Monday Motor Sport Report

F1: Lewis again… just!

THE standard of racing amped up somewhat after that pathetic excuse for a contest in China, but at the end of the under-lights Bahrain Grand Prix the bloke at the pointy end was again Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes.

This makes his record this year a slick four from four, but this result doesn’t quite tell the story of the race.

Hamilton was pushed hard by both team-mate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s double act of world champions. And just one more lap and the outcome may have been different as Hamilton encountered braking problems on the last few kilometres to the chequer.

Showing that Mercedes is still vulnerable, Rosberg also had braking-by-wire dramas two laps from the end, running wide and allowing hard-pushing Kimi Raikkonen to poke his Ferrari into second.

The grand prix began in lively fashion with Hamilton holding out Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen in the usual opening lap rush, while Rosberg dropped a place to fourth.

Our man Ricciardo, from seventh, benefitted from Felipe Massa ahead being forced to start from the pitlane, but showed he’d fixed the startline yips of the last race and completed the first lap in sixth.

Rosberg smartly reclaimed third with a feisty move on Raikkonen. The fired up Rosberg then took a crack at Vettel when the Ferrari driver went wide in turn one. The first effort failed; the second didn’t and then the Mercs were doing what they often do and that’s run one-two up front.

Vettel then found himself in the gun sights of a pumped-up Raikkonen but stayed ahead until Ferrari pulled the predictable undercut early tyre stop move, which put the four-times champ back to third ahead of Rosberg. A lap later Rosberg belligerently elbowed his way back past Vettel and to a track position surprisingly close to Hamilton, who’d had a slower pit stop.

Vettel later made an unforced error and damaged his nose, putting him behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas to the finish, but Raikkonen in the second Ferrari picked up the baton, using his tyres superbly and carving into the Mercedes pair up front.

Ricciardo’s Renault engine failed as he got to the line, meaning he will be using his fourth and final engine in Spain next month. Not ideal, Regie.

But Our Dan was pleased with his own performance: “The weekend went pretty smooth for me until the end of the race. I don’t know what happened [with the engine], but the team will have a look at it.

“The chassis is working better and through the corners we are more or less there; we’ll move onto Europe and see if we can get further up the grid and keep improving.”

Back in the order there were some entertaining battles. Bottas bested Vettel for fourth, Romain Grosjean moved his Lotus from 10th to seventh, Force India’s Sergio Perez from 11th to eighth, Red Bull’s Daniil Kyvat from 17th to ninth, and Massa claiming the final point after a spirited drive from the back.

McLaren’s misery continued when Jenson Button’s car stopped with a bang as he headed out for Q1. He was granted permission to start from the rear of the grid, but the car was withdrawn not long before the start when engineers discovered safety problems with the ERS.

Team boss Ron Dennis denied that this was the most pain he has had to endure in his Formula One career, pointing to the rawness of not qualifying for the 1983 Monaco Grand Prix.

In the lead-up to the race in Bahrain, as was the case in Shanghai and before that in Sepang, the international television was furiously using their egg-beaters to whip more life into the tired old tale of rivalry between the fighting Mercedes team-mates.

Hopefully, the focus might shift from their real or imagined feud to the new engine rules for 2017 foreshadowed by Bernie Ecclestone, who has called for 1000 horsepower… and more noise.

INDYCARS: Power’s Long Beach stalls as Dixon breaks duck

DEFENDING IndyCar champ Will Power had a weekend to forget at Long Beach, his race compromised by a frustrating qualifying and then his race effectively cruelled when a car stalled ahead of him in the pitlane entry.

But that other ‘Australian’ – Brisbane-born Ganassi driver Scott Dixon finally dispatched his Long Beach street race hoodoo with a strong win over the rival Penske squad.

Dixon’s early move to get by Juan Pablo Montoya into second was pivotal for he was then able benefit from a brief delay for then-leader Helio Castroneves during the first round of pit stops to grab the lead.

With no yellows to deal with, Dixon was thereafter never under threat, beating home Castroneves by 2.2 seconds.

The scrap for the last podium slot created most of the race’s excitement with Penske duo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud joined by Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais in a four-way run to the flag.

Sadly, Power race was ruined in the first round of stops, when Luca Filippi stalled at the pit entry. Power then stalled trying to manoeuvre around him. He rejoined but fell off the lead lap to finish 20th.

Montoya still leads the championship standings from Castroneves, Kanaan and Dixon. Past champions all.

MOTOGP: Rossi triumphs in Argentina; Marquez crashes

THE sceptics who thought Valentino Rossi’s vintage win in the opening round of the MotoGP season in Qatar an aberration should think again after the Yamaha star’s adventurous charge to victory in Argentina.

Rossi gambled on the right tyre choice to take his 84th MotoGP victory, storming from eighth on the grid to take the lead after banging bikes with Marc Marquez, the Spaniard crashing out of the race.

At the start, Rossi was immediately in the middle of the pack fighting for first corner position, then picking off Danilo Petrucci and then Aleix Espargaro to move into sixth. His team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, Cal Crutchlow and finally Andrea Dovizioso were then caught and passed, putting the veteran in second position behind Marquez, four seconds up the road.

But he reeled in the reigning world champ, who was struggling with grip, lining him up with just two laps remaining.

A fast exchange of positions followed through turns two, three and four, with Rossi exiting turn five in the lead.

Counter-attacking, Marquez clipped Rossi’s back wheel on the exit, crashing out of contention. Although Marquez was not thrilled with the encounter at the time, officials ruled it a ‘racing incident’ and took no further action.

“It’s a great victory,” the predictably delighted Rossi said.

“We made the right decision and started with the extra-hard tyre. When I saw Marc start with the red [softer] one, I knew that he would try to push at the beginning.

When I arrived in second, Marc had a little more than four seconds lead. I knew the race was long, so I knew he could have some difficulty. Catching him lap by lap, I could see him far away but coming closer and closer; it was a great taste!

“I overtook him in braking, but he is a rider who is all or nothing; he touched me in the corner, then he touched me again as I was accelerating, I think he made a mistake and he crashed. It's a shame because it could have been a great fight on the last lap.

“In three races we have demonstrated we can be competitive everywhere and fight for the championship.”

After he cooled down, Marquez delivered a more considered comment: “When he passed me, well… you can see what happened in the video. I love Valentino and it is always difficult to beat him; he is my hero and I always learn something when I ride against him.”

Ducati’s Dovizioso took advantage of Marquez’s crash to claim second while Honda’s Crutchlow left it until the very last corner to pass Iannone to claim the final podium place,

Australia’s Jack Miller on the LCR Honda took the Open class victory, finishing 12th overall as he continues to get to grips with the pace and intensity of MotoGP racing.

Rossi now holds a six-point lead over Dovizioso in the standings, and has a 30-point advantage over Marquez.

INDY LIGHTS: Gearbox outs Brabham at Long Beach

MATT Brabham’s frustrating 2015 season continued at Long Beach at the weekend when he had another outing with Andretti Autosport in the hour-long Indy Lights race.

The third-gen driver retired with gearbox problems, having earlier qualified a disappointing ninth.

It was Brabham’s second start with Andretti this year, after a deal was done in the days before the weekend.

“We had a reasonably good start and managed to capitalise on some people crashing in the first corner; I managed to avoid the accident and get up to sixth, so that was good,” reported Brabham later.

“Just unfortunate we had an issue with shifting and I lost a whole bunch of gears and couldn’t continue, so my race ended only a few laps into the race.”

The race was won by Ed Jones.

Brabham’s immediate future remains problematical, despite the faith held in him by the right people.

“Matt is a good kid; always hungry for that win,” said team owner Michael Andretti. “We’d love to have the sponsorship to run him the remainder of the season, and are working hard on it. Hopefully something will come through for him.”

PRODUCTION CARS: Six-hour set for Bathurst next Easter

A NEW six-hour endurance race for production cars is set to elevate next year’s Bathurst Motor Festival at Easter to meaningful motor sport.

The not-quite-firm plan is to start the race at midday on Easter Sunday, running until a 6pm conclusion.

To be promoted and organised by the promoter of the annual Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the race will be staged for cars built to CAMS 3E Production Car regulations.

The Six Hour will be open to entries featuring two or three drivers, while the mandatory fitment of dry-break refuelling is likely to be phased in over several years to allow cars presently operating without it to enter in the short-term.

Organisers have targeted a grid of 40 cars for the inaugural event in 2016.

Some 55 cars were entered in the two one-hour NSW Production Touring Car races at Mount Panorama this year, won by Dylan Thomas in a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X.

“The competitor demand for a stand-alone production car race is high and the strong grid numbers for the NSW Production Touring Car races the last few years at the Bathurst Motor Festival are an encouraging sign,” said event director James O’Brien.

“The Bathurst Motor Festival will continue in its current format while accommodating the six-hour race on Sunday afternoon,” O’Brien said.

“We expect to run five other categories and continue the event’s purpose of giving opportunities to compete at Mount Panorama for those who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance.

“The addition of the Six Hour will only add to the weekend and give competitors another chance to compete in a major long-distance race on the mountain.”

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