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Race Weekend Review – April 12-13-14, 2019

Race Weekend Review – April 12-13-14, 2019

Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai
A third one-two finish for Mercedes as Ferrari falters

Shanghai, China, April 14/19 (GRW): Before the season began many pundits thought that Ferrari would have had the upper hand but, as it goes on, it is beginning to look like a runaway for Mercedes. As of the Chinese Grand Prix, Mercedes have finished one-two in all three races so far leaving Ferrari in their dust. Here at Shanghai, Valtteri Bottas put his car on the pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton but Bottas made a poor start and Hamilton took the lead into the first corner and even through his two pit stops he held the lead for every lap right to the checker. Bottas finished second, seven seconds behind. This race was special in that it was the 1000th Formula One world championship event; the first having been run at Silverstone in 1950 and it was won by Nino Farina in an Alfa-Romeo grand prix car.

“Coming here we didn’t know exactly where we would stand with Ferrari, as they’d been so quick in Bahrain,” said Hamilton. “Valtteri has been quick all weekend and did a great job today. To have a one-two together is really special for the 1,000th Grand Prix”

With this kind of dominance from the two Mercedes so far this season, it is reminiscent of their steamroller championship year in 1955 with Juan Manuel Fangio and Sterling Moss finishing one-two time after time. Will any other team be able to win a Grand Prix this season?

The Ferraris started on the second row, Sebastian Vettel ahead of Charles Leclerc – but Leclerc beat Vettel to the first corner. Leclerc stayed ahead of Vettel until lap 11 of the 56-lap race when he was given orders to let Vettel go ahead. Leclerc was clearly unhappy with this decision but he complied. As the race went on it was not clear that Vettel was actually any faster than Leclerc – something that may prove to be another source of complaint in the Ferrari debriefing.

Once passed, Bottas ran the rest of the race in second place to Hamilton and he was never seriously challenged by any of the other runners. Vettel settled into third place and he ran there the rest of the race, finishing seven seconds behind Bottas. Max Verstappen started on the third row in fifth place and when Leclerc made his first pit stop, Verstappen got past him up into fourth place – and this is where he finished, with Leclerc in fifth place. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly, did little to impress but he did hold on to finish in sixth place, the final car to finish on the lead lap, some 89 seconds behind Hamilton.

Leclerc made his second pit stop late – on lap 42 – and he took on the softest tires. By now he had no hopes of gaining a podium finish but, on the soft tires, he was able to sprint and he recorded the fastest lap of the race and he earned an extra championship point – some consolation for his disappointment with the team orders.

Click HERE for the results of the Chinese Grand Prix.

The next F1 race will be held at Baku, Azerbaijan on April 28.

PHOTO RIR MENCS VictoryLane 041319Martin Truex Jr celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Toyota Owners 400 (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Monster Energy Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway
Truex takes his first win of the year and his first short-track win

Richmond, Va, Apr. 13/19 (GRW): Up to now drivers from only two teams –Joe Gibbs and Team Penske – had won a MENCS race this year. This week, the pattern was extended. Martin Truex, now driving the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs, scored his first win of the season and it was his first MENCS win on a short track. Truex led the final 79 laps in the 400-lap race and he led a total of 186 laps in all.

“It means a lot to break through, especially here at Richmond,” said Truex. “I’ve always really enjoyed this track. I’ve always loved coming here. The short track win–everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen. I was struggling the last 40 laps. I had no front tire and got real tight that last run. I just had to hold them off. Thanks to the pit crew—they had a great night. I’m just really happy to get our first win with Gibbs. First short-track win is pretty awesome, too. Tonight, we didn’t have the best car, but we’ve lost here with the best car a bunch of times. We just fought and battled. Being out front was just the key.”

Joey Logano, who led 52 laps during the race finished second to Truex, having moved up into second place with just five laps to go. Clint Bowyer came on as a strong contender in the closing laps but he was not able to stave off Logano and he had to settle for a third-place finish. Kevin Harvick had qualified on the pole for this race but he only led the very first 30 laps of the race; after that he ran in the top ten and he finished in fifth place.

Kyle Busch qualified fourth quickest and he looked like a favourite to win the race. He took the lead on lap 31 and led for the next 101 laps. He won the first Stage and then things went wrong for him. Kyle Larson had a tire problem and he crashed – which brought out the third yellow on lap 129 and took his car out of the race. Busch was leading when everyone made pit stops under this yellow and he was still in the lead when they came back out. But he had been tagged for speeding as he exited the pits – and he was sent to the back of the lead-lap cars in 24th place.

Given his history, it was expected that he would be able to overcome this setback and work his way back up into the lead again in the remaining 260 or so laps but he was still back in 15th place on lap 200 at the end of Stage #2. He found the going difficult over the remaining 200 laps. He did gain about five spots during the Caution #5 turnaround on lap 244. He got up to fourth place but then he started to slide back and when the checker flew he was in eighth
place.

Click HERE for the results of the MENCS race at Richmond.

The next MENCS race will run in two weeks time on April 28 at Talladega Superspeedway

PHOTO RIR NXS Stage2WInner 041219Cole Custer leads Justin Allgaier during the ToyotaCare 250 (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway
A second win for Custer so far this year

Richmond, VA, Apr 13/19 (GRW): Once Cole Custer got the lead ten laps before the end of the second Stage of this race, he kept hoping for the rain which was forecast to come any time and which would end the race – leaving him the race winner. However, despite a few sprinkles and lots of green on the radar maps, the rain never arrived here until after the race ran its full distance and the checkered flag flew – for Custer. In the third Stage of the race – the final 100 laps of the 250 – Custer gave up the lead to Austin Cindric for seven laps early on but after that he hung onto the lead and on lap 250 he took the checkered flag by a three-second margin over Cindric. This win gave him the $100K Dash-4-Cash bonus for this race.

“We had a great car,” Custer said. “(Crew chief Mike Shiplett) made great adjustments as it went… This one means a lot. We hadn’t had a short-track win yet. We’ve struggled a lot at short tracks, but this helps.

“A lot of my friends give me crap for being bad at this place, but I finally won, so I’ve got a little bit of bragging rights there, so that’s night. I’m just so happy. Two wins—that’s pretty awesome. I think we’re in a great place. We’re going to get better and better. I think we’ve started to figure out our cars later in the race, and I think the second time we go back (to the same tracks), we’re going to be even better—just me and Mike working together at these tracks for the first time.”

Justin Allgaier, who led 86 laps before he gave up the lead to Custer on lap 139, finished in third place. Tyler Reddick was fourth and Ryan Sieg a solid fifth.

The qualifying session earlier on Friday was rained out and the starting lineup was determined by owner points. Riley Herbst (in the Joe Gibbs #18 car) was on the pole with Reddick alongside. Christopher Bell and Custer made up the second row. Bell, who won the truck series championship in 2017 and who has been continuing to win many open-wheel dirt track races, has been looking like being a contender here this year and, so far, he has won two races this season. But he was a disappointment here. He did lead for 32 laps in the race but he never led again after lap 70. He was second at the end of Stage #1 on lap 75. In the second Stage he was running in fifth place when he made contact with his former teammate Noah Gragson and spun. He was able to continue and stay on the lead lap but he fell to the 23rd place. He worked his way up to third place by the time the sixth caution came out on lap 213 but he was out of fresh tires – having used his last set when he spun. When the track went green again he was in ninth place but he could not match the speed of front runners – and he fell back to 16th place by the end of the race. Given that the current championship rules give anyone with a win a free pass into the end-of-season playoffs, his current point deficit should be of little concern.

Click HERE for the results of the NXS race at Richmond.

The next Xfinity race will be at Talladega on Saturday, April 27.

PHOTO IMSA WT LONG BEACHIMSA BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix: #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi, Filipe Albuquerque -- leading the No. 7 Acura of Ricky Taylor (Scott R LePage/LAT)

IMSA WeatherTech BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach
Action Express Cadillac holds off the Penske Acuras for the win

Long Beach, CA, Apr 13/19 (GRW): The No. 5 Action Express Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi driven by Joao Barbosa/Filipe Albuquerque held off the No. 7 Penske Acura of Ricky Taylor/Helio Castroneves to take the win by a 0.74 second margin in the 100-minute race. The second Acura (Juan Pablo Montoya/Dane Cameron) was closing in on them in the final few laps and Cameron finished just one second back of the other Acura.

The Long Beach circuit is a kind of street circuit with some tight sections. Castroneves had the No. 7 Acura on the pole for the sat with Felipe Nasr alongside in the No. 31 Action Express Whelen Cadillac. When the green flag the cars flew down the front straight until they reached the aquarium fountain. John Bennet (No. CORE Nissan DPi) was nudged off into the barriers bringing out the race’s first full-course yellow. Almost simultaneously, the No. 55 Mazda driven by Jonathan Bomarito crashed after contact with the No. 10 Taylor Cadillac driven by Jordan Taylor.

When the track went green the order sorted out as No. 31 Nasr, the No. 77 (Tristan Nunez Mazda) and the No. 7 Acura (Castroneves) . Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 car was given a pass-through penalty for passing under the yellow during the first-lap incident. This order continued until the yellow flew again on lap 24 (of what turned out to be a 73-lap race) when the No. 55 Mazda stopped briefly on the track. During the round of pit stopes which this set off Sebastien Bourdais pitted the No. 66 Ganassi Ford GT to hand over to Dirk Mueller – an early stop but it gave him track position even if this would mean trying to stretch the fuel for the rest of the distance. The No. 31 car also pitted but it left the pits with no nut on the right front wheel and, inevitably, this wheel came off almost as soon as the car got back on the course – leaving it to limp around back to the pits for a replacement wheel.

At the half distance mark, Renger Van Der Zande, now driving the No. 10 car missed his braking point and hit the wall ending their day but the course stayed green. There were only the two early cautions during this race.

A few minutes late, at the one-hour mark, there was a cycle of pit stops. When tis was completed, Albuquerque was leading in the No 5 Cadillac ahead of the No 7 Acura (Ricky Taylor) and the No 6 Acura (Dane Cameron). Taylor was able to close up on the No. 5 car a second ahead of his teammate sa the clock ticked down tot he finish, He pulled up to within 0.3 seconds of the leader but then both the Acuras fell back. With ten minutes to go Taylor mounted another attack but he was unable to catch the Cadillac and the two Acuras had to settle for a second and third-place finish.

This race on the tight Long Beach circuit was limited to just the Dpi entries and the GTLM entries. In GTLM, the two Porsches (No 911 and No. 912) started at the front of the group ahead of the No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner and the No. 66 Ford GT of Bourdais/Mueller. In the latter stages of the race the NO. 912 Porsche (Earl Bamber/Laurens Vanthoor) was leading over the No. 66 Ford (which had gained track position by making that early pit stop) the No. 3 Corvette (Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia), the No. 911 Porsche (Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy) and the No. 4 Corvette (Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner). AS the clock ticked down the 100 minutes to the final lap, both Fords slowed on the track. Mueller, in the No. 4 Corvette ran into the back of the No. 66 Ford – and the No 67 of Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook also came to a stop. Perhaps they both had run out of fuel. This left the finish order in GTLM – No 912 Porsche, No. 3 Corvette the No. 4 Corvette – only these three cars finished on the same lap as the class winner.

Click HERE for the results of the IMSA WeatherTech race at Long Beach.

The next IMSA WeatherTech race will be held at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 5.

PHOTO ROSSI LONG BEACHRossi in the Andretti Autosport No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda at Long Beach

NTT INDYCAR Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Rossi reels off second straight dominant Long Beach triumph

Long Beach, CA, Apr 14/19 (Mark Robinson/INDYCAR): Al Unser Jr. may be "King of the Beach," but Alexander Rossi is driving himself toward INDYCAR racing royalty at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

For the second straight year on the iconic NTT IndyCar Series street course, Rossi dominated the competition. The Andretti Autosport driver led all but five of 85 laps from the pole position Sunday to become the first back-to-back winner at Long Beach since Sebastien Bourdais won three in a row from 2005-07.

"We were able to get a race car I was really happy with," Rossi said. "Winning the pole is huge come Sunday because it allows you to hopefully be in front leaving Turn 1 and really just control the race from there.

"It's awesome to be able to really kickstart our year."

Driving the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, Rossi cruised across the finish line 20.2359 seconds ahead of Team Penske's Josef Newgarden - the largest margin of victory at Long Beach since Unser Jr. won by more than 23 seconds in 1995. Rossi became the ninth multiple winner at Long Beach, joining the likes of his team owner Michael Andretti (two wins), Mario Andretti (three), Bourdais (three), Paul Tracy (four) and Alex Zanardi (two). Unser Jr. took home six victories at "the Beach."

Four of Rossi's six NTT IndyCar Series career victories have now come when the 27-year-old Californian started from the pole position. Sunday's win also moved him into second place in the 2019 championship standings after four of 17 races, trailing Newgarden by 28 points, but he said it was no day at the beach.

"I think we got lucky that we were able to get through some traffic and Josef was held up for a bit," Rossi said. "From that standpoint, we were able to build a gap. It's never easy. We didn't have a whole lot of pressure ... but you still have to go quick, right? There are a bunch of really fast guys behind you, so you can't relax at all."

Rossi became the fourth NTT IndyCar Series driver, each from a different team, to win in as many races this season. He also delivered Andretti Autosport its 200th race victory in all disciplines in which the team has competed since its 2003 inception. Sixty-three of those wins have come in NTT IndyCar Series competition.

"I'm so proud of what we've been able to accomplish in I think a short period of time, to get to 200," Michael Andretti said. "We've had so many great people help get us there. I was just told we had 38 different drivers that won for us over the years to get us to this point."

Andretti had high words of praise for Rossi, the driver who picked up win No. 200.

"I think he's a great driver," Andretti said. "I think we saw in him from the moment he sat in one of our cars, we knew we had someone special here. He's been great to have as a part of the team.

"He drove flawlessly all weekend. That lap he did (in) qualifying, I think, was the difference as well. To be able to start on pole here is a big advantage."

By finishing second in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden scored his fourth top-four finish to start the season. Starting fourth, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion leapfrogged to second place during the first round of pit stops and remained there the rest of the day.

"It's tough when you're not able to compete at the very, very front," Newgarden said. "We were at the front, but you want to be competing for first (place). That's disappointing, but we gave it our all today and thought we had a pretty good race for the most part. ... We just were a little short."

Reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon finished third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The five-time champion and 2015 Long Beach winner crossed the finish line in fourth place behind Graham Rahal, but the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver was penalized a position for blocking Dixon on the final lap.

"It was unfortunate with the Graham Rahal incident," Dixon said. "I think he overshot Turn 8 and then quickly tried to turn in reaction. The rule is you can't come back to defend if somebody's already there, and that's what happened.

"It was just one of those things. Had he not reacted there, we would have (passed him) anyway. But it's racing, hard racing."

Rahal, driving the No. 15 TOTAL Honda, didn't refute the decision. The INDYCAR rule for blocking states that a driver may be penalized for making a move in reaction to another driver's effort to overtake.

"I'm not upset about it," Rahal said. "We had a good day. ... We haven't had a lot of luck this season, so I'll just take it as it is and move on."

The race on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary circuit saw one full-course caution when the cars of Marcus Ericsson, Jack Harvey and Spencer Pigot made contact in the fountain area of Turns 2 and 3 on the opening lap. Ericsson was penalized for avoidable contact over the incident.

Grand Prix Association of Long Beach officials announced that weekend attendance for the event increased approximately 1 percent from 2018, to approximately 187,000 fans.

Click HERE for the results of the Long Beach race.

The next IndyCar race will be the IndyCar Grand Prix on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 11.

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