disappointing but we are ready to bounce back. Road courses are always so much fun and this is definitely one of the most beautiful tracks on the circuit. The fans at Road America are such great INDYCAR fans and I really enjoy meeting them when we’re there. I always look forward to this race and am ready to get back on track there.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I love going to Road America for a number of reasons. It’s a very cool, fast and challenging track. The fan experience is one of the best in America and it’s the closest INDYCAR race to ABC Supply’s headquarters, so I’m expecting to have a lot of support during the weekend.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We tested at Road America and it went well in the end. We didn’t start off the best, but I do think we found a few things that can really help us as we go forward. I am excited for this aero package on a long track like Road America. I think the passing will be great, the cars will look awesome and will be fast! I have spent a ton of time at Road America in my lifetime and just find it to be the best track in this country. I am excited to join my dad and all of my family up there this weekend to enjoy the races just like we always have done growing up! I have always enjoyed the race there and I think that’s why I have had some success. Having said that, a win would mean a ton to me. I would love to get it for my GEHL team this weekend! With GEHL and Manitowoc being so close by, it’s a huge race weekend for us too. I have high hopes for the next eight races. We have had a solid start to the season but no wins. We need wins, we need podiums, and I hope we can make that happen here very soon.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite tracks on the schedule. I have great memories racing there as it’s where I won my first Indy Lights race last season and it’s a circuit I’ve always done well at. We’ve made some great progress so far this year, but have not yet had the chance to show it with a good result aboard our No. 19 Paysafe car. Hopefully, we can change that this weekend and give the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing crew the top result that they deserve.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I’ve been on the simulator twice now learning Road America, which was good as I learned what way everything goes. It looks like it might be quite a tough circuit. There are a couple of blind corners that will be difficult and also some elevation changes. Those always add another element of difficulty into the mix as you have to judge your distance by things other than being able to see where you’re going. It will be nice to get back on a road course after a bumpy street course. Overall, I’m looking forward to Road America. It should be a good challenge.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Road America is always a track I look forward to going to. It’s one of the best venues on our schedule, for sure! I’ve always enjoyed it, ever since I started racing there in Skip Barber, and it’s a great place to drive an Indy car around. It’s the hometown race for our partner Direct Supply and we’re really excited to have them on board. Hopefully, we can get a good finish for them and the whole ECR team.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “We had a nice little break but now I’m fully focused and ready to head to Road America. After having a really great finish at Texas, the entire No. 22 Menards Chevrolet team and I are pumped to go to Road America. It’s one of the most beautiful tracks we get to visit and the racing is also great. I just love road courses. It’s also always great to see so many of our friends from Menards up there, so I’m looking forward to saying hello to a lot of folks. The fans at Road America are some of the best, and I know we’re going to put on a great show there.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “It’s great to come back fully recharged and ready to get after it at the KOHLER Grand Prix. We had a couple of good results earlier this month, and I’m feeling really confident in how this Carlin team is progressing in its maiden Verizon IndyCar Series season. I’ve always enjoyed Road America, since my days in Formula Ford – from the challenges of the course to the camping and fan support, it’s just a classic event on our schedule. I’ve come away with a couple of top-10s here since INDYCAR’s return to the track, and I have full faith in the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet team that we’ll be racing up front on Sunday.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “Road America is a track that has been good to me in the past. My last time there was in 2016 in an Indy Lights car. We set a track record, won the first race and finished third in Race 2. I’m hoping that speed helps us out in the Indy car this weekend. The last two weekends have been good for us, as far as progress as a rookie. We were super competitive at Detroit and ran in the top three at one point in Texas. Hopefully, we can capitalize on that momentum and have a strong finish at Road America to start the second half of the season off strong.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite road courses in the world. I am very excited to be heading there this week as it is also the one track on the schedule that I have a huge amount of history and track time at. We have always had strong pace in Elkhart Lake, but never really gotten a result, so we will be looking to change that this weekend and hopefully close up the gap to the top of the points.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Road America has always been one of my favorite tracks on the INDYCAR schedule. The DHL team had a strong race here last year, so I’m looking forward to building on that and the momentum we’ve had as a team through the last several races.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “We tested at Road America last week and I think the test went well. It was a little confusing as there were two specs of tires and the difference of each was more than expected, but we were able to cover multiple setups and found a good direction.  There were not enough teams to directly compare at the test but we made a good progress, so I believe we should be competitive at Road America. I enjoy driving there so much but I don’t have a strong history at the track. I had a good race in 2016, but an electrical problem blew our race. Road America has a couple of ultra-high-speed corners like the carousel, kink and unsighted Billy Mitchell Bend. They are definitely some of the most challenging corners. The track flows so well and has a combination of a tight bend with a long straight followed by big braking areas that makes a great overtaking opportunity, so the racing is always an exciting one there. That’s one of my favorite parts and the fans are so enthusiastic!  Driving this fast track is just huge fun. Road America is a beautiful, great race course.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “I am very excited for my first Verizon IndyCar Series race this weekend at Road America. We had a great test there last week. I was able to learn a lot about the car and the strong Chevy engine. I am looking forward to getting back in the car on Friday and seeing what we can do this weekend.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “After a much-needed break, I can’t wait to get back to Road America. It’s a track I’ve felt very comfortable with since I started in INDYCAR in 2016 and my results the last two years have shown it with two seventh-place qualifying runs and a top-10 finish last season. The whole Carlin team is really starting to gel and our results just keep improving every race weekend, so I’m hoping we can put together a good run this weekend for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet in Road America and get both cars into the top 10 for both qualifying and the race.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Road America is a track I love racing at. I’ve had many race wins in other series there and it is one of my all-time favorite tracks. I’m really looking forward to getting to race there in an Indy car with Harding Racing and hope to have our best result of the year.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite road courses to drive. The fans there are great and it helps make for one of the greatest settings of the year. Each year, we have a team cookout with my crew where we can just relax after a busy month and a half and reset ourselves for the rest of the season. It would be great to walk out of this weekend with a podium finish for the U.S. Concrete team and continue our forward momentum.”