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Race Weekend Review: June 24, 2018

FIA Formula 1 Pirelli Grand Prix de France at Circuit Paul Ricard
Hamilton leads flag-to-flag to the race win

Le Castellet, France, June 24/18 (GRW): The Mercedes team was back on form at the French Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas started one-two on the grid and Hamilton led every lap of the race but one to take the win by a seven-second margin over Max Verstappen and Kimi Räikkönen after Sebastien Vettel and Bottas collided on the first lap taking them out of contention. Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth and Vettel fifth.

The start of the race saw two separate collisions. Vettel had a surge of speed on his extra-soft ties and was unable to avoid running up alongside Bottas and puncturing his rear tire with his front wing. Meanwhile Estaban Oco and Pierre Gasly got together at the back of the field and both crashed out of the race bringing out the safety car. During this safety car period, Bottas and Vettel both pitted for repairs but they took the restart at the back of the remaining field.

Despite the rather sterile character of the track with its wide runoff areas, people seemed to think that it had produced generally good racing – and that the wide expanses of tarmac had avoided damage to the cars and injury to the drivers. This despite Hamilton’s unchallenged domination of the event.

Once underway, Vettel put on a show of speed and carved his way up through the field past the slower cars – with Bottas close behind. By lap 11 of the 53-lap race, Vettel was up to tenth place while Bottas was four places back, By lap 20, Vettel was up to fifth place behind Hamilton, Max Verstappen – who had started in fourth place but had benefited from the Bottas-Vettel contretemps -- Daniel Ricciardo and Räikkönen.

When Hamilton pitted on lap 33, Räikkönen took over the lead for one lap before he also pitted handing the lead back to Hamilton. Räikkönen came out of the pits in fifth place behind Vettel but he was able to get past him – and, on lap 47, he caught and passed Ricciardo for third. This race order remained for the final seven laps. Once Hamilton emerged unscathed by the carnage behind him on the first lap, he was never again seriously challenged. For sure, Mercedes had their act together for this race and they scored a convincing win.

As for the Canadian Lance Stroll, he started in 19th place, the slowest qualifier while his teammate Sergey Sirotkin was only one place ahead on the grid. Brendon Hartley did start from the 20th place but he had been put to the back of the grid after the team replaced power unit components earlier in the event. Stroll retired on lap 48 with a puncture but he was classified as a finisher. Fernando Alonso completed 50 laps before he dropped out with a suspension problem.

This result moved Hamilton back into the lead in the championship points standings with 145 points, 14 points ahead of Vettel. Ricciardo is third with 96 points while Bottas is fourth with 92 points.

This event was the first of a three-successive-weekends triple-header, with the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring next Sunday, July 1, and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone the following Sunday, July 8.

Click HERE for results of the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard.

 IndyCar Newgarden 16C 3159 1 resizeIndyCar Kohler Grand Prix at Road America, June 24/18: Josef Newgarden (Credit:Chris Owens/IndyCar)

Verizon IndyCar Kohler Grand Prix at Road America
Newgarden is back – he dominates for the win

Elkhart Lake, WI, June 24/18 (GRW): Josef Newgarden started the season strongly with two wins – at Phoenix and Barber but since then he has been struggling to get good results. All that changed here at Elkhart Lake. He started from the pole and he led essentially every lap on his way to a convincing victory. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second, three seconds back and Scott Dixon was third.

When Newgarden made his first pit stop early on lap 14 of the 55-lap race Dixon was able to take the lead for a couple of laps. After that, Newgarden held the lead the rest of the way right through the second round of pit stops to the finish.

Takuma Sato, who started in seventh place was fourth and Robert Wickens was fifth. As for the other two Canadians in the race, James Hinchcliffe started in 16th place and finished tenth while Zachary Claman deMelo started in17th place and finished in 21st. Will Power who had been winning races recently, had his day end on the first lap. His car lost power at the start and he struggled around to the pits where he retired with a power unit problem.

Alexander Rossi started from the second row and he ran an aggressive race up in the top five until he stopped at the pits for attention to his car – a steering problem. After a long pit stop he was out of contention, ending up in 16th place near the tail of the lead lap.

The race ran the entire distance without a caution. This no doubt helped Newgarden on his dominant winning run and left the rest of the field strung out far behind him. Hunter-Reay had shadowed Newgarden throughout the race but he could never catch him. Late in the second half of the race, Dixon showed a good turn of speed closing up on the two front-runners, but with no cautions, he had to settle for third.

When the race was over, Dixon still led the points standings with 393 points with Hunter-Reay second and Rossi third, both with 348 points. Will Power, who had been third in points after the previous Texas race, fell to fifth place in the points standings behind Newgarden in fourth.

The Road America circuit has to be one of the best road courses in America and the IndyCar series has to be the best series racing there now. Facts like these do not always ensure success for a race event. Recently, at Watkins Glen they dropped their IndyCar event after two years. This was the third year in a row for the IndyCar series here at Road America and it seemed to be a successful event. Evidence that the powers-that-be were satisfied with the results here was an announcement that the contract with the track had been extended for a further three years.

The next IndyCar event will be the Iowa Corn 300 at the Iowa Speedway on Sunday, July 8.

Click HERE for results of the IndyCar Kohler Grand Prix at Road America

MENCS Sonoma Truex resizeMENCS Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, June 24/18: Martin Truex Jr., race winner (Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR MENCS Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
Truex out-manoeuvres the opposition to take the win

Sonoma, CA, June 24/18 (GRW): Martin Truex started from the front row and his crew chief Cole Pearn’s creative strategy saw him coming home the race winner by a wide margin over Kevin Harvick and Clint Boyer. Chase Elliott was fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.

The traditional winning strategy at this track had been to pit as early as possible to get the pit stop over before the next caution fell. Given that the lap time is so long at a road course like this, when the others pitted during the caution, the driver who had already pitted would cycle around into the lead in a commanding position.
During the first two Stages, we saw that idea play out. Just before the end of the second stage the front three cars made their pit stops under green. Denny Hamlin, who had been a solid fourth, stayed out and he won the Stage – but, after he pitted during the Stage-end yellow, he came out mid-field and he struggled to make up places after that. Hamlin did finish tenth, but this pit strategy cost him a shot at the race win.

After the second Stage regrouping, there were another 60 laps to run to the end – long enough that everyone would need to make one more pit stop. When the laps ticked down to about 40 to go, the pit window opened – the time when a driver could pit and then run to the end of the race without making another stop. The race order was Harvick, Truex and Boyer. Pearn told his crew to get up on the wall ready for a pit stop and then he repeatedly told Truex to pit that lap. The other two crew chiefs saw that and told Harvick and Boyer to pit on the same lap. Only, just as Truex came up to the pit lane entrance, Pearn cancelled his order. “Do not pit”, he said. The other two were committed and they made their pits stop on this lap.

Truex stayed out on the track, now with a big lead, while the other two started to scramble fromtheir positions back in the field to try to catch him up.

Truex’ strategy might have failed had a caution come out very soon after the other two pitted – Truex would have had to pit later and lose many positions – and the other two would have come sailing home one-two.

But there were no cautions at all after the end of Stage 2 yellow. Truex stayed out another eight laps and when he pitted the order cycled back around to Harvick, Boyer and Truex. But Truex, on fresher tires, was able to reel then in and retake the lead. The only hope the other two had was to pit once again for fresh tires and hope that would give them enough speed to catch and pass Truex. They were faster on the fresher tires and they were able to pass everyone who had gotten in front of them when they pitted but, as the laps went on, their tires also started to give out and they were never able to catch Truex – who crossed the line with a 10-second margin over Harvick.

In the ‘old days’ when there were many cautions, Truex’ plan might not have worked because a caution or two late in the race would have closed up the field and his competitors would have gained winning track position when Truex pitted. But in this race, the tires may have been going ‘off’ faster than in earlier times and there are way fewer cautions. Congratulations to Truex and Pearn for a strategy that paid off this time.

This was Truex’ third win of the season, putting him solidly in place to participate in the season-end playoffs.

A.J. Allmendinger won the first Stage after the cars ahead of him – Truex and Harvick – pitted a few laps before the Stage-end caution. This did him no good because, soon after, he missed a shift and blew up his engine. Hamlin won the second stage but that was a bad decision and he fell far back in the field and he was only able to make it back up to tenth place during the final 90 laps of the race. Kyle Larson had started from the pole and led the first two laps before he started to slide back farther and farther throughout the race, finishing down in14th place.

The next MENCS race is the Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway next Sunday, July 1.

Click HERE for results of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway

 NCWTS Gateway Haley resizeNCWTS Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park, June 23/18: Justin Haley, race winner (Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park
Justin Haley delivers on his promise and wins one for Kyle Busch.

Madison, IL, June 23/18 (GRW): Justin Haley had a breakthrough win here, winning the NCWTS race at Gateway. This is Haley’s second year driving the full season for the GMS team but it was his first ever win in the truck series. Of course, this win assures him of a place in the end-of-season playoff field.

For most of the race here, it looked like driver Noah Gragson was going to be the winner. On the second-last restart, he was starting first with Justin Haley alongside. They got together on the first green-flag lap and, while Haley kept going and took over the lead, Gragson fell to sixth place. Indeed, Gragson had suffered a flat tire in this incident which brought out the ninth and final yellow. After pitting Gragson was out of contention and Haley lined up alongside Johnny Sauter for the final restart with just two laps remaining. Haley got a good start while Sauter was bumped by Brett Moffitt and fell to third. Moffitt spun but the track stayed green. Haley took the checker with Todd Gilliland finishing 0.753-seconds behind Haley. Sauter was third ahead of Myatt Snider and Zane Smith.

Grant Enfinger started from the pole and led the first 36 laps, winning Stage 1, before young Christian Eckes took the lead for the next restart and he led the next 33 laps, winning Stage 2, On the restart, Gragson took over the lead while Eckes slid back a few places, Stewart Friesen was trying to pass him when his truck slipped up and made contact, knocking Eckes up into the wall and out of the race. Moffitt took the lead for the next few laps until Gragson regained the lead on the next caution and he led the rest of the way until he lost the lead to Haley on the final restart.

Friesen had escaped from his lap 78 encounter with Eckes without damage but on lap 99, while running in sixth place he was clipped by Sauter and spun, incurring a lot of damage. He was able to continue but he finished the race in 13th place, albeit still on the lead lap.

On lap 114 all hell broke loose when the No. 8 truck of John Hunter Nemechek – which had been running is second place behind Gragson, had a broken oil line and dropped oil all over the track, sending trucks spinning and bringing out the yellow, They went red for 12 minutes while they cleaned up the track.
The next NCWTS race will be the Overton’s 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, June 29.

Click HERE for results of the NCWTS Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park

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