Getty Images

Vettel relying on Singapore experience to regain F1 lead

Leave a comment

SINGAPORE (AP) With the Singapore street circuit suited to Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is hoping to reclaim the Formula One championship lead from Lewis Hamilton this weekend.

Vettel secured six straight podiums on Singapore’s floodlit Marina Bay street circuit until his run ended with a fifth place last year.

No driver has had more podium finishes in Singapore than Vettel, whose impressive streak at the night race includes three straight wins from 2011-13 during his run of four straight F1 titles with former team Red Bull.

The 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) circuit resembles the Monaco GP in terms of its sinewy layout: A low-speed, hard-braking track favoring maximum downforce and reducing the outright pace of Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Vettel’s confidence will be further boosted by the fact he comfortably won Monaco this year, with Ferrari securing a 1-2 finish and Hamilton in seventh place. Ferrari also clinched 1-2 in Hungary, another track which neutralizes the power of Mercedes.

The last two races of this season, in Belgium and Italy, were more suited to Mercedes and played to Hamilton’s strengths. And he won them to move three points ahead of Vettel in a thrilling title contest.

There are six races remaining after Singapore, a circuit which has caused problems for Mercedes before.

When Vettel won here in 2015 – in his first season with Ferrari – Mercedes stuttered as Nico Rosberg placed fourth and Hamilton retired with engine failure. Although Hamilton won here in 2014, he finished only fifth the previous year, and retired two further times with his previous team McLaren.

“This is a circuit we have found difficult to master,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “On the surface, Singapore is the kind of circuit that should favor both Ferrari and Red Bull.”

There are few places to overtake in Singapore, but one of those is the blistering run into Turn 7.

Drivers must get the timing just right as they approach at a top speed of 320 kilometers (198 miles) per hour before braking heavily down to 120 kph (74 mph). Such a tough corner invariably puts drivers under strain, and Hamilton sustained a puncture and retired after bumping tires with Red Bull’s Mark Webber in 2010.

Drivers must also contend with sweltering humidity, as Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo explains.

“When you stop after the race and the adrenaline decreases you feel it even more,” he said. “After the race I will easily sink five litres of water to rehydrate before I go to bed.”

His teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, prepares for the race by “doing heat training in the sauna and getting ready to sweat.”

Ricciardo arrives in Singapore in very consistent form, with six podiums in the last nine races. After a tough start, punctuated by two retirements in four races, he is hitting peak form.

The Australian driver is growing in stature and arguably has credentials of a future champion, particularly in turning difficult situations around.

In recent weeks, he has demonstrated the full repertoire of his driving skills: brilliantly cutting through the field to finish fourth in Monza two weeks ago, and making an astutely opportunist overtaking move in Spa the race before.

His uncanny ability to sense an overtaking move is among the best, and he feels he has a good chance to challenge for a victory.

“I’ve started second and finished second at this track in the last two years, with fastest lap both times,” he said. “So my aim this year is definitely to start on pole and go one better.”

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

Ker Robertson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?