Hamilton, Vettel hail first ’17 wheel-to-wheel battle at Spain (VIDEO)

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel exchanged mutual respect and admiration for each other following their gripping scrap in today’s Spanish Grand Prix, as Hamilton took his second win of the season for Mercedes to match Vettel’s total at Ferrari.

Vettel led away from the start while Hamilton was in behind him. But the two opted for different strategies for when they’d run their one mandatory set of Pirelli’s harder compound, the mediums, during the race.

Hamilton ran them in a middle stint while Vettel ran his for his final stint, opting to run longer to the finish in hopes Hamilton’s softs would fall off and bring him back. Vettel pitted first and Hamilton pitted later in the first stint, which shifted the race a bit.

Vettel lost time on two occasions this race. He was stuck behind Valtteri Bottas, who ran longer on the first stint by more than 10 laps compared to when Vettel first pitted, and while he made it past the Finn it allowed Hamilton to close.

Then when he opted to pit for the mediums, as it came just at the conclusion of the race’s lone Virtual Safety Car, he emerged right alongside Hamilton – which set up their scrap over the next several laps before Hamilton eventually made the pass for the win.

Hamilton and Vettel’s one side-by-side moment into Turns 1 and 2 saw Hamilton go sideways onto the rumble strips, but while the incident was noted by the race stewards, it was not investigated. Hamilton made it past Vettel for the lead on Lap 44 of 66 and that was all she wrote for the race.

Controversy did not reign between these two on the podium, as they hailed their first proper wheel-to-wheel fight this year.

“The team did an incredible job today. That’s how racing should be. That’s as close as it should be, as Sebastian was incredibly close,” Hamilton said. “It was so much fun. The start, I don’t know exactly what’s gone wrong. It wasn’t good enough.

“(On the contact) I think in heat of moment it’s hard to view. I felt I ran out of road, but that’s how racing should be.”

Vettel added, “I was pushing so much. I had a really good start at the beginning. I put the clutch in. We managed to stay ahead in a nice rhythm, but Lewis stayed out longer on the strategy. I knew in the end it’d be crucial.

“I was a bit surprised it was so close. I tried to brake as late as possible. Not sure if we touched but I managed to stay ahead! A car gave me a tow. But when I was alone, he blew past. We tried to stay in the race. Well done to him.”

Vettel explained why Ferrari opted not to go for what was termed “Plan C” – a potential third stop to switch onto another set of softs.

“We had a huge gap to Daniel (Ricciardo), so we could have done anything really,” he said. “Obviously there was a big conversation trying to do something.

“We wondered about Lewis’ tires. But we didn’t have any problems as the track had a lot of rubber at the end, so we didn’t do it.”

Vettel now leads Hamilton by six points, 104-98, after this result.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”