Hamilton cruises to Japanese GP victory at Suzuka

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Lewis Hamilton took a big step towards winning a third Formula 1 drivers’ championship in 2015 by dominating proceedings en route to victory in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

After seizing the advantage from pole-sitting Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the start, Hamilton never looked back as he led all 53 laps of the race to claim his eighth win of the season.

Rosberg was forced to focus on damage limitation after dropping to fourth at the start, but eventually battled his way up to second place to only lose seven points on Hamilton in the title race. Sebastian Vettel completed the podium as Ferrari failed to replicate its race-winning Singapore pace at Suzuka.

The start saw Hamilton dive down the inside of Rosberg at the first corner, causing the two drivers to run side by side through the first complex of corners. Remarkably, the Mercedes duo made no contact, but Rosberg was forced wide and subsequently dropped down to fourth behind Vettel and Valtteri Bottas.

Further back, contact between Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa left both drivers with a puncture, forcing them to crawl back to the pits for repairs off the line. Fernando Alonso made a great start to jump up to ninth on the first lap, but the Honda power unit’s issues became clear yet again as he quickly began to drop back, prompting the Spaniard to tell McLaren that it was “embarrassing” how he was getting passed.

As Rosberg struggled to keep with Bottas for third place, Hamilton was told to open up his lead at the front of the field to ten seconds across the course of his first stint. Second-placed Vettel was unable to stay with the Briton, leaving him to cover the trailing cars during the first round of pit stops.

Rosberg’s decision to go longer than Bottas during his first stint did not pay off at first as he emerged from the pit lane behind the Williams driver. However, as the German driver pushed on his fresh tires, he pulled off a brave move at the chicane to gain the position, leaving him third with Vettel the next target up the road.

Hamilton had duly delivered the pace that Mercedes had asked for in his first stint, with his lead standing at over eight seconds once he had made his stop.

With Bottas now falling back into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen, Rosberg set his sights on Vettel in second place through the second stint of the race. Ferrari informed Vettel that the German was coming, and told him to try to maintain a gap of two seconds to protect himself from the undercut.

When Rosberg blinked first and made his final pit stop on lap 29, Ferrari moved quickly to bring Vettel in and try to see off the threat from the Mercedes driver. However, a rapid in-lap allowed Rosberg to get the jump on his compatriot, moving himself up to second place.

Hamilton made his final stop of the race on lap 31, and once again returned to the track with a comfortable lead. With Rosberg almost ten seconds down the road, the Briton had the race in the palm of his hand with 20 laps remaining.

Williams’ hopes of getting ahead of Ferrari at Suzuka were dashed when Raikkonen managed to get the jump on Bottas through the second round of stops. The first lap puncture had left Massa at the very back of the field, turning his race into a glorified test session.

Hamilton was able to monitor the gap to Rosberg in the closing stages of the race with relative ease, eking out more and more time before crossing the line to clinch his second Suzuka victory by 18.9 seconds.

Despite coming under pressure from Vettel in the final few laps as he contended with traffic, Rosberg held on for second place to complete a Mercedes one-two and ensure that he left Japan only 48 points behind Hamilton with five races remaining.

In third, Vettel maintained his 100% podium record at Suzuka dating back to 2009, and remains just 11 points shy of Rosberg in the championship standings. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a good day for Ferrari by finishing fourth ahead of Bottas.

Nico Hulkenberg had a quietly impressive race en route to sixth as he led home the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado in P7 and P8. Max Verstappen bounced back from his qualifying stoppage to end the day ninth, leaving Toro Rosso teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. to round out the points in tenth.

Alonso led McLaren’s charge in Japan by finishing 11th, albeit after complaining about his “GP2 engine” as he was easily passed by Verstappen earlier in the race. Teammate Jenson Button had even bigger issues, though, as he ended the day down in P16 ahead of Felipe Massa.

Sergio Perez trailed Alonso home in 12th after making a three-stop strategy work well, edging out Daniil Kvyat, Marcus Ericsson and Daniel Ricciardo in a breathless late battle.

Alexander Rossi won Manor’s intra-team battle once again after teammate Will Stevens suffered a high-speed spin in the closing stages of the race. The American driver will next get behind the wheel of an F1 car for his home grand prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas next month.

After Mercedes slipped up in Singapore, Hamilton led its fightback in style at Suzuka with a peerless display worthy of his two world titles. With 48 points in hand and just five races to go, the Briton will know that it is is championship to lose ahead of the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

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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