Lewis Hamilton holds off Max Verstappen to capture F1 season opener in Bahrain

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain
Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SAKHIR, Bahrain — Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton just held off Max Verstappen to win the Bahrain Grand Prix season opener and clinch his 96th career victory Sunday.

The race was effectively decided when Verstappen overtook Hamilton with four laps remaining but went too wide on a turn.

Verstappen was instructed by his team to give Hamilton the position back, as he risked a time penalty from the race stewards, who had been enforcing track limits during the race at the exit of Turn 4 where Verstappen made the pass.

Verstappen still had a few more opportunities to catch Hamilton, and he almost did, finishing just 0.74 seconds behind the Mercedes driver.

“What a difficult race that was. Max was all over me at the end and I was just about able to hold him off,” Hamilton said. “I knew he was going to catch me and I thought it was going to be impossible to keep him behind … That was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while. I love the challenge.”

Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, took third but finished 37.383 seconds behind because of a late pit stop for new tires that allowed his Mercedes to set the fastest lap of the race.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was fourth, followed by Sergio Perez in his Red Bull debut. Perez started from the pit lane because of prerace mechanical problems, but Verstappen’s teammate was voted the Driver of the Day after overcoming adversity.

Verstappen took a superb pole position Saturday, the fourth of his career, and started immediately ahead of Hamilton, who used an early pit stop to seize the lead.

The race then turned into a strategy battle with Hamilton maintaining a 9-second advantage after Verstappen made his last pit stop with about 15 laps remaining. Despite tires with about 10 more laps of wear, the Mercedes driver managed to set a quick enough pace that prevented Verstappen from retaking the lead.

“It’s a shame but you also have to see the positives,” Verstappen said. “We are really taking the fight to them, and I think that’s great to start the year like that.”

The rest of the top 10 were: Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo (in his McLaren debut), Carlos Sainz Jr., Alpha Tauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll.

It was a miserable race for Stroll’s teammate, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. After sustaining a five-spot grid penalty, Vettel was penalized for spinning Esteban Ocon and finished 15th.

In his return to F1 after a two-year absence, Fernando Alonso failed to finish because of suspension trouble in his comeback with Alpine.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)