Photos courtesy IMSA

Rolex 24: Acura Team Penske debut falls short, but shows great promise going forward

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You could consider Acura Team Penske’s debut in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona like a Silicon Valley startup.

Lots of promise, great talent, strong corporate leadership and plenty of financing – but admittedly a few bugs in its first full test.

Both teams were at or near the front of the pack at the halfway point of the 24-hour endurance race that kicked off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

But issues in the second half of the race knocked both the No. 6 and No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi’s, the latter finishing ninth out of a 20-car field and the No. 6 right behind in 10th.

The No. 6 had an alternator problem that required an extended period of time in the garage, while the No. 7 endured a crash with Helio Castroneves behind the wheel.

Damage was minimal, but the car spun and lost valuable time both on-track and also in the garage.

All-in-all, for a first time effort – both teams finished 15 laps down to the winning entry of the Action Express No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi – was not potentially lower than what both teams hoped for, but they certainly could have finished much worse, as well.

The No. 7 team was comprised of Ricky Taylor, Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves, while the No. 6 roster was Simon Pagenaud, Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Assessing how his teams ran with about an hour left in the race,, team owner Roger Penske told FS1, “I think the race has been amazing, fast cars, everybody’s been racing hard the whole day and night. We had an alternator go out on one of the cars and Helio got hit, but for us, if we can finish the 24 Hours and we know we have some speed in our cars, we’re looking forward to get to Sebring (next race on the IMSA schedule).

“But this is a great test for us, endurance, our pit crews and for Acura to have something as good as they’ve given us is terrific.”

As for the 42-year-old Castroneves, who was making his first start since shifting from a long career in IndyCar to IMSA – he qualified No. 2 on Friday – former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy said he believes his former teammate still has a lot of fuel left in his performance tank as a race car driver, even if it is in a new series.

“Obviously, those guys are in their 40s now, so it’s not going to go on forever in IndyCar,” Tracy told FS1. “The talent level now in the younger guys that are coming up like (Josef) Newgarden, those guys are the best of the best.

“No doubt that Castroneves still has as much speed as anyone out there, he was almost on the pole for this race.

“So, changing from one type of car to another and then immediately almost being on the pole the first race, he’ll continue to run in this until whenever he wants to stop driving. Until he tells Roger (Penske) one day, ‘Hey, I’m going to hang up my helmet,’ he’s got a ride.”

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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