Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit
Hamilton wins ahead of Vettel this time
Sunday, April 9, 2017: After losing out to Sebastian Vettel in the season opener, it was Hamilton all the way in the Chinese Grand Prix. He won the pole ahead of Vettel and in the race he led all the way from start to finish, taking the checker by six seconds over his Ferrari rival. Max Verstappen had started in 19th place after a botched qualifying attempt but he was soon up in the hunt and, in the end he held off a strong challenge from his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo to finish third and stand on podium yet again.
Ricciardo finished fourth with Kimi Räikkönen just behind in the second Ferrari. Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton's Mercedes teammate, finished in sixth place.
The track was damp for the start of the race encouraging people to try to make appropriate tire choices – between soft and super-soft tires. Indeed, after the practice sessions had been foreshortened on Friday by adverse weather conditions – weather conditions that were also forecast for Sunday – there was talk that the actual race might be moved forward a day and run on Saturday to avoid the risk of complete cancellation due to Sunday's weather – but other than a bit of smoggy atmosphere and damp conditions, the race was able to run as scheduled on Sunday.
On the start Hamilton shot into the lead ahead of Vettel who had started alongside on the first row. Unfortunately the Canadian driver Lance Stroll, who had qualified his Williams car in tenth place, was punted off by Sergio Perez on this very first lap – bringing out the virtual safety car.
Vettel opted to pit for new tires despite having had no chance to see how well the original tire choice was going to work out – and he dropped to sixth place. Many other cars back in the field also came into the pits at this time. Verstappen, who had made a rocket charge ahead on the original green, benefitted from this and he found himself up in fifth place on just the third lap of the 56-lap race – behind four other cars which had opted to stay out – Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo and Räikkönen.
No sooner had the virtual safety car been withdrawn than the safety car came out for real after Sauber fill-in driver Antonio Giovinazzi lost control on the wet track and crashed into the barriers in front of the pits. Now those who had not already pitted – including Hamilton – came in but as it happened all the field was diverted down the pit lane to avoid the crashed Sauber so they came out with little or no time penalty to the rest of the field. After this, the order was Hamilton, Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Verstappen and Vettel.
On the first green-flag lap following Verstappen passed Räikkönen for third and a couple of laps later he passed his teammate for second. Meanwhile Vettel was back in fifth place behind Räikkönen. On lap 20, he passed Räikkönen for fourth and then, two laps later he got past Ricciardo for third – albeit four seconds back of Verstappen.
Now Vettel started to reel in Verstappen and he soon closed right up on him and started to apply pressure. When , on lap 30, Verstappen locked up a wheel and almost slid off the course, Vettel was past him for second place. Verstappen pitted for new tires and dropped to sixth place.
A sequence of pits stops followed over the next few laps but, when it was all done, the order was the much the same as it had been – Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Räikkönen. In the closing laps Ricciardo closed on Verstappen and tried his best to make the pass but he was unable to get by as the laps reeled off and he had to settle for a forth-place finish behind his young teammate.
The next Formula 1 Grand Prix will be the Bahrain GP next Sunday, April 16th.
Verizon IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Hinchcliffe scores a solid win on the tricky Long Beach street course
Sunday, April 9, 2017: Canada's own James Hinchcliffe gave notice here that he is back and ready to win races. His win here was his first in nearly two years and his first since he suffered his life-threatening injury at Indianapolis in 2015. He made it look easy, winning by a 1.5 second margin over Sebastien Bourdais, the Dale Coyne driver who had won the first race of the season at St. Petersburg.
Hinchcliffe had qualified in fourth place behind Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Castroneves had trouble at the start and fell back out of contention. After that, Hinchcliffe was running in a solid third place behind Dixon and Hunter-Reay. Bourdais had started in 12th place but he fell to the back of the field after he lost his rear wing in a first-lap altercation.
Dixon was one of the first to pit for fuel, presumably he was on a three-stop strategy while the others were planning to stop only twice. This put the onus on Dixon, who had pitted from the lead, to regain the lead and then some to give him the time cushion he would need to finish ahead of the two-stoppers. This plan never worked out and in the end Dixon had to settle for a fourth-place finish behind Bourdais and Josef Newgarten.
When the other front-runners pitted Dixon regained the lead ahead of Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe but he was running on borrowed time and when he made his second pit stop on lap 40 of the 85-lap race, he dropped to fifth while Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe carried on in first and second. Meanwhile Coyne's race strategy for Bourdais saw him running up in fourth place ahead of Dixon although privateer Coyne admitted that he was only hopeful that Bourdais might be able to finish in the top ten.
Andretti driver Alexander Rossi was running up in third place behind Hinchcliffe before he and the other two-stoppers made their second round of green-flag pit stops letting Dixon through back into the race lead again but then Dixon pitted and lost places. Rossi's car had a mechanical failure and stopped on the track bringing out the second caution. Now the race order under yellow was Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and, surprisingly, Bourdais.
Once the track went green again, Hinchcliffe's only serious threat was Hunter-Reay who was running a couple of second behind him with Bourdais another four seconds adrift. Then, with about six laps to go, Hunter-Reay slowed and stopped on the course his car having "just died". This left Hinchcliffe in the lead ahead of his next contender Bourdais who was counting himself lucky just to be in second place. And the laps counted down to see Hinchcliffe declared the winner with Bourdais second.
This somewhat unexpected result sees Bourdais continuing to hold the championship points lead with 93 points, some 15 points ahead of Hinchcliffe who stands in second place in the points standings.
The next IndyCar race will be held at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday April 23rd.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
Johnson comes from the back to the front to win the race
Sunday, April 9, 2017: On Friday afternoon things did not look good for the Hendrick Motorsports race team. Of the four hendrick cars there, three of them failed to complete inspection in time to make qualifying runs. Only Jimmie Johnson was able to make a run but at the end of his first run he spun on the slick surface and flat-spotted his tires. He could not start the race on these damaged tires and was put to the back of the field as a penalty for changing them for new tires before the start of the race. Hence all four Hendrick cars had to start from the back of the field.
On race day, Johnson's day went much better. Despite starting at the back, after the round of pit stops under yellow at the end of Stage No. 1, he came out in tenth place. After that he remained in contention in the top ten and, when the race went green after the next caution (on lap 123 of the 334-lap race) he started from third place and he quickly got past Jamie McMurray for second behind Ryan Blaney who was dominating the race lead.
The second Stage was scheduled for lap 170 but caution flew for debris on lap 165. Given the option of pitting now and being able to gain track position when the others pitted during the upcoming Stage No. 2 caution or waiting to score points for their finishing position when Stage No. 2 ended, the front ten opted to stay our and take the Stage points while the rest came into the pits. Of course, when the Stage No. 2 caution flew a few laps later, those who had already pitted found themselves mired way back in the field. Blaney, who had been in command, was now back in 20th place ahead of Kyle Larson and Johnson.
Meanwhile the race up front had become a battle between Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. One assumed that the Blaney and company drivers who had pitted later would not pit as soon as the ones who had pitted in the previous caution and therby cycle back into the lead but, when the green-flag pit stops began, it was obvious that waiting to take on fresh tires would allow the ones who pitted first to make up too much ground – so Blaney and company pitted as well, negating any strategic advantage they may have had over the ones who had pitted one caution ahead of them.
This produced a mix of cars unseen before in the race with Martin Truex in the lead ahead of Harvick, Earnhardt, Clint Bowyer and Keselowski. Larson was in sixth place ahead of Johnson with Blaney back in tenth place. This carried on until another sequence of green-flag pit stops began on lap 272. Joey Logano was clearly on an alternate strategy when he stayed out longer than the rest and he took the lead for 17 laps before he finally pitted – handing over the lead to Harvick followed by Johnson and Truex.
Finally, another caution came on lap 301, with just 33 laps left to run. All the front runners pitted except Logano who had fallen out of the top ten and who now found himself leading the race. During this pit stop sequence Blaney had a slow pit stop and fell back to 16th and out of contention.
Now the question was whether Logano would have enough speed on old tires to hold off those behind him. The answer was 'no'. Johnson who had been the second driver out of the pits behind Harvick, passed Harvick for second on the restart and he soon closed in on Logano – he passed him with 17 laps to go and romped home for the win.
Larson was another who had started from the back of the field and he was making good progress forward in the race until he received a pit road penalty which sent to the back of the field again. In the closing laps he got past Logano for second but he could not reel in Johnson in the few laps that remained. Had he not incurred the pit road penalty, who knows, he might have been able to be the one to win this race. Logano finished third, ahead of Harvick and Earnhardt.
This year NASCAR has a convoluted system for awarding points during the season, counting stage finish positions as well as race finish positions. Somehow, using this arcane formula, Larson is the points leader over Chase Elliott who finished ninth at in Texas.
The next NASCAR MENCS race will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday April 23rd.
NASCAR Xfinity My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway
Erik Jones makes a dominant return visit to Xfinity Series at Texas
Saturday, April 8, 2017: Last year, then 19-year-old young Erik Jones was the star of the Xfinity series. Unfortunately, the vagaries of NASCAR's Chase method of determining the championship saw him losing out to Daniel Suárez. This time, he was making a return visit to the series as an established Cup driver and he reminded us how strong a performer he had been in the Xfinity series. Driving a Joe Gibbs Toyota, he led 112 of the race's 200 laps – including the final 45 laps – to win the race ahead of Ryan Blaney in a Penske Ford and Kevin Harvick in a Richard Childress Chevrolet. Austin Dillon, in yet another Childress Chevrolet finished fourth. The first Xfinity series regular to finish was Cole Custer in a HAAS-sponsored Ford, who came home in fifth place behind all the Cup carpetbaggers.
Joey Logano in the other Penske Ford had taken the pole with Jones alongside. He had a strong run, leading the first 19 laps of the race. After that he continued to run near the front until lap 145 when he came into the pits with an engine problem and retired.
Daniel Suárez, as the 2016 champion, might have been expected to dominate this race but despite qualifying only 15th quickest he was soon running in the lead pack – until he spun on lap 62 bringing out the race's third caution period. He seemed to be struggling with the handling of his car all day and ended up with a 12th-place finish.
Soon after Suárez's spin, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace spun on lap 66, Observers noted that the track, which had been newly paved and reconfigured was exceptionally slick and that these grip problems might persist through the weekend. Fortunately, as the race went on the problems of lack of grip seemed to diminish as the track got "rubbered up".
The next caution flew on lap 85 when a back marker made an unassisted spin. This caution came very close to the yellow scheduled for lap 90 to signal the end of the second "stage". Competitors who were not in contention for the championship opted to pit at this point so that, when the Xfinity championship hopefuls pitted during the next caution (after scoring the points awarded for end-of-stage positions) the "visitors" would cycle back around to the lead and be set up to run for the win as the race wold out to the finish.
And that's what happened in due course. After end-of-stage caution, Erik Jones was back in the lead but Blaney ran him down and took the lead on lap 131. Jones pitted for tires on lap 147 and Blaney pitted out of the lead a lap later but he came out trailing Jones by a couple of seconds and Jones was able to hang on and go for the win, winning by a margin of half a second over Blaney.
Alex Labbé, a regular competitor in the NASCAR Pinty's Series in Canada, entered a Can-Am-sponsored Chevrolet in the race. He qualified in 33rd place and finished 28th, six laps down on the leader. Labbé and the team are planning on running several more Xfinity races this year, enough to acquire a full Xfinity licence in preparation for a full Xfinity season in 2018. Alex will also run the full NASCAR Pinty's schedule this year, again with Mario Gosselin as Crew Chief.
The next Xfinity Series race will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 22nd.
IMSA WeatherTech BUBBA Burger Grand Prix at Long Beach
The Taylor brother make it three wins in a row with their Cadillac DPi
Saturday, April 8. 2017: In the end they made it look easy. The Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan, who drive a factory Cadillac DPi prototype for their father Wayne Taylor had already won outright at Daytona and Sebring. Now, here at Long Beach, Jordan took advantage of Ryan Dalziel in his Nissan DPi when he was baulked by slower GTD cars and the Scotsman chose the wrong lane. Taylor was able to shoot past him for the lead. This happened on lap 59 of the 100 minute race which was flagged off after 63 laps had been completed.
Before that, the No. 10 Cadillac had led for the first 33 laps until the fourth yellow flew on lap 32 – when the GT Le Mans BMW of John Edwards/Martin Tomczyk inherited the lead and the prototype class cars were caught up behind them after their pit stops. Tomczyk held the lead for the next 14 laps through the subsequent caution period but on that restart, Dalziel had the lead over Taylor and he led for the next ten laps until Taylor had that lucky encounter with the errant GTD car. After that, Dalziel gave it everything he had but he was unable to quite match the speed of the Cadillac and he finished in second, six seconds adrift. For once the Mazda effort paid off with a good finish – the No. 55 Tristan Nunez/Jonathan Bomarito Mazda DPi finishing in third place 15 seconds back of the race winner.
The GT Le Mans class was still contentious. Joey Hand in the No. 66 Ford GT had been second fastest in qualifying behind the No. 3 Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen Corvette C7.R but he was involved in an altercation on the first lap and was never again in contention. The No. 67 Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook Ford GT did not qualify so well but it did run better in the race. After the lead was held by a Porsche 911 RSR and then by the aforementioned BMW, in the closing laps the No 3 Corvette held the lead ahead of the sister car, the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Millner/Oliver Gavin with the No. 67 Ford right behind. Then, on the final lap, three cars got tangled up at the final hairpin – in sight of the finish line – and in the confusion that ensued the No. 3 Garcia Car was blocked and the No. 4 Millner Corvette was the first to clear the blockage with the No. 67 Ford following through on his tail. Unfortunately Millner was unable to get going until everyone else caught up in the blockage got past and he finished fifth in class.
In GT-Daytona the No. 50 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Cooper MacNeil/Gunnar Jeannette finished 11th overall and first in class.
The next IMSA WeatherTech race will be held at COTA near Austin, Texas on Saturday, May 6th.
• Box Score: Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai
• Box Score: Verizon IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix, Long Beach, CA
• Box Score: NASCAR MENCS O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, Texas Motor Speedway
• Box Score: NASCAR Xfinity My Bariatric Solutions 300, Texas Motor Speedway
• Box Score: IMSA WeatherTech BUBBA Burger Grand Prix of Long Beach
F1: Wolfgang Wilhelm, Daimler AG
IndyCar: Richard Dowdy/IndyCar
NASCAR MENCS: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/NASCAR
NXS: Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR
IMSA WeatherTech: © 2017 Leland Hill, LAT Images