Nico Rosberg wins crash-punctuated Belgian GP
Ricciardo second, Hamilton charges to third from the back of the grid.
Nico Rosberg scored his first Belgian Grand Prix victory on Sunday, but his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton assuaged some of the pain of a back-of-grid start by taking a fine third in a crazy, chaotic race at Spa.
Pole man Rosberg’s go-to-whoa win means he has now reduced to nine points the margin to drivers’ championship rival Hamilton. The Briton would have been more than satisfied to finish on the podium, after being forced to the rear due to numerous penalties accrued for three power unit changes in practice and qualifying.
Hamilton’s progress through the field was made easier by a mad start to the grand prix, triggered when teenage wunderkind Max Verstappen, from second on the grid, attempted to make up for an ordinary start by firing back under the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen at the La Source hairpin. The Finn, who in turn was being squeezed by team-mate Sebastian Vettel, had nowhere to go, bouncing into the German.
Vettel spun to the back, while Verstappen and Raikkonen were forced to pit due to damage.
Verstappen quickly exonerated himself, blaming the red cars: “They just turned into me.”
It wasn’t to be the first contretemps involving the Dutch teenager.
From fifth on the grid, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo escaped the melee and continued his sparkling form at Spa to go on to finish second, splitting the two Mercs and scoring more welcome drivers and constructors championship points.
The Force India pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez also enjoyed a fine race to claim fourth and fifth ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen, who recovered from their early tribulations and further run-ins with rivals to manage an unsatisfactory sixth and ninth.
After five laps and some scrappy driving from some, the field was down to 17 cars.
By lap six back-row starters Fernando Alonso and Hamilton were up to 10th and 11th when the virtual safety car neutralised the race after Kevin Magnussen lost his Renault out of Eau Rouge and crashed at high speed. He hobbled away but was hospitalised with an ankle injury as some cars pitted for tyres, promoting Alonso and Hamilton to fourth and fifth. Leaders Rosberg and Ricciardo stayed out perhaps anticipating what was to come…
On lap nine the GP was red-flagged for 17 minutes to allow the barriers damaged by the Magnussen crash to be repaired. In this situation Rosberg, Ricciardo and others were handed a “free” pit stop, restarting on fresh rubber.
Further back, Raikkonen and Verstappen banged together as hostilities were resumed. And when Verstappen pointedly jinked late to block Raikkonen down the Kemmel straight, the Finn set the radio alight with some expressive language.
By half distance Hamilton was well entrenched in third and some supporters in the commentary box were ambitiously thinking he might catch Ricciardo, who in his smart way controlled his pace to the end.
Verstappen’s eventful race didn’t get a whole lot better. In front of a huge – some say record – crowd that turned out in the rare Belgian sunshine to support F1’s latest wunderkind, the son of a Belgian mum and Dutch dad, he could only manage 11th.
His driving attracted criticism from Raikkonen who suggested he’ll have a massive crash unless he changes his behaviour. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff suggested Verstappen is “refreshing but dangerous”. Certainly, he can be very fast, but occasionally impetuous and erratic. We saw it at Monaco, and now Spa.
Verstappen too was the guy with a unique tyre choice and strategy – starting the race on faster though fragile supersofts amongst a bunch of cars fitted with softs. His turn one shunt ended that experiment.
Formula One does expose itself to ridicule occasionally, and so it did on Saturday when Lewis Hamilton incurred a 60-grid spot penalty (in a field of 22 cars) after fitting three new power units and other key components over the weekend.
The reality is that Hamilton started from the back row.
But how silly are these sanctions? Imposing grid penalties for replacing power units was introduced in a bid to cut costs. In seasons of old, teams would be fitting new engines almost daily sometimes. Now the limit is five per season after which the drivers face penalties. There is no carry-over for big penalties like Hamilton’s 60-grid spots, so going to the back of the grid (or pit lane) for one race is as much as can be imposed. The slate is wiped for the next grand prix.
But we ask again; why do the drivers have to wear the penalties for a team’s technical weaknesses? Ludicrous.
Whincup and van Gisbergen share spoils at SMP
Red Bull Racing steamroller dominates with two one-twos…
It was a memorable weekend for Supercars most popular driver Craig Lowndes who chalked up his 600th race start on Sunday at Sydney Motorsport Park.
But Jamie Whincup sullied what would have been a dream outcome by denying his Triple Eight team-mate victory in the milestone outing, the veteran having to settle for a fine second place.
It was a weekend of dominance for the Triple Eight trio, Shane van Gisbergen edging Whincup in an epic duel in Saturday’s sprint, before the six-times champ (and his pit-crew) combined brilliantly the following day to land his 100th Supercars victory.
A pair of Triple Eight one-twos in Sydney tells the tale of breathtaking ascendancy in a category where every car is as close to equal as technically possible.
Whincup joins Lowndes (105 wins) as the only drivers to have reached triple figure race successes.
Lowndes appeared set for a fairy tale win after he got away to an extraordinary start in Sunday’s 200km contest, passing pole sitter Chaz Mostert around the outside at turn one from fourth on the grid, and maintaining his lead until the cycle of pit stops.
At the second round of compulsory stops, the Whincup and Lowndess entered pitlane bumper to bumper with Lowndes ahead, but the positions were reversed – just – when they exited. And track position means so much when the classy guys are in combat. They rarely make mistakes.
Whincup, who started third, finished 2.58sec ahead of the TeamVortex Commodore. Mostert was third.
"I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a sense of relief having secured my 100th Supercars win,” Whincup said later. “It’s an honour to join the likes of my team-mate Craig Lowndes with this milestone. The feeling of winning never gets old, it definitely drives me. There are a lot of people who represent the 100 wins and I’m grateful to all of them."
Saturday’s winner van Gisbergen was bumped back a position from fourth to fifth with a late tap from the Volvo of James Moffat, who was hit with a drive-through.
Over the years, the Sydney circuit has had its critics, but it can produce some outstanding racing. Both Supercars events over the weekend were stunners, with some frantic pack racing right through the field.
Saturday’s 120km sprint was one for the memory bank with van Gisbergen and Whincup in Red Bull Racing Commodores duking it out over the concluding stages but never dipping into silliness. Van Gisbergen narrowly prevailed, withstanding unrelenting pressure and probing from the aggressive Whincup.
Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney completed the Saturday podium in a triumphant return to the circuit where he was last year injured in a freak helicopter incident.
Ford hope Mostert added to his selection of poles on Saturday but he was again frustrated in the race, sliding to fourth. He remains winless in 2016.
His Prodrive Ford team-mate and defending champion Mark Winterbottom had a forgettable weekend in his home city, placing 11th on Saturday and, after a puncture during Sunday’s race, 14th.
Winterbottom can see his chances of retaining the #1 slipping away, acknowledging that there are currently three drivers right in the title fight – and he’s not one of them.
Those three, lest anyone forget, are all in the T8 camp. “Now we’ll have all of our focus on the start of the endurance season,” declared van Gisbergen, who is right in the title fight, sitting in second and 137 points adrift of Whincup. Coming up are the crucial enduros. “We’ve got testing in a week’s time so it will be great to get my co-driver Alex Premat in the car and up to speed so we can both give it a good crack at Sandown."
Miedeckes father and son win emotional Sydney Motorsport Park 101
The family that plays together wins together in endurance championship.
Father and son pairing Andrew and George Miedecke raced to a brilliant victory in the second round of the CAMS Australian Endurance Championship for sports cars at Sydney Motorsport Park on Saturday.
The small family team, which operates with help from Matt Stone Racing, overcame set-up dramas with its Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 to clear out from a hot field.
“We’re a family team and we just love it,” said George Miedecke. “We only got the team together six months ago and this is just good!”
Proud dad, Andrew, the former open wheeler and touring car star, raved about his son’s performance. “I made a change to the car overnight and we went the wrong way. George could hang on but I couldn’t. We made a change at the last stop and George went out and claimed the lap record; on full tanks!”
After starting from the second row, George Miedecke moved into second place on the opening lap and shadowed early race leader John Martin until the first round of stops.
It was a perfect start, which left the Miedecke Motor Group entry in the race lead with Andrew Miedecke behind the wheel once the first pit sequence was completed.
In control of the race from that point, the pair never relinquished their advantage, staying cool under pressure in the middle stages to hold off an impressive Duvashen Padayachee in the Walkinshaw Porsche 911 GT3-R.
Padayachee had stepped into the Porsche at the first stop, going on to deliver a stunning 46-lap stint to chase down race leader Miedecke.
John Martin, who earlier took pole in the Walkinshaw GT3 car, claimed a great second place with Padayachee.
Third place went to the GT Motorsport Audi R8 LMS of Greg Taylor and Nathan Antunes, the pair working forward during the 101-lap encounter to head championship leaders Grant Denyer and Nathan Morcom in the McLaren Melbourne 650S GT3.
The next event takes place at the newly extended Hampton Downs in New Zealand.
Steve Kinser walks off into the sunset
The king of sprintcars, a 20-times World of Outlaws champion, has retired.
Steve Kinser has finally run down the curtain on his amazing career.
The most successful sprintcar driver of all time is 62, but still caught many by surprise with his retirement announcement at Lebanon Valley Speedway in New York State.
Kinser’s record is remarkable for his accumulation of wins and titles, his astonishing longevity and his consistency.
In the toughest sprintcar competition on the planet, he scored 577 World of Outlaws feature race wins, 20 Outlaws crowns and 12 Knoxville Nationals titles. No-one else got close.
Mike Raymond, the standout Australian speedway promoter and motor sports commentator, remains unsure if we’ve seen the last of Kinser, a bloke who has a lot of trouble walking away.
Raymond brought Steve and his racing family to Australia three summers ago for what was to be his final tour down under. Typically he won the feature in his last appearance at Sydney Speedway at Granville. He then scaled back his schedule at home but was having difficulty quitting. He often stumbled on the R word.
“Steve and I have been promoter-driver business mates for 25 years and he has always been the complete package whether it has been in sprintcars, NASCAR, IndyCar or midgets,” recalled Raymond on his Facebook page. “I never needed a contract of any description with the King.”
“I hope Tuesday's announcement is final because it will bring closure to a remarkable career by one of the finest racers ever to strap into a race car.”
The nomadic Kinser has been the superstar of American dirt racing for four decades. His idea of a holiday was to head to Australia and New Zealand in the off season for a barnstorming series of summer appearances.
Though sprintcars were his specialty, he showed his versatility with some NASCAR outings in 1995.
He was also chosen to compete in the International Race of Champions (IROC) Series, winning at Talladega in 1994.
In 1997, Indiana-born Kinser made his only start in the Indianapolis 100%, finishing 14th.