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Race Weekend Review - May 14, 2017


Formula 1 Gran Premio De España at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Superior race strategy wins the day for Hamilton after Vettel grabs the lead at the start

Sunday, May 14, 2017: We knew that the Spanish Grand Prix was going to be a battle of giants after Lewis Hamilton won the pole with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel alongside on the front row while the teammates, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen were lined up in the second row. In the end, the race result looked a lot like that with Hamilton on the top step of the podium with Vettel alongside while Daniel Ricciardo, who had started in sixth place, was the third-pace finisher, his first podium of the year.

On the start, Vettel charged forward and took the lead from Hamilton – ahead of Bottas, Ricciardo and Perez. Max Verstappen, who had started from fifth on the grid, was already out of the race after a collision with Räikkönen in the first corner.

By lap 10 of the 66-lap race, Vettel had a 2.5-second lead over Hamilton with Bottas starting to fall back in third. Already on lap 13, Vettel was pitting for fresh tires, the team opting to wait until the final stint of the race before they fitted him with the slower ‘medium’ race tires and he dropped to third behind Bottas. Hamilton came in for tires – ‘mediums’ – on lap 21 coming back out in third well behind Bottas (who had not yet pitted) and Vettel. Bottas made his first pit stop on lap 24 and dropped to third out of sight of the front two.

Now Vettel was able to make gains on Hamilton and he started to stretch out his lead – while Hamilton’s pit radio tried to keep his spirits up by reminding him that Vettel would have to run the final stint on the mediums. Vettel had a lead of over 20 seconds when Stoffel Vandoorne and Felipe Massa collided. This left Vandoorne’s McLaren stranded in the run-off area outside a corner so the race officials called for a Virtual Safety Car to slow the race cars while the damaged McLaren was removed.

Hamilton made his second scheduled pit stop under this VSC; he did not lose any places and little time on the road. When Vettel pitted for his tires just after the VSC was withdrawn, he did come back out ahead of Hamilton – but just ahead of him – so close at the pit exit that the stewards were checking out at this manoeuver. Meanwhile Bottas’ Mercedes engine had expired when he was in third place.

After that, with Vettel on mediums, he had to race as hard as he could to hold off Hamilton but it was not good enough. On lap 44, Hamilton made a daring pass and took the lead – a lead he was to hold for the rest of the race. At first Vettel tried to catch up to Hamilton but the gap back from Hamilton grew Inexorably larger as the laps wound down. In the end, Hamilton took the checker by a 3.5-second margin over Vettel. Despite this result, Vettel still leads the championship points standing by six points over Hamilton.

Canadian Lance Stroll qualified 18th in his Williams. In the race, he finished 16th, two laps down, the last of the cars still running at the end of the race.

The next Formula One race will be the Grand Prix de Monaco in Monte Carlo on Sunday, May 28. It will be the first of the trio of classic races run that day – the Grand Prix in Monaco, the 101st Indianapolis 500 at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina.

IndyCar Power INDYGP-17 0437-A

Verizon IndyCar series IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Power overpowers Castroneves’ challenge to win a caution-free race

Saturday, May 13, 2017: After the Formula One USGP went away from Indianapolis, the Speedway was left with a useable road circuit with no major car race event to run on it. In 2014, IndyCar planners – who are pretty much the same people responsible for making the IMS a business success – decided to add a so-called Grand Prix for the Indy cars in the weeks leading up to the fabled Indy 500. Given that Indy car races on road courses seem to be more popular with race fans than the races on ovals (the Indy 500 excepted) it looked like a good idea. And one that might go a long way to compensating for the lack of excitement in the “Month of May” with qualifying reduced to a yawn given that the Speedway struggles to barely meet the traditional number of 33 starters for the 500, making qualifying of little or no significance.

This IndyCar Grand Prix was held on the Saturday of the weekend two weeks before the 500 and it attracted the usual 22 starters. In qualifying, Penske drivers Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden were one-two-three on the grid. Scott Dixon was fourth quickest and he looked like the best hope for a Honda win here against the dominance of the Chevrolet-powered Penske cars. Juan Montoya was back in a Penske car getting acclimatized again ready for his drop-in run in the 500; he qualified fifth, behind Dixon.

Unfortunately, the Indianapolis crowd has not embraced this bonus race at their Speedway. The crowd on Saturday was sparse to say the least. Those who were there in the glory days of hugely popular Indy qualifying weekends would have been amazed to see so few people turn out to see the Indy cars just two weeks ahead of the 500.

The race itself turned out to be a bit processional. It ran the full distance without a single caution. Power took the lead from the green flag. In the previous three years there had always been a messy crash at the first corner after the start. This time, they all cleared it cleanly. Series points leader Sebastien Bourdais’ engine blew on the third lap. Power cruised around in the lead until the first round of green-flag pit stops.

During this pit stop cycle Castroneves emerged as the race leader ahead of Power on lap 24 of the 85-lap race – with Power in second place. On the second cycle of green-flag pit stops, Power paid back his teammate and he regained the lead. And he held the lead over second-place Castroneves through the third and final cycle of green-flag pit stops.

On lap 69, Dixon passed Castroneves for second and, even though he could not catch Power, he held on there in second to the end where he finished some five seconds behind the race winner. Ryan Hunter-Reay had started in eight place in a Honda-powered Andretti car and he worked his way forward in the late stages of the race, passing Castroneves for third on lap 76. Soon after, Simon Pagenauld also got past the Brazilian to set himself up for a fourth-pace finish ahead of Castroneves who had to settle for fifth in the end.

Canada’s James Hinchcliffe qualified his Honda-powered car in tenth place and he ran around in that neighborhood all day, finishing in 13th place. Josef Newgarden who has so much promise of becoming Penske’s new star driver as the now-veteran Castroneves is approaching retirement age, had a disappointing 11th place finish after receiving a total of three penalties for speeding in pit road during the race.

The Grand Prix serves as a prelude to the classic race, the Indianapolis 500, which has become something of a one-day event nowadays. The green flag for the 101st Indy 500 drops on the Sunday before U.S. Memorial Day (May 28).

KS MENCS TruexJr Sticker 051417

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway
Truex out-drives pole sitter Blaney to take the win

Saturday, May 13, 2017: The Woods Brothers driver Ryan Blaney, who has never won a Cup race, started from the pole in Kansas and he led for 83 of the race’s 249 laps but Martin Truex had the faster car in the long runs towards the end of the race and he drove down Blaney to take the lead and went on to win the race. Truex led 104 laps.

Blaney faded to fourth at the finish while Brad Keselowski – who at one point was two laps down – finished second while Kevin Harvick was third. Kyle Busch was fifth while Kyle Larson was sixth. Under NASCAR’s new, convoluted championship points system, Larson still holds the points lead with Truex in second, not that these points mean much given that the championship will actually be awarded on the basis of knockout results in the season-end chase races – and that entry to the chase will be mostly based on “playoff points” and race wins rather than these traditional championship points standings.

There were 15 yellows during the race for a total of 61 laps. And, as if this was not enough delay in the race, the race was stopped under a red flag for nearly half an hour. On lap 200, Joey Logano had a brake rotor explode and it caused him to crash heavily into Danica Patrick – Aric Almirola could not stop and he crashed hard into the stopped cars. They red-flagged the race while they cut Almirola out of his car. He was sent to hospital where he was diagnosed with a compressed vertebra.

After the track went green again after this long race stoppage, Blaney still held the lead over Truex but Truex had the faster car. He took command on lap 249 coming off the 13th caution. After that, despite a couple more cautions, Truex held onto the lead and came home the race winner.

Despite not winning the race, Blayney served notice that he has now arrived as a full-fledged challenger for race wins – one of the new generation of strong, young drivers coming up in the sport today.

Next week the NASCAR circus will be in Charlotte ready for the two weekends of speed there. Next Friday the trucks will be racing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and on Saturday it will be the MENCS All-Star Race with a preliminary heat race, a qualifying race for drivers who failed to qualify for the All-Star race on performance. The following weekend will see the Xfinity cars racing on Saturday (May 27) and the MENCS Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday (May 28). The Coke 600 is NASCAR’s longest race, beginning in the afternoon - after the conclusion of the Indy 500 - and finishing under the lights after sunset.

KS NCWTS Rhodes Busch 051217

NASCAR Camping World Trucks Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway
Rhodes loses an almost sure win – but in the end it was Kyle Busch scoring his 47th truck trophy

Friday, May 12, 2017: As the laps wound down in this truck race, it looked like young Ben Rhodes had shown his heels to Kyle Busch and that, with his solid lead, he was set to win his first ever truck series race. But it was not to be. He slowed and, with smoke pouring out from under his truck, he came around to the pits and retired. A piece of debris had punctured his radiator and the engine was cooked. This had to be a tremendous disappointment for the up-and-coming driver but his remarkable performance in running down and passing Busch will be noted by all in the garages.

For much of the 167-lap race, Christopher Bell and his team owner, Kyle Busch dominated the running. Coming off the seventh caution on lap 57, the order was Bell and then Busch – but now there was a third – almost identical-looking Toyota – running right behind them in third place, the Thorsport truck of Ben Rhodes who had started back in eighth place.

That order continued through the pit-stop cycle and restart at the end of the second stage at lap 80 and now Rhodes was challenging the two KBM drivers for position, running up in second behind Busch. After the next caution, which fell just three laps later, Rhodes started alongside Busch –but he fell back into second place after the restart.

As the laps wound down towards the finish everyone was going to have to make one more pit stop. Bell started off a cycle of green-flag pit stops, pitting on lap 126, A lap later Busch came in. The bad news for them was that another yellow flew just then trapping Bell a lap down but Busch was able to escape pit lane with fresh tires in time to beat the pace car and he retained the lead – with Rhodes right behind him. Busch maintained his lead over Rhodes through the final caution which ended on lap 138 but Rhodes was soon running side-by-side with him and then he charged past him for the lead and he started to build a comfortable lead as the laps wound down. Then, on lap 160, he pulled into the pits with no power and Busch was able to coast home with no real opposition left.

Johnny Sauter finished 2.6 seconds behind Busch while John Hunter Nemechek was third and Christopher Bell, who had faded a bit in the latter stages of the race, was fourth.

The St. Catharines driver, Stewart Friesen, failed to finish the race, dropping out after his truck suffered heavy damage in a wreck on lap 16.

The next NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race is on May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Results Box Scores:

F1 Spanish GP at Barcelona
IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis, IMS
MENCS Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway
NCWTS Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway

Photo Credits:

F1: Wolfgang Wilhelm/Daimler AG
IndyCar: John Cote/IndyCar
MENCS: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/NASCAR
NCWTS: Chris Trotman/Getty Images/NASCAR

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