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Race Weekend Review – F1-WEC-IMSA-NASCAR Marathon – March 17, 2019

Race Weekend Review – F1-WEC-IMSA-NASCAR Marathon – March 17, 2019

FIA Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne
Bottas wins his ‘best race ever’ in a show of Mercedes dominance

Melbourne, AUS, Mar 17/19 (GRW): Any doubts about whether Valtteri Bottas was up to the job were put to doubt here when, at the start, he shot out ahead of Lewis Hamilton into the lead and, except for two laps after he made his single pit stop, he led the entire race, finishing some 21 seconds ahead of his teammate. On the second-last lap of the race he also set the fastest lap of the day to claim the single championship point for that achievement.

Max Verstappen started in fourth place behind Sebastian Vettel but he was able to get past into a solid third place after he made his pit stop. After that, he had his sights on Hamilton but he could not quite catch him. A slip off onto the grass late in the race spoiled any hopes he might have had of overtaking Hamilton for a second place finish. This was an important win for Honda as well; the Japanese maker taking its first podium finish in the V6 hybrid era calming worries about the wisdom of Red Bull switching to Honda from the Renault engine this year.

Vettel had to settle for fourth, some 57 seconds back of Bottas and 35 seconds behind Verstappen. His new teammate Charles Leclerc was fifth, a second behind Vettel. Rounding out the top six was Kevin Magnussen in the HAAS-Ferrari. Verstappen’s new Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly had qualified 17th quickest and finished in 11th.

As for the former drivers for the top three teams, Kimi Räikkönen in the Alfa Romeo was eighth and Daniel Ricciardo, now in Renault, failed to complete the race. At the start he went off onto the grass at the right and tore off his front wing. He continued with a replacement wing but the team noted other bodywork damage and they brought him into to retire after 28 of the race’s 58 laps. His new Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg brought his car home in seventh place. The new driver lineup at Racing Point (formerly Force India) saw Lance Stroll finishing in the points with a ninth-place finish while Sergio Perez was 13th.

PHOTO F1 AUS PODIUMAustralian GP winners on the podium: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen (Credit: Daimler AG)

“This feels so good - I don't think I've ever had a race like this!” said Bottas. “We could not have asked for a better start to the season - getting maximum points for the team is a perfect result and we couldn't be happier. It's also an important result for me personally, I'm really pleased with how the race went. These things don't just happen – both the team and I have worked hard for this and it seems like the hard work paid off today. The key was the start; I think Lewis may have had a bit of wheel spin, so I was able to take the lead. My race pace was really strong, I could pull away and build a gap. In the end, I managed to get the fastest lap as well, which of course means an extra point this season, so I went for it. It can be a little risky with worn tyres, but I had it all under control. I'm very, very pleased with today, but it's only the first race and we have another 20 races to go.”

Click HERE for the full results and points standings after the Australian race

The next Formula 1 race will be the Grand Prix of Bahrain on March 31.

PHOTO WEC SEBRING NO 8 WINNERSebring WEC winner the No. 8 Toyota TS050-Hybrid (Credit: JoaoFilipe/AdrenalMedia.com)

FIA World Endurance Championship 1000 Miles of Sebring
Toyota Hybrids continue their command of the LMP1 class – winners by an 11-lap margin

Sebring, FL, Mar 15/19 (GRW): When the WEC decided to put Sebring on their calendar to be run the day prior to the traditional Sebring 12-hours (which is run to IMSA rules) one had to wonder if this was a good idea – how could a 12-hour race, running on a Friday in competition with another well-established 12-hour race the next day be successful? They did trim the race from its original 12-hour scheduled length to eight hours (1000 miles) and they plowed ahead.

As it turned out this idea was a huge success and the double-bill of two endurance races in two days drew a big crowd which the promoters claimed to be a record attendance. The Sebring 12-hours has a long tradition of being a huge infield party and the added race only gave the fans an extra day to celebrate. The Sebring atmosphere is similar to the wild big fan camp-outs at Le Mans or the Nürburgring for their sports car endurance races and this year’s version was a hit. You have to believe that this double-header idea will become a tradition at Sebring for years to come.

As for the race, endurance races often turn into a long slogging grind with few occasions when you see close-fought battles, so the fact that the Toyotas under the current circumstances continue to drive away from the so-called competition, may not be such a big problem. This situation arises since all the other teams that were running under the LMP1-Hybrid rules withdrew after the 2017 edition of the Le Mans 24-hour race. Since then Toyota has continued to enter two hybrid race cars in each WEC race while the rest of their putative competition runs under non-hybrid rules which allow for gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. Unfortunately, the FIA’s and the ACO’s attempts to find an equivalency formula which makes these ICE cars competitive with the hybrids have failed. In effect there are two completely different classes at the moment.

This discrepancy played out at Sebring. The two Toyotas started on the front row and the No. 8 car – driven by Sébastien Buemi/Kazuki Nakajima/Fernando Alonso – led all but one lap in the 253-lap/946-mile race. The race was slowed by rain towards the end so the time ran out (eight hours) before it reached the title 1000-mile distance.

The No. 7 Toyota had been running right behind the No. 8 for much of the race distance. Just before the five-hour mark it made contact with the No. 90 Aston Martin and spun. It was able to return to the pits but the time it took for the damage to be repaired dropped them two laps down on the leading sister car. No worry, they were still another two laps to the good over the next car and they were able to continue without further incident to the finish – where they took the flag one lap in arrears to the winning car.

The best-of-the rest was the No.11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1/AER LMP1 (ICE) racer driven by Mikhail Aleshin/Vitaly Petrov/Brendon Hartley which finished 11 laps behind the race winner. Note that Hartley also finished third in the No. 5 Action Express car in Saturday’s IMSA enduro the next day.

In the GTLM-Pro class, the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni won by a 0.8-second margin over the No. 81 BMW M8 GTE of Martin Tomczyk/Nicky Catsburg/Alexander Sims. The No. 67 Ford GT of Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell/Jonathan Bomarito was third, a lap down on the two other cars.

The GTLM-Am class was won by the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR driven by Christian Ried/Julien Andlauer/Matt Campbell. The LMP2 class was won by the No. 37 Jackie Chan Oreca-Gibson driven by David Heinemeier Hansson/Jordan King/Will Stevens. This LMP2 car finished the race in fourth place overall, some 14 laps down on the race winning Toyota.

Click HERE for the full results of the WEC 1000-Miles of Sebring.

The next WEC endurance race will be the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on May 4.

PHOTO SEBRING NO 31 WINNERSebring WeatherTech winner, the No. 31 Actilon Express Cadillac DPi (Credit: Jake Galstad/LAT/IMSA)

IMSA WeatherTech Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway
Action Express ‘Whelen Engineering’ Cadillac dominant in an often soggy race

Sebring, FL, March 16/19 (GRW): The classic 12-hour race began under rain – so much rain that they started the race behind the pace car and did not show the green until lap 13. Once they started to race, the Action Express Cadillacs took over and they dominated the race – especially the No. 31 Whelen Engineering car driven by Felipe Nasr/Pipo Derani/Eric Curran. The race ran for 348 laps through its 12-hour run and the No. 31 car monopolized the lead out in front for 249 of those laps while the sister car, the No. 5 ‘Mustang Sampling’ Cadillac DPi led for 70 laps.

Both Derani and Nasr put on a such a show of driving prowess that they tended to put their third driver, Curran, a bit under the shade - but, as always in an endurance race like this, every driver in the lineup makes an important contribution.

Derani and Nasr drove the final hard-fought stints of the race in the No. 31 car -- a race that became tight when a late caution flew less than eight minutes before the 12-hour mark. This gave the No. 10 Jordan Taylor/Renger Van Der Zande/Matthieu Vaxiviere Cadillac –which had been running is second place since the previous caution ended on lap 288 – a chance. On the restart Taylor pounced closing right up on the No. 31 car. This battle went on for the remaining few laps but Nasr was able to hold onto his lead and take the checker.

PHOTO SEBRING 12 WINNERSSebring 12-Hour winners: Eric Curran, Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr (Credit: Michael Levitt/LAT/IMSA)

Nasr said, “It was pretty challenging. I was just talking to Pipo and it’s an unbelievable job we did out there. The Action Express boys gave us an amazing car all day. It was an almost perfect day in racing which is almost impossible. It was a perfect execution all day long. In the wet, Pipo drove fantastic out there. Super tricky. The team making the calls was perfect. I’m super happy to get my first win at Sebring.”

Derani said, “This is amazing and it’s my third win in 4 years so I couldn’t be any happier. I’m out of words, to be honest and to be here and to be winning second in a row, and three in four years. I didn’t think in my best dream that would happen. It wouldn’t be without these guys first. My team, mechanics, everyone behind the scenes. They did a fantastic jobs. It was
just one of those days that everything went perfect and we managed to get (endurance cup) points for hour 4, hour 8 and get the win. The last time someone won 3 our of 4 years was like 1961.”

The two Penske Acuras had been first and third fastest in qualifying and, as such , the No. 6 Acura driven by Dane Cameron led the initial laps in the rain behind the pace car but, as soon as the green was shown, the Acuras were in big trouble. These cars had their suspensions set up to be very stiff and this was completely the wrong thing on the flooded race track and they soon fell back so far that they were never able to get back into contention in the race. Do not write off the Acuras yet; once they had dry track to race on they could match the pace of the race leaders and the No. 7 car in particular (driven by Ricky Taylor/Alexander Rossi/Helio Castroneves) was able to get back on the lead lap by the end of the race. Had they seen another yellow at the right time, they would have been able to challenge for the lead in the closing stages. They just need to hope that they don’t have to contend with rain like this in future races.

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac (‘Mustang Sampling’), driven by Joao Barbosa/Brendon Hartley/Filipe Albuquerque, finished third ahead of the No. 7 Acura, the last car to finish on the lead lap.

In the GTLM class, the race had an equally close finish, Nick Tandy in the No. 911 Porsche holding off the No. 66 Ford GT of Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller/Sebastien Bourdais to win the class by a two-second margin. Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT had been chasing down the Porsche but on that final restart he half-spun in the melee of GT cars and dropped back out fo contention.

In the GT-Daytona class, there had been a close battle for the lead between two Lamborghinis and this continued right up to the checker, the No. 11 Huracan of Mirko Bortolotti/Rolf Ineichen/Rik Breuke taking the checker by a 2.7-second margin over the No. 44 car of Andy Lally/Spencer Pumpelly/John Potter.

Click HERE for the full results of the !2-hours of Sebring.

The next IMSA WeatherTech race featuring the DPi, LMP2 and GTLM classes will be Long Beach on April 13.

PHOTO SEBRING IMSA MPC#46 Team TGM Mercedes-AMG, GS: Owen Trinkler, Hugh Plumb, #75 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, GS: Paul Holton, Kuno Wittmer, #39 Carbahn Motorsports Audi R8, GS: Tyler McQuarrie, Jeff Westphal lead at the start (Michael L. Levitt)

IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 at Sebring International Raceway
Carbahn Motorsports Audi R8 scores a dominant win

Sebring, FL, Mar 15/19 (GRW) : The No. 39 Carbahn Motorsports Audi R8 driven by Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal may have started from third on the grid but when the green flag dropped they took the lead immediately and they dominated the rest of the race, leading 42 of the race’s 49 laps and taking the checker by a margin of 7.75 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, the No. 82 BMW M4 GT4 of James Clay and Devin Jones.

This year, this series is for only two classes of cars, the GS series and another which is based on the international TCR rules. These cars have significantly less power than in GS, the top class, but their performance on the race track can sometimes rival the faster GS cars. The winning TCR entry was the No 37 Honda Civic of Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock which finished 13th overall in the 41 car field.

Click HERE for the full results of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Sebring.

The next IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race will be held at Mid-Ohio on May 4.

PHOTO MENCS KyBusch Celebrates 031719Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, celebrates after winning the Auto Club 400 and winning his 200th NASCAR race (Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

NASCAR MENCS Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway
Kyle Busch comes back from a penalty to win his 200th NASCAR victory

Fontana, CA, Mar 17/19 (GRW): We all knew it was coming soon but we just did not know when. For Kyle Busch he must have been hoping that he would reach the milestone of 200 NASCAR wins soon so he could put that behind him and be able to concentrate on his usual business – winning races. Here at Fontana, win number 200 almost came on Saturday in the Xfinity race but a small mistake cost him the win. Once again on Sunday, a mistake threatened to keep him from winning the MENCS race as well but he put that behind him and with a combination of incredible driving and some luck, he came home the winner and he was able to celebrate his 200th NASCAR win.

Of course, everyone knows that Richard Petty won 200 times in the NASCAR premier series back in the day. Many people want to argue that Busch’s 200 wins cannot be compared to Petty’s 200 wins. Wiser heads prefer to ignore the comparison and say that both drivers had a remarkable achievement in their day. Of course, Kyle Busch’s driving career is far from over and he shows no sign of slowing down in his quest for even more wins. Who knows what his race record will be when he finally calls it a day?

After a strange qualifying session, which saw all of the of the eligible competitors failing to set a timed lap in the final round, Busch ended up on the second row for the race start. Thirteen laps later he was in the lead. He pitted just before the end of the first Stage on lap 57 but a couple laps later the yellow flew when Austin Dillon had a tire problem. Busch pitted under this yellow expecting this caution to extend into the first Stage – but this caution ended quickly and NASCAR threw the green again with one lap to go to the end of the Stage. Despite having pitted when the others had not, Busch regained the lead before the end-of-Stage yellow flew and was scored as the Stage #1 winner.

On the restart. Joey Logano took the lead briefly before Busch, who had restarted in third place, regained the lead on lap 72 – and he led the next 51 laps until the end of Stage #2, which he also won. Everything was going Busch’s way but this time he incurred a penalty for speeding on exiting the pits – he was sent to the back of the lead lap cars.

This let Brad Keselowski take over the race lead and he led for the next 38 laps until Busch, who had taken the restart well back could work his way forward and regain the lead when the next round of green-flag pit stops began. Almost everyone pitted over the course of two laps except for Busch. He must have been holding out for a caution which would help him retain the lead. That caution came a few laps later – on lap 165 – when Darrell Wallace blew a tire and it left debris on the course.

Now Busch pitted and he came back out in second place behind Ryan Blaney. Blaney had not pitted when the rest of the lead lap cars had stopped under this most recent caution. After this, the final restart, Busch was able to quickly resume the lead and he was able to cruise home the rest of the way to take this historic win by a margin of 2.4 seconds ahead of Joey Logano.

Click HERE for the full results of the MENCS race from Fontana.

The next MENCS race will be held at Martinsville next Sunday, March 24.

PHOTO NXS AutoClub Trophy 031619Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Thompson Pipe/Haas CNC Ford, poses with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Production Alliance Group 300 (Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Annual Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway
Custer holds off a determined Kyle Busch for the win

Fontana, CA, Mar 16/19 (GRW): Kyle Busch started this race on the front row alongside polesitter Tyler Reddick and for most of the race’s 150 laps it looked like he was going to win the race and make this his 200th NASCAR win. But, during the pit stops under Caution #4 on lap 112, he went into the pit lane as the race leader and he came out in eighth place after a slow stop. In addition, he received a penalty for an uncontrolled tire during this pit stop which dropped him to 12th for the restart.

Eight laps later, Brandon Jones spun bringing out the fifth and final caution. When the track went green again Busch was up to fifth place but he was ready to rumble. Christopher Bell was in front for the restart but Cole Custer get past him for the lead immediately and he started to pull out a small lead. A couple of laps later, Busch was past Bell into second place and about a second behind Custer. Custer drove like his life depended on it and, in the closing laps, Busch was unable to gain any more ground – indeed Custer started to pull away slightly. When the checker fell on lap 150, Custer was the winner by a margin of two seconds over Busch.

This was a happy day for Custer who had only two wins previously in his two prior years running in the Xfinity Series- and both of those wins came in the season-ending playoffs. As for Busch he had to wait for another day before he could clinch his 200th NASCAR win – and that day came the next day when he won the MENCS race here. Bell finished in third place ahead of Reddick and Chase Briscoe.

Click HERE for the full results of the Xfinity race at Fontana.

The next Xfinity race will be held at Texas Motor Speedway on March 30.

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