Rosberg fends off late Ricciardo charge for Singapore GP victory

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Nico Rosberg moved back into the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time since the middle of July by taking a hard-fought victory in Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, his eighth of the 2016 season.

Rosberg appeared to have the race sewn up after the leading drivers came in for their second pit stops, the idea being his rivals would go to the end of the race on the soft tire.

However, when Mercedes opted to bring Lewis Hamilton in for a third stop late on, it set off a chain reaction that allowed Ricciardo to go on a late charge, catching Rosberg at multiple seconds each lap on fresher, quicker tires.

Late traffic stunted Ricciardo’s charge, though, leaving him just a second shy at the flag as Rosberg clinched his first Singapore win.

The start saw Rosberg make a perfect getaway from pole, retaining his lead ahead of Ricciardo and Hamilton. Max Verstappen dropped back after a tardy start, but was fortunate to continue after Nico Hulkenberg smashed into the wall on the main straight after contact with Carlos Sainz Jr. The incident sparked an immediate safety car period as the debris was cleared.

Swift work from the marshals ensued the race could resume on lap three, with Rosberg immediately opening up a lead over the chasing pack. Despite being warned about his brake management by Mercedes, Rosberg was able to pull out a seven-second lead over Ricciardo in second through the first stint of the race.

Ricciardo was the first of the leading drivers to pit, coming in at the end of lap 15. Hamilton followed him into the pits line astern, with the two drivers opting for different strategies. While Red Bull handed Ricciardo another set of super-softs, Hamilton took on soft tires, allowing him to go for a longer second stint. Hamilton was less than impressed, though, telling his team: “I needed a strategy that could get me past!”

Rosberg followed suit one lap later, retaining his advantage over Ricciardo despite Mercedes’ pit crew costing him a couple of seconds while attaching his front-right tire. Now on the soft tire, Rosberg knew that Ricciardo would have the pace advantage through the next stint of the race.

Ricciardo put his super-soft tires to good use, eating into Rosberg’s lead while opening up a gap of over 10 seconds to Hamilton behind. The Briton now found himself falling into the clutches of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who moved to within a second on the super-soft tire.

Another battle raging on through the second stint of the race was between Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen, the pair who swapped seats earlier in the year. Kvyat refused to let Verstappen past, forcing the Dutchman wide on a number of occasions with some hard but fair moves. Verstappen was left frustrated and eventually came in for a set of super-softs without having passed Kvyat, the Russian scoring a moral victory in their scrap.

Ricciardo managed to whittle the gap to Rosberg down to less than four seconds, but his super-soft tires began to wear as the race passed half-distance, allowing the leader to pull away again. Red Bull opted to cut its losses and bring Ricciardo in at the end of lap 32 before the gap grew too big, fitting him with soft tires that would take him to the end of the race.

Mercedes reacted immediately to Red Bull’s move, bringing Rosberg in one lap later to also take a set of soft tires. Further back, Hamilton’s difficult weekend continued as he locked up and allowed Raikkonen to move up into third place. The pair pitted within a lap of each other, Raikkonen retaining his advantage heading into the final stint.

With the threat of Red Bull’s tire strategy options now seen off, Rosberg found himself five seconds clear of Ricciardo up front with just over a third of the race to complete, knowing that so long as he kept his cool, a maiden Singapore victory was his to take.

Things soon became a little less predictable though. Keen to become the first team to take a one-two finish in Singapore, Mercedes rolled the dice in a bid to get Hamilton up the order. The three-time world champion was told he had been moved onto ‘Plan B’ and to push hard, catching Raikkonen quickly, before diving in to the pits with 16 laps to go for a set of super-soft tires.

The move piled pressure on Ferrari, who decided very late on to mirror Hamilton’s move and bring Raikkonen in one lap later. A rapid out-lap from Hamilton meant Raikkonen emerged from the pits staring at the Mercedes’ diffuser – the undercut had worked perfectly for Mercedes.

Inspired by Hamilton’s move, Red Bull opted to bring Ricciardo in one lap later for super-soft tires and make life difficult for Rosberg at the front. Mercedes gave Rosberg the hurry-up, only to keep him out and not mirror the rest of the field, believing his 25-second lead to be enough to get to the end of the race.

Ricciardo quickly began to ramp up the pressure on Rosberg, running almost three seconds per lap quicker heading into the closing stages, setting up a nail-biting finish.

Ricciardo managed to close to within five seconds of Rosberg entering the final few laps, only for traffic to get in his way and give Rosberg some breathing space once again.

The pair crossed the line separated by less than half a second, but it was Rosberg who finished ahead to record his third straight victory and re-take the lead of the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton rounded out the podium in P3, fending off Raikkonen in the fight to the line, but now trails his Mercedes teammate by eight points in the drivers’ championship.

Sebastian Vettel perfected his strategy to charge from 22nd on the grid to fifth at the flag, while Max Verstappen ended up sixth for Red Bull.

Fernando Alonso was McLaren’s sole point-scorer in P7, finishing ahead of Sergio Perez who failed to make an aggressive two-stop strategy work.

Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen both ended their barren runs of form to finish ninth and 10th respectively. For Kvyat, P9 marked his best finish since he hit the podium in China, while Magnussen’s point was Renault’s first since Russia.

Esteban Gutierrez finished 11th once again for Haas ahead of the Brazilian pair of Felipe Massa and Felipe Nasr. Carlos Sainz Jr.’s race was ruined early on by a barge board issue, leaving him to finish 14th ahead of Jolyon Palmer. Pascal Wehrlein was 16th for Manor ahead of Marcus Ericsson and teammate Esteban Ocon.

Valtteri Bottas was forced to retire from the race early after an issue with his seatbelt and a minor engine problem, while Jenson Button also parked up in the McLaren garage with 18 laps remaining.

Romain Grosjean’s miserable weekend ended early after a brake problem on his Haas VF-16 car prevented him from starting the race.

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500