Monday Motor Sport Report

Belgium Grand Prix: Dramatic Ricciardo victory

DANIEL Ricciardo has led three Formula One grands prix during his career, and he’s won all three.  He’s also won three of the most recent six GPs, and the last two consecutively.

Yesterday’s Belgian Grand Prix fell the Aussie’s way after championship leader Nico Rosberg punctured Mercedes-Benz teammate Lewis Hamilton’s rear tyre in a clumsy overtaking move, but also inflicted some damage to his own front wing. That put the two Mercs into pit lane and gave Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Ricciardo more than a glimmer of hope.

Pushing to hold off his young teammate, Vettel made a small mistake and the West Aussie flew past and quickly put some time and distance on the reigning world champion.

Seizing his chance, Ricciardo, who qualified fifth, used great pace to open a handy gap before Rosberg regrouped and began an impressive fightback after his lap two miscue.

Hamilton struggled on until five laps from the end, but never got back into contention.

Rosberg, helped by clever team strategy, chased down Ricciardo as the laps ran out.

They went into the final lap with our boy holding a still dwindling 4.3sec advantage, but he defiantly slammed in his personal best lap in the run to the chequer to claim Red Bull Racing’s 50th grand prix victory by 3.3sec.

The win at Spa was unexpected in light of the Renault-powered Red Bulls’ well-documented lack of straight-line speed. But when the race started it was obvious that the team had pulled some aero drag out of the Bulls to give them a chance on the straights.

“Everyone was saying we didn’t really have a chance around here, but I think we had some really good pace today and surprised ourselves,” said Ricciardo.

“It feels a bit surreal, but another win is very cool, very cool.

“It was difficult staying out at the end of the race. When you’re the leader as well, you always feel like you’re the most vulnerable when it comes to a pit stop or not, but Simon my engineer came on the radio and said, I think, ‘It’s 11 laps left, can these tyres get to the end?’ And I said, ‘I think I can keep more or less this pace’, and we were able to. Then on the last lap I found a couple more tenths, so I was having a bit of fun then!

“There’s been a lot of good things about the win today; obviously the last two came from a more aggressive style of race, but today was more calculated and it was nice to win under different circumstances.”

Kimi Raikkonen looked on track to land his first podium of a tough season – he goes well at Spa – but in a tough duel lost out to the fast Williams of Valtteri Bottas, who continued his fine form. It was Bottas’s fourth podium in the past five races.

Vettel claimed fifth after a late-race pack scrap, followed by the two McLarens and the always exciting Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari.  However, Kevin Magnussen copped a 20 sec post-race penalty for his aggressive late-race defence of his position, which dropped him behind Alonso.

But the 2014 Belgian GP was all about the cool brilliance of Dan Ricciardo and the fussing and feuding  Merc bovver boys…

That noise you hear in the distance is Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda tearing Rosberg a new orifice.

Great Scott as Volvo wins in Sydney

VOLVO’S remarkable first season in Australian V8 Supercars rocked to new heights yesterday at Sydney Motorsport Park, where the hugely impressive Scott McLaughlin posted the marque’s breakthrough 200km race win.

While the combo had previously won sprint races at the grand prix and in Perth, this one was special because it embraced strategy, pit stops and raw speed from the driver and his S60 Polestar.

Coming 24 hours after a horror opening day when an engine blew in one race, and a wheel fell off in the other, McLaughlin’s relief and joy were palpable.

Shane Van Gisbergen dominated on Saturday with runaway wins in the twin 100km sprints held in soggy conditions.

But McLaughlin went blue sky mining on Sunday, converting the Volvo’s one-lap pace (and another pole) into the narrowest of wins over a fast-finishing Nick Percat and Fabian Coulthard, both driving Holdens.

Tension heightened during the closing stages as McLaughlin battled an increasingly unenthusiastic soft-compound right-front tyre, the gap shrinking from more than five seconds to just 0.3sec at the flag. 

When McLaughlin hit the finish line, the relieved Garry Rogers Volvo camp erupted with predictable delight.

Asked what might have been the outcome if the race was a lap longer, the always candid McLaughlin replied: “Oh, it would have been all over – one more corner and it would have been all over!”

He said he’d tried to save wear on the hard-working front-right by using more throttle to steer the Volvo sprint-car style by kicking out the rears. But then the rear went off.

With pulses in the Volvo garage rising, the 21-year old showed steely composure to keep his car in front at the chequer – just.

While Kiwis won all three races at SMP, championship leader Jamie Whincup was solid both days and heads into the endurance races, starting with next month’s Sandown 500, with an extended advantage of 135 points.

IndyCars: Shaky Sonoma for Will Power

A NASTY 6.0-strength earthquake with an epicentre in the heart of the Napa Valley wine country rocked the Indycar community on Sunday (race) morning.  But that was nothing compared to championship leader Will Power’s day in the office, the Queenslander dropping from pole to 10th place at the finish.

Power led for 33 of 85 laps in his Team Penske car, but on lap 40 dropped to 20th after a spin. Rebounding, he got back into the top 10.

It wasn’t an entirely convincing display from Power, who has a history of the wobbles when the title is at stake.

Brisbane-born Scott Dixon took the win from Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud.

The podium means that Pagenaud joins Penske pair Power and Helio Castroneves as drivers still in the hunt for the 2014 IndyCar Series title, to be decided next weekend in a double-points race at the two-mile Fontana oval.

Power did not suffer much hurt from his spin as Castroneves was involved in contact on the first lap, never was in the top 10 and finished 18th.

He entered the race 40 points behind Power and the gap is now 51 points. Pagenaud is 81 points behind Power. There are 104 points available in the final round.

Power can sniff his first IndyCar championship, but history shows he can’t count on anything.  Two years ago, he lost the championship to Ryan Hunter-Reay by an agonising three points.  Two years before that, he was runner up to Dario Franchitti by five.

Indy Lights decided on countback

BRIT Jack Harvey won the last and deciding Indy Lights race of the championship year at Sonoma, but heartbreakingly lost the title to Colombian Gabby Chaves on a countback.

Both won four races during the season, but Chaves had more second placings.

Harvey had the consolation of being the season’s top rookie, ahead of Aussie Matthew Brabham.

Brabham finished a strong year with fifth place on the back of a sixth on Saturday. In 14 races, Brabham took a pole, a win and fourth overall in the points.

Chaves’ championship win comes with a $750,000 Road to Indy scholarship to assist his advancement to the 2015 IndyCar Series.

NASCAR: Rugged race for Ambrose

GETTING crashed at the half-mile Bristol oval is as likely as getting dizzy whenever the Sprint Cup circus comes to town for a 5000-lapper.

Ford’s Joey Logano survived the expected mayhem to win for the third time this year

Marcos Ambrose’s promising 10th-fastest qualifying effort translated into… well, not much. He finished 34th and 20 laps down after a rough night.

WRC: Hyundai scores maiden win

AFTER a spectacular multiple rollover during the shakedown on the eve of Rally Deutschland, Belgium’s Thierry Neuville bounced back in his rebuilt i20 to take a stunning maiden World Rally Championship event victory for Hyundai.

It was only the ninth start in the WRC for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team.

Making the win sweeter, Dani Sordo finished second in his Hyundai i20 WRC to give the team a double reason to celebrate.

Mechanics worked a remarkable 18-hour shift to fix the car in time for Friday morning’s start after the shakedown shunt on Thursday.

Hyundai certainly benefitted from the retirements of Volkswagen’s new world champion, Sebastien Ogier, and flying Finn Jari-Matti Latvala. But Neuville showed plenty of pace throughout.

A mistake while leading only 70 kilometres from the end ultimately cost Latvala his chance, while Ogier skidded off out of the lead on day one and had another crash on Saturday.

Next up is Rally Australia on September 11-14, with local hero Chris Atkinson joining Neuville in the Hyundai entry.

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