Race Weekend Review: August 27-28

Written by George Webster on .

F1 Spa M39542 D319904

Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps
Rosberg has an easy win but Hamilton is a surprising third

Aug. 28, 2016: When the Mercedes team opted to take the penalties for Lewis Hamilton’s engine replacements and upgrades here and start him from the back of the grid, it looked like Nico Rosberg was being given a free pass to regain his lead in the championship. A win would give Rosberg an additional 25 points and, if Hamilton got none, Rosberg would have left Spa with a six-points lead over his teammate. But it didn’t work out that way. Hamilton did start from the back row but he was soon up into points position and he finished in third place behind Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull. This saw Hamilton earning 15 points and retaining his championship points lead by a margin of nine points over Rosberg.

In qualifying, Hamilton accepted his grid penalty and left Rosberg to win the pole. But not as easily as expected. The Mercedes cars were not well suited to the tires and the hot conditions here. Had Kimi Räikkönen matched an earlier sector speed in Q3 his Ferrari might have been on pole – and then things might have turned out much differently. As it was, local hero Max Verstappen was on the front row alongside Rosberg with the two Ferraris in the row behind – and that set up the race’s first corner melee.

When the lights went green, Rosberg shot out ahead into La Source. Verstappen bogged down and both Ferraris got past him. But then he got going again and he thought he saw a gap on the inside of Räikkönen who was, in turn, inside Sebastian Vettel. In fact, Verstappen had tried to overtake by going over the inside curbing while Vettel, not realizing that he had two cars to his inside cut in forcing Räikkönen over into Verstappen and they all banged together. They all had to pit at the end of the first lap for repairs and then they set out on their task or recovering from the setback. Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were the beneficiaries, emerging in second and third behind Rosberg.

Further around the first lap, Jenson Button was rammed from behind by Pascal Wehlein and both retired. Carlos Sainz was another victim when a tire exploded, no doubt the result of a puncture from running over debris from that first corner carnage. His car was extensively damaged and out of the race.

Worse was to come on lap six. Kevin Magnussen lost control of his car at Raidillon – a high speed curve just past Eau Rouge and he spun into the barriers heavily. The car was destroyed and he sustained injuries to an ankle which saw him sent to local hospital for attention. This injury may jeopardize his chances of driving at the Italian Grand Prix next week. (Magnussen’s father was driving at VIR in the Corvette and he told reporters there that his son’s injuries were not serious.) They needed to bring heavy equipment out on the track to clear away the damaged car and to repair to crash barriers. They put out the red flag while this work was completed.

All the cars were brought into the pits where, under current F1 rules, they were allowed to change their tires. When the red ended, it was in effect a fresh start. Hamilton was already up to seventh place by now. By lap 19 he was up to third place – amazing!

The race played out the rest of the scheduled 44 laps after that with less drama. Ricciardo was soon up to second and he held on there to the finish while Hulkenberg spent much of the race contesting third with Hamilton, with Hamilton third to Hulkenberg’s fourth at the end of the race. Hulkenberg’s Force India teammate Sergio Perez finished in fifth place while Vettel was the first Ferrari home, in sixth. Räikkönen had a difficult race, ending up in ninth while Verstappen could never getting going well again after his early race troubles and he finished out of the points in eleventh.

The next round of the world championship is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza next Sunday, Sept. 4.

Indycar finish 2

Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway
Rahal pips Hinchcliffe on the last lap for the win

Aug 27, 2016: You have to feel badly for James Hinchcliffe. The Oakville driver has not won since his win at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015 and it looked like he had a lock on this one. The Firestone 600 – Part 1, the first 71 laps, was run back in June and Part 2 was run on the last Saturday night in August, some 76 days later. Hinchcliffe dominated almost the entirety of Part 2, leading 158 of the 207 laps. As the race tightened up in the closing laps, he held on to the lead from lap 232 to the penultimate lap (lap 247). He started the final lap in the lead but Graham Rahal, who had been strong all night, closed in on him and he passed him for the lead coming off the third turn. The two raced side-by-side to the finish with Rahal crossing the line a mere 0.0080 seconds ahead of Hinchcliffe. Amazingly, according to IndyCar, this is only the fifth-closest finish of any Indy car race in history.

This close second for a Canadian driver has to remind many of us of Scott Goodyear’s close second to Al Unser Jr at the Indy 500 in 1992, when the difference was 0.043 seconds. That time, Goodyear was chasing Unser and he just failed to catch him.

The June race was flagged off under rain in June and the completion was postponed until this late August date. At the time it had been under a long yellow flag period – first for a crash between Conor Daly and Josef Newgarten and then for rain. This August portion was run simply as a continuation of the race – as if the race had been restarted again on the same day or the next day and the official results do not treat it as a two-part event, rather a single event interrupted by a red flag for a couple of laps.

Tony Kanaan, who took on fresh tires during the final caution, looked like being a challenger for the win but, in the end, he dropped back into third place as the other two battled for the lead. Similarly, Simon Pagenauld, who was running also side-by-side in the front pack in that last run, dropped back and settled for fourth.

This result adds to Pagenauld’s lead in the championship points race. He is now leading Will Power (8th at Texas) by 28 points (529 to 501). The only other driver who still appears to have a realistic shot at winning the championship is Tony Kanaan. He has 416 points, 113 behind Pagenauld.

Only two more races remain in the 2016 IndyCar schedule- Watkins Glen next week and Sonoma on Sunday, Sept. 18, both of which are road courses. The Watkins Glen race will run next Sunday, Sept. 4.

Rahal TMS 16C 9110-1

Verizon IndyCar Series 2017 calendar revealed
All 2016 events return, Gateway only new venue

In the past number of years many critics have argued that the failure of IndyCar to have stability in their venues and dates from one year to the next has made it more difficult for the series to build a loyal fan base. The 2017 calendar, announced this week, is essentially identical to last year’s with the addition of the Gateway Motorsports Park (St. Louis, MO) oval in late August. This removes a number of question marks and it has to be good news for the prospects for the health of the series

This year, IndyCar gambled on a new event, a street race in Boston on Labour Day weekend. Many observers were dubious about the viability of this event – especially given the difficult history of the short-lived street race in Baltimore – and, sure enough, the Boston race was cancelled at the end of April. Eventually a fill-in date was found – Watkins Glen on that same Labour Day weekend as had been planned for Boston. The hard core fans will always be enthusiastic about a race at a classic road-racing circuit like Road America or Watkins Glen, but IndyCar has been there before and the races have failed to draw good crowds. The viability of a return to Watkins Glen remained a question mark for many observers.

It seems like IndyCar has decided to go for a calendar of quality events with “continuity and consistency” and try to build their audience that way.

The 2017 schedule will include a return to every one of the venues actually used in 2016 including the Watkins Glen date on Labour Day weekend. In addition they will add a date at the 1.25-mile Gateway oval just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. NASCAR has run a truck series race there every year except for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and plans to continue there going into the future. The circuit opened with a CART race in 1997 and they continued to 2000. The IRL ran there from 2001 to 2003. The return 2017 race will be run on the weekend before Labour Day (the weekend being used this year for the completion of the interrupted Texas race).

IndyCar confirmed in their announcement that they have signed multi-year contracts with both Watkins Glen and Gateway going forward and the return of the Road America date on the last weekend in June signals IndyCar’s commitment to that classic venue as well.

The only date shuffle is the move of the Long Beach race a week earlier to April 9th, making it the second race of the season after St. Petersburg and the move of the Phoenix race to the end of April (the 29th) making it the last race before the teams all go to Indianapolis for the pair of races there during the month of May. The Toronto event will return to the “Streets of Toronto” on July 16.

IndyCar says that television numbers are improving as the years go on – this year so far ratings are up by seven percent compared to last year. In the US, the races will continue to be televised by ABC and NBCSN in the U.S. and in Canada on Sportsnet 360.

MIS NSCS Larson Checkered 082816

NASCAR Sprint Cup Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway
Larson beats Elliott off final restart to take his first series victory

Aug. 28, 2016: It has been a while coming but young Kyle Larson finally scored his first Sprint Cup victory in his 99th Cup race here at Michigan. It had been a long dry spell for the Ganassi team; Jamie McMurray had taken their last win 99 races earlier back in October of 2013. This win dramatically changed Larson’s hopes of winning this year’s championship title. Prior to this race some bad finishes had left him with faint hope of getting into the Chase on points – only a race win was going to do it for him. And that long-awaited race win finally came.

Coming off the final round of green-flag pit stops Chase Elliott just beat Larson out of the pit lane to take the lead for the final run. As the laps wound down, Elliott was able to maintain a one- or two-second lead over Larson and he looked to be set to win his first Cup race. Then the yellow flew again for tire debris and they hit the reset button. Elliott and Larson took the restart on lap 192 side by side, both spinning their worn tires as the drivers behind pushed them forward. Keselowski pushed Larson into the lead and he too passed Elliott to take over second place. Within a couple of laps Elliott was past Keselowski into second but, try as he might, he could not close on Larson who took the checker ahead of him.

Joey Logano had won the pole for this race in the Penske Ford but he soon faded back and, in the end, he finished 10th. This was a typical MIS race with few cautions and sequences of green-flag pit stops which would jumble the order for a while as the cars pitted on different laps, But through it all four cars seemed to dominate – Elliott, Larson, Jimmie Johnson (in a revitalized Hendrick car) and Kevin Harvick. But, like many races here, it ran most of the distance with little drama and few real on-track passes. The only real excitement came in the closing laps when the duel between Larson and Elliott developed. Of course, had Elliott won, that would have been the first win for that rookie driver and at a track where his father, Bill Elliott, had won seven times.

Larson was a first-time NASCAR winner here but there were two others on Saturday – Brett Moffitt who won the truck race here and Michael McDowell who won the Xfinity Series race at Road America.

The next Sprint Cup race will be held on Sunday, Sept 4 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

RoadAmerica NXS McDowell Sticker 082716

NASCAR Xfinity Series Road America 180
McDowell wins after he and Tagliani play “bumper cars”

Aug. 27, 2016: After Alex Tagliani qualified on the pole with the No. 22 Penske Ford his chances for the win looked good. But the realities of road racing in stock cars saw him off the Road America course two or three times and, instead of coming home the winner, he did well to salvage a seventh place finish.

Michael McDowell, driving the No. 2 Childress Chevrolet, came out on top as the winner, his first ever win in any of the touring NASCAR series. The race was scheduled to run for 45 laps around the 4-mile circuit. On lap 24 McDowell came roaring up from third behind the leader Tagliani into Turn 6. Tagliani turned left to block the charge but they collided and Tagliani went wide off the course, falling far back in the field. Eventually he pitted to replace the tires that had been damaged when he went off course. This wasn’t the first off-course excursion for him. Earlier he had given up the lead to Brendan Gaughan when he went off wide at Turn 5 but he regained the lead on the restart after the second caution.

After being forced off by McDowell, Tagliani fell back as far as 29th after an extra pit stop for tires but, in the end, he was able to make a charge up through the field in the closing laps and he finished in seventh place.

Justin Marks, who won in the rain at Mid-Ohio, was again strong in the No. 42 car. Other contenders throughout the race included No. 19 Daniel Suarez, No. 18 Owen Kelly and Brendan Gaughan. This race was interrupted by a brief shower mid-race but it was never enough for the teams to break out their rain tires and racing resumed after four laps of caution.

The final caution of the race flew on lap 45, forcing the race into “overtime”. McDowell who had been leading since lap 29, held off all challengers to win the race. Gaughan took the final green in fourth place but he was up into second by the end of the first of the two overtime laps - he closed in on McDowell but he was still in second, half a second behind, when they took the checker. Brendan Poole emerged as the third-place finisher ahead of Suarez and Ryan Reed. Kelly finished in 17th place while Marks was 32nd, a lap down after the battles in the late-race laps.

The next Xfinity Series race is at Darlington Raceway on Saturday, Sept. 3.

MIS NCWTS Moffitt VL 082716

NASCAR Camping World Careers for Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway
Part-timer Brett Moffitt wins at Michigan for Red Horse Racing

Aug. 27, 2016: Brett Moffitt is a 24-year-old driver who has not gotten much attention in his foray into NASCAR racing in recent years. But despite his record as an also-ran in Sprint Cup, he has had some good results this year in a short series of truck race starts – which culminated in a spectacular win here at Michigan on Saturday.

This start of this race, like many recently, was delayed by rain. It finally got underway about three hours late – but then it ran the distance with no further weather disruptions.

The final caution came on lap 85 of the 100-lap race when Cole Custer – who was leading at the time – lost control and hit the wall big time. The tucks lined up for the restart in the order Timothy Peters, William Byron, Brett Moffitt, Daniel Hemric and Cameron Hayley. On the green Matt Crafton shot up into fourth place behind Moffitt. As they came around on the second last lap, Byron turned under Peters and briefly challenged for the lead. Then Moffitt, who had fallen back a little, shot forward on the high side above Peters and passed him for the lead. Byron who was now trailing Peters touched Hemric and almost lost it, falling back to fourth. That’s the way they took the white flag and that’s they way they took the checker. This 100th lap was the first ever that Moffitt had led in the truck series.

Given the fixation on who is going to qualify for the “Chase” as the weeks wind down, this result was significant. Timothy Peters is a full-time truck driver for Red Horse Racing and he is struggling to qualify for the Chase on points; a win here would have made that a sure thing. Moffitt is a part-time driver, having driven only the last four races for Red Horse Racing. A win for Moffitt means nothing in terms of the Chase, given that you have to run every race in the series to be eligible. So would it not make sense for Moffitt to hold off and let Peters win the race and solidify his place in the Chase?

“I’m here to win,” said Moffitt, and his team owner Tom de Loach seemed to be okay with it. Moffitt has come home in third, second and now first in the last three truck series races - so, despite his mediocre showing in the Cup series, it looks like he may be starting to be successful, starting with the truck series, a series de Loach is committed to.

Hemric’s third-place finish was good news for the Brad Keselowski driver because, as for Peters, it improved his position in the points standings making it more certain he will qualify for a place in the Chase which begins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in four weeks time. There are only two more rounds to the truck series before that – the race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and the one at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway.

Next up is the Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Sunday, Sept 4.

imsa  Conti 28931928

IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Oak Tree Grand Prix at VIR, VIRginia International Raceway
Burkett/Miller Porsche edges Maxwell/Johnson Cobra for the CS win

Aug. 27, 2016: In the end, the duo of Daniel Burkett/Marc Miller won the race Continental Challenge race and the GS class in their No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 by a 4.5-second margin over the No. 15 Scott Maxwell/Billy Johnson Mustang but the way this race played out made for an amazing race and an unpredictable result. The race was disrupted by rain, rain so heavy that they had to red-flag the race for 52 minutes of the race’s scheduled 150 minutes. And before that red was shown the rain came down so heavily that drivers could barely see their way to stay on the course and many - if not most – slid or spun off into the weeds.

Going into this race the Multimatic Mustang drivers were leading in championship points in the GS class over the Burkett/Miller Porsche by 23 points. After the VIR race, their lead had been reduced by just 3 points.

The scenario was set in qualifying when the No. 99 (Rob Eklin/Sebastian Landy) Aston Martin Vantage won the pole by a margin of 0.35 seconds over the Burkett/Miller Porsche Cayman GT4 who qualified ahead of the Maxwell/Johnson Mustang by another 0.2 seconds.

 At the start of the race, Maxwell charged up past the Porsche to take second with the No. 76 Paul Holton/Pierre Kleinubing Mustang behind them in third place. Maxwell passed for the lead on lap seven but just then it began to rain and, before he could finish the next lap, he spun off the course and lost 19 seconds on the leader but, given that the rain was now disrupting everyone’s plans, he was still up in third place. Almost everyone, Maxwell included, pitted for tires. And then it started to rain HARD and the carnage really started with cars sliding off everywhere. The leader, Landy, slid off, giving up the lead to Holton in the other Mustang ahead of the No. 99 Landy Aston with the No. 33 Burkett Porsche and Maxwell a full minute behind in third and fourth.

Finally after minutes of this downpour, the officials put the red flag out and the cars were parked in pit lane. After almost an hour of red, the cars were sent off again behind the pace car with just over an hour left to the end of the race. At the front of the field the GS cars led in the order Holton, Burkett and Maxwell. Most of the cars then made their driver change pit stops under the yellow but, with the threat of more rain still present, they stayed with their choice of rain tires.

When the race was flagged green the No. 12 Porsche of Cameron Cassels led over Johnson who had replaced Maxwell but then Cassels pitted to hand over to Trent Hindman and gave up the lead to the No. 15 Mustang – but then Miller in the No. 33 Porsche passed Johnson to take over the lead.

For the remainder of the race Johnson hounded Miller trying to wrest back the lead. As the clock ticked down and we saw a bit more rain, Johnson closed up to within five seconds – but, despite his best efforts, that was the best he could do and he had to settle for second behind Miller. The No. 12 Porsche finished third while the No. 9 Aston (Putnam/Espenlaub) fourth.

The Gilsinger/Eversley Honda Civic won the ST class over the Porsche Caymans of Liefooghe/Balogh and Mosing/Foss.

The next round of the Continental Tire Championship will be held at the Circuit of the Americas at Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 17.

imsa WT 28937003

IMSA WeatherTech Championship Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway
The Magnussen/Garcia GTLM Corvette wins over the Hand/Mueller Ford GT

Aug. 28, 2016: The WeatherTech Series race at VIR included only the GT class cars. In the featured GTLM class a Corvette won over a Ford GT but it was the wrong cars – the cars contesting the points lead actually ended up farther back.

While there are a number of makes contesting GTLM, the championship race is focused on two makes only – the Corvettes and the Ford GTs. Coming into this race, the No. 4 Oliver Gavin/Tommy Millner Corvette C7.R was leading in points with 264 points ahead of the No. 67 Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook Ford GT at 251 points.

But the race went to the other half of these two teams. After running one-two for most of the race, the No. 3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia won the race by a 0.8 second margin over the No. 66 Ford GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller.

The No. 67 Ford GT qualified 8th quickest and ran a few places back from the leaders throughout the race – but they came through with a fourth place finish at the end. On the other hand, the No. 4 Corvette had qualified in second place behind the No. 3 Corvette but it fell back and, for much of the race was running behind the No 67 Ford. In the latter portion of the race it did get past the Ford but with only minutes to go in the 2.5 hour race, the Corvette crashed and could not continue. It had to settle for an 18th-place finish.

The points implications were that, although the No. 4 Corvette team left VIR still leading in the points, their lead over the No. 67 team had been reduced to seven points.

The Earl Bamber/Frederic Makowiecki Porsche 911 RSR finished third, splitting the two Fords, while the Bill Auberlin/Dirk Werner BMW M6 GTLM was fifth.

In the GTD class the top-placed finisher was the No. 48 Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow Lamborghini Huracan GT3. The Audi R8s of Aschenbach/Bell Audi R8 and Potter/Lally were second and third in class.

The next round of the WeatherTech Championship, which will include all four classes (prototypes and GTs), will be held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Photo Credits:

F1: Daimler AG/Steve Etherington
TMS: Chris Owens/IMS Photo 2016
NSC: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images
NCWTS: NASCAR/Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
NXS: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images
IMSA WT: Scott R LePage LAT Photo USA
IMSA Conti: Jake Galstad LAT Photo USA     

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