Hamilton wins wet and wild Brazilian GP to take F1 title fight to Abu Dhabi

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Lewis Hamilton continued his supreme end-of-season form by winning a wet and wild Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, setting up a Formula 1 championship showdown in Abu Dhabi with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

In a race that finished over three hours after it started and featured two red flags and a very emotional goodbye to local favorite Felipe Massa, it was Hamilton who kept his cool and emerged with his first Brazilian Grand Prix victory.

Rosberg was unable to match his teammate for pace throughout, instead finding himself at loggerheads with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for most of the race before crossing the line second.

It may have been another Mercedes one-two, but the seemingly routine result came about in one of the most unpredictable grands prix in F1’s recent history.

Overnight rain had extended throughout the morning and early afternoon, leaving the track drenched ahead of the start at Interlagos. The stewards took the decision to delay the green flag by 10 minutes, before then opting to send the field on its way behind the safety car, fearful of a repeat of Romain Grosjean’s sighter lap crash.

After eight laps behind the safety car, Hamilton led the field across the line to take the green flag and get the race underway. The Briton nailed the restart, allowing him to forge an early lead over Rosberg, while Max Verstappen shot his way up to third by diving down the inside of Raikkonen at Turn 1. Verstappen quickly set his sights on Rosberg in second, reeling the Mercedes driver in through the spray.

Further back, Renault’s Kevin Magnussen was the first driver to roll the dice and move onto intermediates, pitting at the earliest opportunity. The Dane immediately matched the pace of the midfield runners, sparking a mad dash to pit lane for the rest of the pack in the laps that followed. Rosberg told Mercedes that it was “way too early” to consider a switch, an assertion that was justified when Sebastian Vettel spun while still running on full wets in the final sector, causing him to fall down the order.

The safety car was deployed on Lap 13 following a shunt for intermediate-shod Marcus Ericsson in the final sector that ruined the front-end of his Sauber. The Swiss driver’s car floated across the track after the crash, causing him to come to rest across the entry to the pit lane. Max Verstappen was forced to take evasive action when coming into the pits for intermediates, with the stewards moving quickly to declare pit entry closed. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo followed him in soon after, well after the stewards had issued the call.

With the field now bunched, all eyes were on the sky once again as most of the teams reported that more rain was due to fall. The battle for the strategists was now deciding whether to stick it out on wet tires and hope for more rain, or make the switch to intermediates and be prepared for an additional stop.

The race returned to green on Lap 20, but was immediately thrown back under the safety car when Kimi Raikkonen spun out on the main straight, hitting the wall on both sides of the track. Thankfully, the cars behind avoided the Ferrari driver, but with debris strewn across the track and the rain only growing heavier, the stewards had no decision but to red flag the race. In the same lap, Jolyon Palmer also ran aground of Daniil Kvyat, which forced the Renault driver out.

Under the red flag, the stewards confirmed that Ricciardo had been given a five-second time penalty for entering the pit lane while closed, with the same sanction applied to Massa for passing a car before the green flag at the first restart.

The race resumed behind the safety car after a 25-minute wait with all drivers now running on the full wet tires, as mandated by Pirelli. Esteban Ocon reported that visibility was still as poor as it had been when the race was stopped, while Force India informed Sergio Perez that rain was expected to continue for another 50 minutes and grow harder during that period.

After eight laps behind the safety car, the race was red flagged for a second time, forcing the drivers to return to the pits.”The track is fine!” reacted an irked Hamilton as he led the field back to the pits for another wait.

Despite there being no noticeable break in the weather, the stewards gave the drivers the green light to head back out on-track after another 25-minute wait, once again sending them away behind the safety car. With the rain expected to only grow heavier, most were now braced for a time-limited race.

A three-lap run behind the safety car followed before the call the grid had been waiting for: the race would resume on Lap 32. For the third time in the space of two hours, Hamilton led the pack across the line to take the green flag.

Rosberg once again failed to get close to Hamilton for the restart, causing him to fall into the clutches of Verstappen in third. With supreme confidence coming down the hill in the first sector, Verstappen got on the power early before blasting past Rosberg, leaving the German with a face full of spray and in third place.

Verstappen continued to put his foot down to keep up with Hamilton as the rest of the field continued to fall away from the leaders, but overstepped the mark coming through Turn 13. The Red Bull driver went off-line at the final corner and touched the white line, sending him into a spin that he remarkably kept out of the fall; even more impressive was the fact he could still keep Rosberg behind.

With conditions remaining stable, a number of drivers rolled the dice and made the switch onto intermediate tires, with Ricciardo being the first to light the timesheets purple with fast times. Verstappen was the first of the leaders to make the switch at the end of Lap 44, but with Button coming in one lap later to move back to wets, and with Rosberg going sideways through the final sector also on wets, it was clear that weather forecasts were split throughout the paddock.

The safety car was called for once again at the end of Lap 48 when Felipe Massa’s final home grand prix came to a premature end after he slid into the wall in the final sector. The Brazilian was visibly upset when he emerged from his car to greet the cheers from fans watching, before taking a moment to hold a Brazilian flag aloft and thank the crowd. Upon returning to the pit lane, he was greeted by a guard of honor from Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams, before bursting into tears when embracing his wife and son who came to meet him.

The biggest loser from the safety car was Hamilton, who saw his 25-second lead wiped way and now had Rosberg on his tail once again. The rain grew heavier once again, forcing Ricciardo to come in for full wet tires and again raising the question of a possible red flag. With Lap 54 completed and the 75% race distance hit, full points would be awarded if the race were abandoned.

Verstappen was left with no choice but to get rid of his intermediate tires, the earlier stop backfiring as he swapped back onto the wets and dropped all the way down to 16th. The rain remained torrential, but the stewards gave the call for the race to resume on Lap 56 with just over 20 minutes left on the clock.

Hamilton was again able to pull clear with relative ease, dropping Rosberg into the clutches of Sergio Perez, who had risen through the order to run third following Verstappen’s stop. The German was able to create a gap in the laps that followed, tightening his grip on P2, although his teammate had once again shot off into the distance.

Despite varying levels of rain in the closing stages, Hamilton kept his cool to cross the line after 71 laps – completing the full race distance with just minutes to spare of the two-hour time limit – and record his first Brazilian Grand Prix victory.

The result ensures that Hamilton can still win a fourth F1 drivers’ title in 2016, with the gap to Rosberg heading into the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi standing at 12 points. Should Rosberg finish on the podium at Yas Marina, he will win a maiden title.

Verstappen fought his way back from his pit stop under the safety car to take a remarkable podium, scything through the field on his fresher wets with a confidence far greater than his 19 years. A pass on Sergio Perez with three laps to go sealed P3, breaking the Mexican’s heart and leaving the Force India driver to settle for fourth place.

Sebastian Vettel took issue to Verstappen’s overtake in the closing stages, but managed to keep his cool and secure fifth at the checkered flag following a late pass on Carlos Sainz Jr., denying the Spaniard a career-best result as he ended up sixth.

Nico Hulkenberg put on a late charge for Force India, finishing seventh ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, while Felipe Nasr scored two crucial points for Sauber by finishing ninth, lifting the team above Manor in the constructors’ championship with a result that could be worth millions of dollars.

Esteban Ocon led Manor’s charge and dallied with the points, only to be passed by Fernando Alonso in the final five laps and eventually have to settle for P12 behind Valtteri Bottas also. Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen were P13 and P14, while Pascal Wehrlein ended up 15th ahead of Jenson Button.

A deep dive into the new GR Cup as Toyota branches into single-make sports car racing

Toyota GR Cup
Swikar Patel/Toyota Racing Development

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Inside this former textile mill, a retro building built in 1892 with massive floor-to-ceiling windows and sturdy brick, Toyota has planted a future seed with the GR Cup.

Once a hub for making cotton dye, the first floor has been turned into a factory that churned out spec sports cars for the past year as Toyota Racing Development prepares to launch its first single-make series.

The inaugural season of the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the first of seven SRO-sanctioned events (each with two races) featuring a field of homologated GR86 production models that have been modified for racing with stock engines.

Under the banner of its Gazoo Racing (a high-performance brand relatively new to North America but synonymous with Dakar Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah), Toyota will join Mazda, Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini as the latest automaker to run a single-make U.S. series (with Ford recently announcing plans for its own in the near future).

It’s grassroots-level amateur racing for manufacturers that are accustomed to racing at motorsports’ highest levels, but there are many benefits through competition, driver development and marketing despite the lower profile.

“It’s not the easiest thing or cheapest thing to do,” TRD executive commercial director Jack Irving told NBC Sports. “But there’s massive value to be a part of it and have our DNA in the cars. You get to race a bunch and get a bunch of data. You get to engage directly in feedback from the people beating those cars up.”

The GR86s being raced are very similar to the street versions that retail for about $35,000 at dealerships that annually sell several thousand.

“It’s a test of the car and your design,” Irving said. “We take an engineered vehicle designed to spec for the road and then apply our resources to make it race ready. Some of those things cross over.

The first floor of Toyota Racing Development’s Mooresville facility that finished the vehicles for the new GR Cup (Swikar Patel/TRD).

“Everyone approaches it differently. It’s a marketing piece for us. It’s a development piece for drivers. We’re supporting grass roots racing. This is a very long-term deal for us. This isn’t something we’re doing two years and done. It’s got a long-term vision. There’s big value in it, and there’s a lot of responsibility with that, too.

“You’re ultimately supporting it. You’re not just selling cars into a series and hoping it goes well. You have to be involved in a very material way to make sure it goes off well and has your fingerprints and represents the brand.”

Early indications have been solid. The GR Cup cars were rolled out on iRacing in January and immediately became one of the platform’s most popular vehicles (with 212-horsepower engines, the cars handle well and are difficult to spin).

TRD’s GR86 factory floor (Swikar Patel/TRD).

TRD has sold 33 cars for GR Cup with 31 racing in Sonoma, easily surpassing initial expectations.

“Our target was to sell 20 cars in the first year, and we could have sold 50 if not for supply chain issues with some vendors,” TRD president David Wilson told NBC Sports. “We basically came up with the idea of taking the GR86 and looking at what it would take to turn that into a little race car and do it affordably and competitively, and what’s come along with that is just a tremendous interest level. It seems like a market that perhaps has been underserved right now.”

Here’s a deeper look at the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup and how the manufacturer built the new series:


The race cars start as production models that are shipped directly from the factory in Japan to a port in Charleston, South Carolina. After being trucked to the Mooresville facility, they are stripped and sent to Joe Gibbs Racing to be outfitted with a roll cage.

Upon return to TRD, the transmission and stock engine is added. The body remains virtually the same as the street version with a slightly altered hood, decklid and splitter for ride height and aerodynamics.

Jack Irving (Swikar Patel/TRD)

The cars mostly are customized to help manage the heat – the stock versions aren’t designed to handle the oil that sloshes around in the high-speed left- and right-hand turns on the road and street courses of the GR Cup schedule. TRD puts about two dozen parts on the cars, using Stratasys 3-D Printers to manufacture many on site (which allows flexibility for adjusting on the fly during R&D). In addition to help with cooling, many of the tweaks focus on allowing a limited number of setup changes.

“You don’t have a lot of ability to adjust these cars,” Irving said. “It was done on purpose. The intent was you have three spring sets, and you can adjust the shocks and do air pressure. That’s it. We seal the engine and components of it. We dyno everything. Everyone is within range to create as consistent a series as we can.

“Some of that is to mimic what Mazda did. They’ve done a really good job with their series. Porsche, Ferrari and other OEMs have done it very well. We had a learning that was easier to go through their book and see the Cliffs Notes version to get where we are.”

After taking delivery, GR Cup teams are responsible for transporting the cars to each track (and can buy up to three sets of Continental tires per event). Toyota brings two parts trucks to each track


After Sonoma, the GR Cup will visit Circuit of the Americas (May 5-7), Virginia International Raceway (June 16-18), the streets of Nashville (Aug. 4-6), Road America (Aug. 25-27), Sebring International Raceway (Sept. 22-24) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Oct. 6-8).

Though Nashville (IndyCar’s Music City Grand Prix) and Indy (SRO’s eight-hour Intercontinental Challenge) are part of weekends with bigger headliners, the GR Cup mostly will be the second-billed series (behind SRO’s Fanatech GT World Challenge) for events that will draw a few thousand. Sonoma had a crowd of about 4,000 last year, and SRO Motorsports America president Greg Gill said its events draw a maximum of about 13,000 over three days.

“There are some iconic venues, and the SRO it’s not IMSA,” Wilson said. “It’s got a different feel to it. It’s not the show. IMSA is kind of the show. I actually think it’s a good place for us to start, because it’s a little bit under the radar relatively speaking. It’s not a venue where you see the grandstands full of fans. It’s very much racers and their families. It’s got a neat vibe to it because it’s kind of small. So for our first effort as a single-make series, it’s the right place for us.”

Toyota GR Cup
The interior of the GR86 that will be raced in the GR Cup (Swikar Patel/TRD).

Though the attendance will be much smaller, Toyota still is bringing a large hospitality and marketing activation area with two 56-foot trucks that will provide a central gathering area for the series.

Teams’ entry fees will include meals there and provide a place to connect with Toyota engineers and other officials.

“I think we have a very different way of engaging with our group of drivers, and this series is similar to that,” Irving said. “Knowing that this isn’t going to get 100K people watching, but we want to have a direct connection with the drivers and understand their feelings about car, how do we make it better and empower them to be brand ambassadors for GR.”


Toyota has positioned the GR Cup as filling a price gap between the Mazda MX-5 Cup (a spec Miata Series known for high-quality racing at very low costs) and the Porsche Carrera Cup

“If you look at the ladder of MX5 to Porsche Cup, the difference in cost is massive,” TRD general manager Tyler Gibbs told NBC Sports. “We slot in closer to Miata than Porsche. We’ll slot another car in potentially in the future above that. It’s a good place for us from a price point perspective. Our road car is slightly more expensive than a Miata, so it makes sense our performance on the car is higher than Miata.”

A GR Cup car will cost $125,000. Full-season costs will vary depending on how much teams spend on equipment and transportation with estimates from $15-35K per event. So a competitive full season probably could be accomplished in the $250,000-$300,000 range.

Toyota GR Cup

“The goal was if you can ‘Six Pack’ it like Kenny Rogers and throw it in the back of a trailer, that would be amazing for us,” said Irving, referencing a movie about being an independent racer in NASCAR. “That would make it more of what we hoped it would turn into, just being as accessible as we possibly can make it.”

Toyota has tried to bridge the gap by posting a purse of $1 million for the season. Each race pays $12,000 to win (through $5,000 for eighth) with the season champion earning $50,000.

“Our hope was if you won, the prize money would cover the cost of that weekend,” Gibbs said. “We’re not all the way there. But almost there.”

Toyota also has posted an additional $5,000 (on top of prize money) to the highest-finishing woman in every race (which dovetails with SRO’s 50 percent female-led executive team structure).

GR86 Manufacturing at GRG before the first 3 cars are picked up.
—Swikar Patel/TRD

“If you’re a female driver who wins, you could get very close to sustainable” and cover a team’s race weekend costs, Irving said.

There are four women (Mia Lovell, Toni Breidinger, Cat Lauren and Isabella Robusto) slated for the full schedule.

The 31 cars will be fielded across more than a dozen teams including Smooge Racing (which fields GT4 Supras in SRO) and Copeland Motorsports (with Tyler Gonzalez, a four-time winner in MX-5 Cup). After a test last month at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, teams began taking delivery on Feb. 24.


Toyota fields Lexus in the GT categories of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship but elected to go with the SRO Motorsports Group (“SRO” stands for Stephane Ratel Organization; Ratel is the founder and CEO) as the sanctioning body for the GR Cup.

With a heavy focus on GT racing, SRO’s marquee events are 24-hour races at the Nurburgring in Germany and Spa in Belgium. In the United States, SRO primarily is focused on GT3 sprint racing, and Gill said it’s viewed as a “gateway to IMSA” and its endurance events.

In choosing SRO, Gibbs said “the schedule was a big part of it.” GR Cup races will be held almost exclusively on Saturday and Sunday mornings in a consistency that would have been difficult with IMSA (which runs a greater volume of bigger series).

“Our people can show up Friday, race Saturday and Sunday and be on the way home Sunday afternoon,” Gibbs said. “For our customer for this car, that was important. They still have jobs and particularly the younger drivers have to go to school. The SRO really fit us. They were very interested.”

Irving also was drawn to SRO’s flexibility with digital media right and free livestreams of races that Toyota can use on its platforms.

Toyota GR Cup
The SR86 in testing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (TRD).

Said Irving: “It’s hard to get a schedule that made sense and having a break between races so an amateur can repair their cars and have a month to regroup was a big deal. The long-term vision of SRO was a big part of that. IMSA runs a lot of classes. How we fit in was difficult. Would they have done things to make it work, yeah. But they just didn’t work for the vision we were doing. This is its own thing for us.”

Gill said the SRO is focused on “customer racing” that balances individual interests against factory programs – while still putting an emphasis on the importance of manufacturers such as Toyota.

“We were very impressed with the development of sports car racing at Toyota and what they wanted to do for the brand and the very strategic way they looked at things,” Gill told NBC Sports. “We had enjoyed real success and had a lot of admiration for the programs that Honda and Mazda developed with sports car racing at the grass roots and entry level. We thought they’d done an excellent job. Toyota has taken it to another level and should be commended because it’s good for the entire industry.”


Irving said Toyota has set a goal of turning Gazoo Racing into the premier performance brand in the United States within a decade, and the GR Cup is part of that thrust.

Gazoo Racing is the baby of Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda, who founded a separate company called “Garage Racing” while racing under a pseudonym for many years.

Toyoda, who eventually would race a Lexus LFA at Nurburgring, eventually transitioned the program into Gazoo Racing (Gazoo translates to photographs in Japanese; Toyoda often took pictures of vehicles he wanted to build and race) as he rose through the ranks of Toyota.

Toyota GR Cup

“The concept of the brand is we’re going to build cars that are fun to drive, not just for accountants,” Gibbs said.
Irving said the intent of GR is “the car is born on track and not the boardroom.” In order to be certified by Toyota for Gazoo Racing, the GR86 had to decrease its lap time by a certain percentage over its street model.

In the long-term, Irving said Toyota could work with another series to adapt the GR86 to endurance races. But in the short-term, there are plans to roll out a “dealer class,” possibly by its COTA round in May.

“That’s our version of a softball league with dealership principals who purchase cars and race against each other,” Wilson said with a laugh. “As competitive as dealers are, we’ll sell a lot of spare parts. It becomes a way to generate competition amongst our dealer body, and we’re going to have some fun with it.”

Toyota GR Cup
Toyota Racing Development’s fleet of GR86s shortly before GR Cup teams began taking delivery (Swikar Patel/TRD).