Race Weekend Review: Sept. 30-Oct. 2

Written by George Webster on .

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Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang
Red Bull goes one-two; Rosberg third after Hamilton blows up

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016: We may have thought that the Formula One season was winding down with a totally predicatble outcome – a series of one-two finishes for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg culminating in Hamilton winning yet another world championship – but the Malaysian Grand Prix sure did not play out according to that script. Instead we saw the Red Bull team of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen finishing one-two after a closely fought battle for the lead while Rosberg finished in third after dropping to the back of the field on the opening lap and Hamilton a DNF after his engine failed mid-race.

The start was predicable enough – at least to the first corner – Hamilton ahead of Rosberg. But Sebastian Vettel had made a rocket start up from the third row only to collide with Rosberg. This knocked Vettel out of the race and Rosberg off the track. Rosberg recovered and continued but by now he was down in 17th place. When the dust settled after that it was Ricciardo in second place behind Hamilton and ahead of his teammate.

During the first cycle of pits stops Verstappen took over the lead for a few laps before it reverted back to the Hamilton-Ricciardo-Verstappen order. Verstappen tried to challenge Ricciardo for second, even getting up alongside him at one point, but he could never gain the advantage again.

Then it all changed on lap 40 of the 56-lap race. Hamilton’s engine blew up, sending big flames out of the rear, ending his day and putting the Red Bull twosome up into the lead.

Meanwhile Rosberg had been charging back up towards the front of the field and by the time Hamilton’s engine blew he was in fourth behind the two Red Bulls – Hamilton’s retirement putting him up into third but some distance back.

On his charge back towards the front he had made a NASCAR-style “rubbin’ is racin’” pass on Räikkönen. The stewards assessed Rosberg a ten-second penalty for his indiscretion. For a while it looked like Räikkönen would be able to finish within this ten-second time and beat out Rosberg for third, but the Mercedes brains, who had been calling on Rosberg to nurse his engine after Hamilton’s blow-up, gave him permission to increase his power setting enough that he was able to increase his gap over Räikkönen and he finished in third 13 seconds ahead of his rival who was scored in fourth place.

Of course, this result upset the points standings. It left Rosberg in the lead over Hamilton but now he had a massive 23-point lead over his teammate. With 25 points for a win and five races to go, Rosberg’s chances look good. No wonder Hamilton was somewhat bitter afterwards, “ My question is to Mercedes. We have so many engines made, but mine are the only ones failing this year.”

The next Formula One race will is at Suzuka, Japan on Oct. 9.

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IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta
Honda P2s finish one-two in prototype class; Ferrari 488 wins in GT Le Mans

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016: The ten-hour Petit Le Mans finale of the IMSA WeatherTech series was won by a pair of Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 cars. With earlier wins at Daytona and Sebring, Honda won the manufacturer’s championship in the North American Endurance Cup. The Endurance Cup is based on the results of the four long-distance races in the WeatherTech series – Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, and Road Atlanta.

The Honda-Ligier driven by Olivier Pla/John Pew/Oswaldo Negri Jr. came home the winner with the other Honda-Ligier driven by Scott Sharp/Johannes van Overbeek/Luis Felipe Derani second, 3.5 seconds back after ten hours.

The next three finishing places were filled by “Corvette” Daytona Prototypes. The No. 10 Taylor Racing car driven by Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli was third and the No. 31 Action Express car of Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Simon Pagenauld was fourth, both on the lead lap. The No. 5 Action Express car of Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque was fifth. The drivers of the No. 5 DP Corvette won the driver and team titles in the North American Endurance Cup. The No. 31 car won the season-long class championship.

The tube-frame Daytona Prototype cars which were created back in 2003 ran their last race here; they are being phased out in favour of a new DPi class which will run alongside the P2 cars in IMSA Prototype competition.

In the GT Le Mans class, the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella/James Calado won by a margin of 14 seconds ahead of the No. 66 Ford GT driven by Dirk Müller/Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais, but it was the No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fässler, which finished third in class on the same lap, which won the full-season GTLM title. Going into this finale, the No. 67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook/Ryan Briscoe/Scott Dixon had qualified on the pole and its points standing gave it a chance at winning the season class championship. However, they suffered from an early-race incident which resulted in a damaged waste gate pipe and they finished 26 laps down on the class leader.

The No. 33 Dodge Viper driven by Jeroen Bleekemolen/Ben Keating/Marc Miller won the GT Daytona class but the No. 23 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Mario Farnbacher/Ian James/Alex Riberas, which finished 19 laps behind the No. 33 car, won the drivers title for Farnbacher and Riberas.

In Prototype Challenge, the No. 52 ORECA (this is a one-make, spec class) of Tom Kimber-Smith/Robert Alon/Jose Gutierrez won the class here, finishing four laps behind the overall race winner.

Petit Le Mans is the final race in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech season. The 2017 kicks off at Daytona on Jan. 28-29.

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IMSA Continental Tire Challenge at Road Atlanta
The Multimatic Shelby Mustang duo of Maxwell and Johnson take home every GS championship

Sept. 30, 2016: The Multimatic team’s drivers Scott Maxwell and Billy Johnson may have won the first race of the season at Daytona but after they lost the next three races to the new-to-the-series Porsche Cayman GT4, things were not looking too hopeful for the team’s chances of winning the CS class championship this year. But after that they won every one of the remaining races except for a second place at Virginia International Raceway and this was good enough for them to clinch every championship title going.

The two drivers, Maxwell and Johnson are driver co-champions. This was Maxwell’s third championship win in this series but it was Johnson’s first series title despite his having won a record 23 series races. Actually the drivers’ title was pretty well set by the time the race had begun – all they had to do was run the race and they would have had enough points to be named champions. The other two titles were not such a sure thing – the Multimatic team won the team championship while they also won the manufacturers’ championship for Ford. Had their Mustang finished second to the No. 33 Porsche Cayman, the two makes would have been tied for the championship.

Although Maxwell won the pole – his sixth for the ten-race season – the race was by no means a walkover for the Multimatic team.

At the start they led over the similar No. 76 Pierre Kleinubing/Paul Horton Mustang Shelby GT350R-C but the No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 of Danny Burkett/Marc Miller soon worked its way up past both of them to take the lead. The first caution came on lap 15 after the No. 12 Porsche was bumped off course by the No. 09 Aston Martin. Although it was still early in the race – just under 30 minutes of the 2.5 hour race had been run -- the leader, the No. 33 Porsche, made its first pit stop. The Multimatic team left the No. 15 Maxwell Mustang out and it regained the lead.

However, this strategy looked like it might have been a mistake because the No. 15 car was going to have to pit sooner or later and – if they had to make that pit stop under green flag conditions – they would lose a lot of track position to the No 33 car. Before long, the No. 15 Mustang seemed to be losing its advantage and it was passed first by the No. 76 Mustang and then by the No. 33 Porsche – the Porsche quickly moving up into the lead.

The No 15 car was called into the pits under green for fresh tires and a driver change. By the time Johnson came out of the pits and got going again he was nearly a full lap down on the race leader. And he seemed unable to close up that gap to the front of the field, running more than a full minute behind the No. 33 car which was running 17 seconds ahead of the second-place No. 76 Mustang at the one-hour mark. At this point it looked like the Porsche had the race in the bag.

But despite appearances, this fit the Multimatic team’s strategy. They had opted to not pit until Maxwell had completed the mimimum time required for him to qualify for the title – so that determined when they pitted. Once that pit stop had been made, Maxwell was assured of his half of the drivers’ title.

It did not really matter if Johnson was unable to regain the lead so longas he finished the race – but salvation came in the form of a second caution just past the one-hour mark – which led to almost every team pitting under yellow. Actually the No. 35 Porsche opted to stay out with its original driver Till Beschtolsheimer at the wheel because their other driver – Tyler McQuarrie – was not feeling well and he was planning to run the minimum time to qualify for driver points.

Behind the No 35 Porsche the order was No. 33, No. 76, No. 09 (the Charlie Putnam/Charles Espenlaub Aston Martin), and then the No. 15. But this pit stop under caution had put the No. 15 into a position where Johnson could charge forward to challenge for the lead – and within a few laps he was up into second place less than a second behind the No. 33 car.

Miller in the No. 33 pitted under green on lap 57 for their third and final pit stop and took on only left side tires. Johnson brought No. 15 Mustang in a lap later and his crew, in a pit stop that took 17 second longer than their rival’s changed all four tires. No surprise, this saw him running 16 seconds behind the Porsche after they both got back up to speed – and behind the No. 09 Aston Martin as well. With about 30 minutes to go, Johnson passed the Aston but he was still about four seconds behind the race leader. But contrary to what we had seen up to this point, Johnson was able to methodically reel in the Porsche and with 15 minutes to go, he was right on his tail. And he kept on pressing the Porsche, passing him for the lead a few laps later. After that, Johnson was able to open up a small gap ahead of the other car and he held that through the remaining laps to the checkered flag

In the ST class the No. 25 Chad McCumbee/Steven McAleer Mazda MX-5 led for most of the race and it looked set to win the class championship. However, just past the two-hour mark the Mazda started to blow out hot water and it retired. This left the No. 17 Spencer Pumpelly/Nick Galante Porsche Cayman with the lead and they went on to win the class and the season’s class title.

This was the final race in the 2016 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The 2017 season will get underway at Daytona in January.

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway
Truex scores a second Chase win; twelve drivers move on to the next Chase round

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016: A second win in the first elimination round of the Sprint Cup Chase may have been redundant for Martin Truex but that not deter him from going for the glory anyway. Truex started the race from the front row and he took the lead on lap 6. After that he led 187 of the race’s 400 laps. The win may make no difference to his Chase status – his win at Chicagoland two weeks ago had already given him a pass into the second elimination round – but it has to do a lot for the team’s motivation and momentum as they go for their first Sprint Cup championship.

Kyle Busch finished second, Chase Elliott third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth – all in the Chase and all prospects to win the championship. Busch had led for 102 laps during the first third of the race.

Jimmie Johnson has not done well in the recent versions of the Chase format but it looked like he might be on his way to the race win today. He moved up to take the lead on lap 189 and he led the next 89 laps. But when he pitted on lap 278, one of his pit crew members was waiting for him in the pit box – he had come over the wall far too soon and NASCAR does not miss violations like that any more. After he served his drive-through penalty, he was in 11th place, a lap down. Truex was charging around so fast that there were only ten cars left on the lead lap at this point. In that final 100 laps, Johnson could never get back on the lead lap – indeed there were only six cars that completed all 400 laps. Johnson finished in seventh place, a lap down. It was not all bad news, however, Johnson did make the cut and he will move onto the second elimination round, starting with the next race.

The four drivers who failed to make the cut were Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, and Chris Buescher. Larson had had high hopes of making the cut with a good result here but things continued to go bad for him at Dover. He went lap down when he pitted complaining of a mysterious loss of power – probably electrical. His crew seemed to be able to fix it by working on the battery’s connections – but, in the middle of all this, an extra crew members stepped over the wall and he was penalized. After that he was laps down and never in contention again – and to add insult to injury, he did hit the wall hard on lap 182 when he blew a right-front tire. It is amazing that he was able to finish as well as he did, in 25th place, six laps down.

The Dover race was the third and final race of the first Chase elimination round. Next week’s race, on Saturday night (Oct. 8) at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be the first race of the “Round of 12”, the second elimination round in the Sprint Cup Chase.

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NASCAR Xfinity Series Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway
Suárez masters Dover; Ty Dillon finds redemption

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016: Daniel Suárez led 123 laps of the 200-lap Xfinity race at Dover – including the final 46 laps -- to take the win and guarantee that he will move on to the second elimination round in the Xfinity Chase. This was Suárez’ second race win of the season and it has to make him one of the favourites to win the championship, especially if his teammate Erik Jones fails to get through to the second round of eliminations. Ty Dillon, who had been close to tears after he was knocked out of the race at Kentucky a week ago – making his chances of surviving elimination look bad – came back strongly this week and finished second behind Suárez and ending up just three points below the “cut line” for the Chase elimination. Another good finish like this will see Dillon well into the second round of Chase eliminations.

The Xfinity race had been scheduled for the Friday afternoon before Saturday’s Sprint Cup race at Dover but it was rained out and rescheduled for the Sunday morning the next day. Three Cup regulars had been slated to drive in the Xfinity race – Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano. All three opted to sit this one out to rest up for the Sprint Cup race later the same day. For some inexplicable reason, Ryan Blaney, another Cup driver was picked to sub for Logano.

Going into the Chase, Erik Jones was the odds-on favourite to win the Xfinity title. He won the truck series last year as a rookie and, as a rookie in the Xfinity Series this year, he had already won four times. But unfortunately for him, the first two races of the Chase did not go so well for him. At Kentucky last week, he found himself fighting back up to regain the lead here after losing track position – and near the end of the race, as he was trying to pass Dillon for second place, they tangled and Jones’ race was over. That left him with two races to make up for the first if he were going stay in the Chase beyond this first round of three elimination races.

Jones was holding his own for the first half of the Dover race, swapping the lead with Suárez but just before the mid-point he started complaining to his crew about serious handling problems and he started to fall back. Finally he came into the pits for attention and by the time he came back out, he was two laps down on the field –and out of pit stop sequence. The best he could do after 50 laps of hard running was to work his way back up to ninth place on the lead lap. But that out-of-sequence pit stop caught up to him and with just four laps to go to the finish, he had to stop for a splash of fuel. This dropped him to 16th, two laps down at the finish. And, with respect to his Chase prospects, this left him worse off than before still mired back in the elimination group, four points behind Brennan Poole, the eighth-placed Chase contender. Jones still can hope to make it into the second elimination round if he has a significantly better finish in next week’s race than both Poole and Dillon –or if he wins that race.

Justin Allgaier finished third in the race, Ryan Blaney fourth and Alex Bowman fifth.

The next race will be run on Friday night (Oct. 7) at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It is the third and final round of the first elimination round of the Xfinity Chase. The top eight Chase drivers will move on to the next three-race round of the eliminations. That will be followed by a one race shoot-out between the top four Chase drivers coming out of the second round of eliminations.

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NASCAR Camping World Trucks DC Solar 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The Brad Keselowski duo of Reddick and Hemric finish one-two at Vegas

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016: Nobody ever said that you had to be a Chase-eligible driver to win one of the Chase races – and here at Las Vegas, the winner, Tyler Reddick, was not qualified for the Chase. His BKR teammate Daniel Hemric had qualified for the Chase but his second-place finish did not guarantee that he would not be eliminated when the first elimination round of three races is completed at Talladega. Reddick, despite his win here remains on the outside looking in.

During the 16-race run-up to the Chase, neither KBR driver had won any races. Here at Vegas, Reddick led for 70 of the race’s 146 laps and Hemric led for another 38, making them the two dominant drivers in this event.

Timothy Peters started from the pole and he led the first 13 laps before he was passed by Ben Kennedy who took over for the next 19 laps. After that, the two Keselowski Ford drivers showed their stuff and they pretty much dominated the rest of the race. At the two-thirds distance Cole Custer, another non-Chase driver, came up and challenged Hemric for the lead but Reddick quickly passed them both and went on to win the race – by a margin of 1.4 seconds over Hemric. Custer finished third another six seconds back. Kennedy was fourth and William Byron (the favourite to win the championship given his six wins so far this year) was fifth.

This was a surprising result. Last year Reddick finished second in the championship standings but he failed to qualify for the chase this year, while Hemric made it into the Chase on points. Hence, Reddick’s win really only gave him bragging rights while, if Hemric had won, as a Chase participant his win would have guaranteed that he would avoid elimination and move on to the second elimination round. Indeed, a win here for Hemric would probably have had some tangible payoff from his sponsors and from Ford. But, despite being able to match the pace of the leader in the closing laps just one second back, the two simply kept on their course letting the finish play out – no team orders here – and Hemric left Vegas facing the real prospect of failing have enough points to move on to the second round of the Chase.

Indeed, this race did little to change the Chase standings of the eight drivers competing in this elimination round. Christopher Bell, a Kyle Busch protege, lost third gear on the first restart and he had to struggle with his restarts for the rest of the race. Once he got up to speed, he could drop it into fourth gear and run as fast as anyone but he fell back on every restart. Despite this, he learned to minimize the losses on the subsequent restarts and he finished in sixth place. This actually improved his status in the Chase standing to second behind his teammate Byron.

The next round in the Camping World truck series is at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 22. This race will be the third race in the first Chase elimination round. The two drivers with the fewest Chase points after this race will be eliminated with six drivers going forward to the second elimination round.

Photo credits:

F1: Steve Etherington/©Daimler AG
IMSA WT: IMSA/ ©2016, Michael L. Levitt LAT Photo USA
IMSA Conti: IMSA/ ©2016, Michael L. Levitt LAT Photo USA
NSC: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images 2016
NXS: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
NCWTS: Jonathan Moore/NASCAR via Getty Images

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