MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Russian GP

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The Russian Grand Prix moves forward from its usual October date – hard to call something “usual” if it only has been on the calendar two years – but it’s still now this weekend in late April and the start of May as a switch in the calendar order.

The only winner in Sochi thus far has been Lewis Hamilton, and if Hamilton wins his third Russian Grand Prix on Sunday, that will be a switch in the racing order thus far in 2016: he’s in dire need of a victory to stop the surge of momentum Nico Rosberg has entering the race.

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith and I have, as usual, made our picks for the weekend which are below. Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments.

The Chinese Grand Prix weekend is live across NBCSN, CNBC and Live Extra this weekend, with CNBC airing live qualifying and the race:

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Rosberg may be on a roll, but I’m tipping Lewis Hamilton to finally chalk up his first win of the season this weekend in Sochi. The Briton has never been beaten around the street circuit, winning in 2014 and 2015, and will have a point to prove. A clean weekend should see him come roaring back into the title race ahead of F1’s return to Europe.

Surprise Finish: Daniil Kvyat – Kvyat’s charge to third place in China two weeks ago did a great deal to dispel any concerns about his ability as we saw him stoke the fire of an unlikely rivalry with Sebastian Vettel thanks to an aggressive pass at Turn 1. With Red Bull flying high and home support to cheer him on, let’s see Kvyat lead the charge behind the Mercedes-Ferrari edge up top.

Most to Prove:
Lewis Hamilton – Picking the same person twice is allowed on the MST picks, right? Hamilton arrives in Russia with so, so much to prove. Sochi has been one of the biggest turning points in his title chases the past two years, and it needs to be again here. A seventh straight defeat to Rosberg and slipping more than 40 points behind in the drivers’ championship may leave him with a mountain that it too big to climb.

Additional Storyline: Haas tries to fire back – China proved to be the end of the honeymoon for Haas in F1. After two outstanding races to start life in F1, both Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean struggled last time out to finish well outside of the points. As life on the grid begins to bite, it’ll be interesting to see how Haas responds this weekend.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Since I’m batting 0-for-3 this year in the “race winner” predictions and since I’m sure Nico Rosberg is reading this (sarcasm mode off), you can go ahead and pick Rosberg to make it four in a row. So why am I going with Lewis? I’ll sound like a broken record but it’s almost desperation time for the three-time World Champion as he cannot afford to lose further ground this weekend. The only driver to have won in Russia does so again.

Surprise Finish: Sergio Perez – The driver who made the podium last year here is optimistic that he and the Sahara Force India team will halt their early season skid; it’s the 100th Grand Prix weekend appearance for both he and teammate Nico Hulkenberg. I doubt there will be a podium encore but a solid sixth or fifth seems achievable. That would be a good result for Perez and the team.

Most to Prove: Daniil Kvyat – For the first time in his three home Grands Prix, the now 22-year-old Russian actually has the weight of expectation on his shoulders heading into Sochi. A star qualifying turn with Scuderia Toro Rosso two years ago didn’t bring points and last year the Red Bull package wasn’t up to par. With a good car and the momentum of his first podium this year in China, will Kvyat rise to the expectations?

Additional Storyline: Intra-team battles starting to emerge – With the midfield as close as it is, it’s starting to be interesting who’s emerging within teams as we get to Russia and then to the heart of the European season. Felipe Massa has finished higher than Valtteri Bottas, for instance, in all three races for Williams and the Max Verstappen vs. Carlos Sainz Jr. battle is one to watch at Toro Rosso.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
James Gilbert/Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”