Rosberg focused on himself, not Hamilton, to win first title

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The biggest change for newly crowned Formula One champion Nico Rosberg this year was staying calm despite his often turbulent relationship with rival Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg won his first F1 title on Sunday to end his Mercedes teammate’s bid for a fourth title overall. Hamilton won the race itself but Rosberg’s second place was enough for him to finish five points ahead in the standings.

The German driver focused on himself the whole season, not allowing the frustrations of his rivalry with Hamilton to unsettle him.

“For sure it’s a key ingredient as to why I’m here now. It’s the approach I’ve taken,” Rosberg said. “I’ve really learned to focus hard. It takes a lot of sacrifice to stay so focused for the whole year.”

When Hamilton sealed last year’s title with three races to go at the United States GP in Austin, Texas, he made a dismissive gesture toward Rosberg.

The three podium finishers each get a cap: with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd written on them. Race winner Hamilton tossed Rosberg’s second-place cap toward him with barely a glance in his direction, let alone consoling words.

Rosberg reacted by tossing it straight back at Hamilton even quicker than it had arrived.

Hamilton’s gesture appeared to be one-upmanship, goading right at the precise moment when his teammate was utterly dejected.

“Austin was a horrible experience for me,” Rosberg said.

But getting so irritated that day merely exposed his frustration to the watching world, while Hamilton smiled serenely.

Rosberg showed far more mental strength this year.

Even at pre-season testing in Spain, he seemed different. Less edgy, less verbose, and quietly determined to turn his fortunes around.

All season long he has repeated the mantra of taking it one race at a time.

The clich� from one of the more eloquent drivers became a force field, helping him to block everything else out and stopping him looking too far ahead or thinking too much about Hamilton.

Publicly, at least, he spoke about Hamilton like he would any other driver, rather than the rival haunting his title dreams.

There have been tensions this year.

They crashed on the final lap in a dramatic end to the Austrian GP in early July, when Hamilton was desperately trying to overtake Rosberg. It followed a similar incident on the first lap at the Spanish GP in mid-May – although both went out so neither gained points.

But after what happened in Austria, both were warned by Mercedes that they risked having team orders imposed on them.

Mercedes had seen this before in 2014, when their drivers feuded at the Monaco GP and the Belgian GP.

Tensions were still apparent heading into the final race of 2014 in Abu Dhabi. Before that year’s title decider, Hamilton was asked if there was something he could do to ensure a clean race. He said there was not.

In a flash, Rosberg snapped at the British driver: “Yes, Lewis can do something to keep it clean, which is drive cleanly himself.”

It was Rosberg once again rising to the bait.

But after this year’s incidents, Rosberg reacted in a low-key manner, noticeably steering away from score-settling.

Even in the days before this race, Hamilton was stepping up the mind games, repeating that he thinks he has been the better driver this year and consistently bemoaning his bad luck with engine problems.

If Hamilton’s intention was to dominate the pre-race news conferences before their latest title decider, then he won hands down.

But Rosberg was clearly not interested in engaging in a war of words and, while Hamilton hogged the limelight with his audacious statements, Rosberg sat next to him, cupping his chin on his hand, visibly detached as he looked away into the distance.

If Hamilton’s intention was to undermine Rosberg’s composure, then it failed.

Their rivalry goes back to when they were racing karts against each other as teenage friends and shared rooms together at races.

The two 31-year-old drivers are contrasting characters.

The jet-setting Hamilton has always loved to travel, often using his bright-red Bombardier Challenger private plane.

He has a taste for the high life, with high-profile friends in the music and fashion industry such as singer Rihanna, designer Stella McCartney and model Gigi Hadid.

In contrast, Rosberg, who has a young daughter with his childhood friend and wife, grows and eats his own vegetables.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”