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Verstappen takes Mexican GP victory, Hamilton clinches F1 title

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Max Verstappen dodged an incident-strewn first lap and concerns about his Renault engine to take his third Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth world title in unexpected circumstances.

A clash between Hamilton and F1 title rival Vettel saw both sustain damage and drop to the back of the field early on, scuppering hopes of a fight between them to settle the championship race.

Despite being lapped for the first time in over four years, Hamilton was able to battle his way back to ninth come the checkered flag. With Vettel finishing fourth, the result was enough to confirm Hamilton as champion for a fourth time.

The start saw Vettel make a good initial getaway before having both Hamilton and Verstappen hot on his tail on the long run down to Turn 1, with the trio going three-abreast into the first corner.

Verstappen muscled his way around the outside of Vettel with a side-bump to seize the lead, with Hamilton attempting to follow the Dutchman through. However, his rear-right tire made contact with Vettel’s front wing, leaving him with a puncture and to slow down on-track.

Hamilton was able to nurse his car back to the pits, while Vettel also dived in for a new nose and front wing, leaving the title contenders occupying the bottom two positions after the opening lap.

Vettel and Hamilton fitted soft tires to take themselves to the end of the race, and were quickly handed a position when Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was forced to retire after just five laps due to a turbo issue, having risen from P16 to eighth in the opening stages.

Tensions continued to flare further down the pack as Hamilton asked the Mercedes pit wall if Vettel’s first-lap move had been deliberate, which the stewards did investigate but deemed no action to be worth taking. Vettel, meanwhile, fumed over a strong defensive move by Felipe Massa when scrapping for P15.

Verstappen was able to quickly get his head down and forge an early lead over Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon, who had risen into the podium positions through the first-lap chaos.

Ocon was able to hold on to P3 through the pit stop cycle despite seeing rivals Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez get the undercut and close the gap in the race for the podium. Hulkenberg’s hopes of finally ending his rostrum drought were soon ended though when he suffered a power issue, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.

Hulkenberg was joined on the sidelines just before half-distance when Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley suffered an engine failure – Renault’s third of the race – forcing him out of the race. A Virtual Safety Car was called to allow his car to be recovered, prompting the front-runners to seize the opportunity to pit.

Verstappen emerged from the pit sequence some seven seconds clear of Bottas at the front of the field, with Kimi Raikkonen taking advantage of the VSC to get the jump on Ocon in P3. Vettel (P8) and Hamilton (P16) also came in to ditch their soft tires, taking ultra-softs and super-softs respectively for the second half of the race.

Verstappen’s pace remained relentless at the front despite concerns on the Red Bull pit wall after the trio of Renault engine failures, prompting the engineers to ask the Dutchman to slow down and simply match Bottas’ pace, with his lead now standing at 15 seconds.

By Lap 50, Vettel had battled his way up to seventh for Ferrari with his sights set on Perez and Lance Stroll up the road. Hamilton was still outside of the points, but on-track to clinch the title so long as his rival did not finish in the top two.

The pair continued to make up ground in the laps that followed, with Vettel making slick passes on Perez, Stroll and Ocon, leaving him fourth at the checkered flag behind Ferrari teammate Raikkonen.

However, with Verstappen taking his third F1 victory in style and Bottas finishing P2, Vettel had fallen short of the required result to keep the title race alive, confirming Hamilton as champion.

For good measure, Hamilton also scored the points he needed had Vettel finished second, fighting his way back up to ninth come the checkered flag.

Force India clinched fourth place in the constructors’ championship for 2017 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished P5 and P7 respectively, the pair split by Williams’ Lance Stroll in sixth.

A late scrap in the lower midfield ended with Kevin Magnussen taking an admirable eighth-place finish for Haas on a weekend that saw the American team struggle for the most part, drawing it closer to Renault in the constructors’ standings.

Fernando Alonso was left to go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton through the closing laps, ultimately losing the position with just three laps to go after a tight battle through the opening sequence of corners, leaving the Spaniard P10 at the flag.

More to follow…

IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.