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BTCC: Collard Takes Championship Lead

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Rob Collard leads the BTCC standings by 2 points
(Photo from: www.the chequered flag.com)

Rob Collard left Snetterton with a two point lead over closest challenger and teammate Sam Tordoff on Sunday after three eventful rounds which saw two races shortened due to massive crashed and red flags. Collard who started the first race well down the order in … made the most of others’ misfortunes and low points yields to take the lead at the end of a round for the first time this season.

As mentioned Collard did not have it all his own way throughout the weekend has he could on manage 16th in qualifying with Gordon Shedden taking his and Honda’s first pole in the series since Donington Park in 2013. Shedden was joined on the front row of by Colin Turkington in the ever improving Subaru Levorg with Adam Morgan and Tom Ingram on the second row. Mat Jackson started fifth for Motorbase’s 300th race in the BTCC with the impressive Hunter Abbott alongside him in the Power Maxed Racing Chevrolet. Aron Smith qualified seventh, in the car that took pole last season, as Ashley Sutton Matt Neal and Sam Tordoff completing the top 10.

Race 1 and as the lights went out Shedden was able to keep the lead ahead of Turkington however the best starter was Mat Jackson from fifth who found himself third by the hairpin after going round the outside of Morgan. Ashley Sutton also had a good start jumping up to fourth from eighth overtaking Morgan for at turn 3. As the first lap ended Shedden lead from Turkington, Jackson in third Sutton fourth Morgan fifth and Ingram in sixth.

It was an eventful first lap which saw Alex Martin crash out after contact with Jeff Smith and Aron Smith retire.

Lap 3 and Adam Morgan overtook Ashley Sutton for fourth at the hairpin while behind Ingram was defending well from the charging Jason Plato who worked his way up to seventh. As the race progressed the top five started to pull away from the rest, as Shedden continued to defend from those behind. Turkington continued to apply constant pressure and on lap 8 he made his move, switching back at Agostini and overtaking up the inside at the next turn Hamilton.

Turkington never looked back however behind the order began to change as on lap 10 tyre issues started to occur with Josh Cook suffering a front left puncture followed quickly by Martin Depper with similar issues. A lap later and it was Sutton who had an identical issue, dropping out of fifth place.

This briefly promoted Ingram to fifth although Plato had other ideas, producing a fantastic overtaking maneuver on the Speedworks driver around the outside into Hamilton.

The victory was Turkington’s though, his third of the season and in doing so became the first driver to achieve this feat. Behind Shedden and Jackson completed the podium places with Morgan fourth. Plato held onto fifth with Ingram sixth, Tordoff seventh, Neal eighth with Warren Scott and James Cole rounding out the top 10. The result means that for the first time all four Subaru Levorg’s finished in the top 10, with Warren Scott’s ninth being a career best result. Turkington’s victory had originally been provisional, as he was investigated for a jump start, though it was deemed he had done nothing wrong and the result stood.

Onto Race 2 and Turkington started on pole with Shedden alongside as Jackson and Morgan completed row 2. As the lights went out it was Jackson who got the best start and worked his way up to the lead by the hairpin. However the race was red flagged following a massive multicar pileup on the Bentley Straight on lap 1 after Ollie Jackson got into the side of Dan Welch’s Proton and sent it spinning across the circuit, with others unable to avoid the out of control duo. Fortunately everyone was ok, however Ollie Jackson was reprimanded with a £500 fine and three penalty points on his licence.

The Motorbase team celebrating Jackson's victory (Photo from: ww.btcc.net)

The Motorbase team celebrating Jackson’s victory (Photo from: ww.btcc.net)

Second take and with the race shortened to 10 laps from the original 12 Turkington got a better start, and was able to defend from the again fast starting Jackson. However by Hamilton Jackson was able to take the lead leaving Turkington to defend from Shedden. Lap 2 and into the hairpin, Shedden made his first move for second, though it was unsuccessful taping Turkington in the process. Following a loss in momentum this allowed Turkington to get away slightly and allowed Morgan to get right behind Shedden who tapped the Scot into Agostini to take third away from the Honda driver. It also allowed teammate Neal, Plato and Collard through.

The top two continued to stretch their gap to the rest, however the fastest man on track was Neal in fourth who was quickly closing in Morgan’s Mercedes. Lap 5 and Neal made his move at Agostini, outbraking Morgan superbly as the charging Collard closed in for fourth, breaking the lap record as he closed. A lap later and Collard was through at Hamilton, and continued on his way up to Neal.

By lap 7 Collard was on Neal’s rear, and on lap 8 he made his first move, up the inside as Agostini however they ran side by side through Hamilton with Neal finding himself on the grass. However he was able to defend into the following right hander and keep the position.

The order at the front remained the same until the end allowing Mat Jackson to take his third win of the season with Colin Turkington second. Matt Neal held out for third leaving Collard to settle for fourth. Adam Morgan finished a lonely fifth ahead of Plato, Ingram, Tordoff, Austin and an angry Gordon Shedden rounded out the top 10.

Time for Race 3 and the reverse grid saw Sam Tordoff line up on pole with Tom Ingram joining him on the front row. As the lights went out it was aclean getaway by those at the front however all the action was behind as Alex Martin was tipped into a spin by Mark Howard as they battled on the pit straight. However as Martin’s car came around the unfortunate Hunter Abbott was unable to avoid the Ford Focus driver and was sent barrel rolling down the pit straight, only coming to a stop when he hit a TV camera scaffolding post with a cameraman filming. It was a scary incident and the red flags were bought out immediately, however luckily everyone walked away uninjured.

Take two and once again the race was shortened to 10 laps rather than 12 however before the race even started, championship leader Tordoff was dealt a cruel blow when his propshaft failed on the way to the grid. This left Ingram effectively on pole with Plato second.

As the lights went out Plato got the best start and took the lead heading into the first bend with Collard slotting into second. Ingram began to tumble as he found himself on the grass at the exit of Wilson as Jackson forced his way up to third with Rob Austin fourth.

As the first lap ended Plato lead though closely followed by Collard, Jackson, Austin Turkington and Shedden in sixth. Plato was able to hold of Collard until half way through lap 2 when Collard made his move heading onto the Bentley Straight.

Hunter Abbot (far right) just before he hit the scaffolding pillar (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

Hunter Abbott (far right) just before he hit the scaffolding pillar (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

Lap 3 and Shedden was on the move, up to fourth as he dived up this inside of Austin at Wilson’s while at Agostini, Jackson made his way past Plato for second, opening the door for the opportunistic Shedden who forced his way through to third, taking Austin with him. However, when it looked like Jackson was set for a clean sweep of podiums, the Motorbase Ford slowed down the Bentley Straight, promoting the field up a position leaving Shedden to focus on catching Collard.

The action remained unusually calm for a number of laps however Shedden was slowly reeling Collard in, and on the final lap, he was right behind the WSR driver. Shedden was phenomenal around turn 1 closing right up and at Agostini he made his move, outbraking Collard and making a gap up the inside following a light tap. As they ran side by side through Hamilton, Collard was forced off the track visibly aggravating Collard who tappen Shedden back through the next right turn.

However Shedden kept first and took the win ahead of Collard with Rob Asutin able to hold on for his for podium of the season, and the first for Handy Motorsport. Jason Plato held on by a tenth from Jordan, who finished fourth and fifth respectively with the second Subaru of Turkington in sixth. Adam Morgan came home seventh with his teammate Aiden Moffat eighth, Cook ninth and Matt Neal tenth.

It was a fantastic three races however the big crashed were major talking points throughout the weekend with many drivers facing a rush against time to be ready for the next round at Knockhill in two weeks.

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Grading 2018′s New Driver/ Team Pairings – Alex Bowman/ Hendrick Motorsports

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Undeniably the apple of an entire nation’s eye for over two decades, Dale Earnhardt Jr poignantly announced in the spring of 2017 he would step away from driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season.

 

Once the initial shock value wore off, reality set in. Who could possibly fill the shoes of the sport’s most popular driver? Dale Jr’s lasting impression on legions of fans young and old is unparalleled. Ultimately the conundrum of the century would centre around who might fill the gargantuan shoes little E would leave behind.

Dale Jr’s departure from Hendrick Motorsports left one the sport’s most coveted rides up for grabs. Immediately the rumour mill was set ablaze with potential candidates loyal Dale Jr supporters fancied.  Following three months of intense speculation, Rick Hendrick would reveal Dale Jr’s replacement in late July 2017.

 

Next man up for the #88 team a tall lanky fella from Tucson Arizona.  Chances are y’all probably remember him as the kid that subbed for Dale Jr while he recovered from concussion-like symptoms that kept him from the seat of the Nationwide Chevrolet in the fall of 2016.

 

Certainly no stranger to the Monster Energy Cup Series (Made 81 Career starts from 2014-2016), Alex Bowman makes his triumphed return as a full time driver on the circuit for the first time in nearly two years. Driving the #88 car for Hendrick Motorsports axiomatically elevates Bowman from enchanting underdog to proverbial impact player. No longer a low man on the totem pole expeditious results at HMS would give credence to an emerging young star hoping for a rebirth following past failures with BK Racing & Tommy Baldwin Racing.

 

Thrust into a precarious position at the age of 21, Alex Bowman exhibited incredible poise in the face of adversity. Visibly Alex was not equipped for the competitive environment that cup racing bestowed upon him back in 2014. One quality season (2013 – 2 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s 2 poles, 11th in the driver standings) in the Xfinity Series cannot enumerate impending success on the other side.

Instead of licking his wounds Bowman bided his time wisely eventually earning the opportunity to sub for Dale Jr in the fall of 2016.  What could have easily morphed into catastrophic gaffe #3 for Bowman positively altered his career saving him from infinite anonymity.

 

In the 10 races (2016) Alex piloted the #88 car he made quite an accounting for himself (3 top 10’s, 1 pole) earning the respect and confidence of both Mr. Hendrick and Dale Jr.

 

The simple formula for success in 2018 relies squarely on the shoulders of Alexander Bowman.

Bowman’s familiarity with crew chief Greg Ives and the entire #88 team perpetuates some of the chemistry established back in 2016.  A contingent of smart fans out there including myself firmly believe Alex Bowman was on his way to capturing the checked flag at his home track(Phoenix) in November of 2016. On this day Bowman dazzled, starting the race from the pole ultimately leading 194 laps on his way to a career best 6th place finish.

 

Even though the former self-proclaimed bad luck Bowman left the desert without the checked flag, indisputably he walked away a winner.  Bowman’s courageous showing converted the cynics into believers. Without this fine performance in the bag Bowman could have found himself easily lost in the shuffle never to be heard from again.

Perseverance spearheaded the rise of Bowman mania. The whimsical wave of momentum Bowman’s been on since that race at Phoenix spilled over into 2017. Bowman turned heads in February finishing third in the Clash at Daytona, once again piloting the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet. He would also capture his first career Xfinity Series victory at Charlotte in the fall of 2017 driving for Chip Ganassi.

 

Perceptibly this young buck is completely equipped for the fate that awaits him once the green flag drops on the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series at Daytona in February.

Rick Hendrick has all the confidence in the world in Bowman’s capabilities. Mr. H could have taken the high road and hired an established veteran driver, instead trusting Bowman’s youthful exuberance lets the entire racing world know he’s committed for the long haul.

Alex Bowman has the credentials to resuscitate Rick Hendrick’s anaemic #88 team from the ashes. Fresh blood can unite an entire nation of fans that are starving for a breath of fresh air.

 

Don’t Be Dale Jr, Be Alex Bowman. That’s paramount.

 

Alex Bowman has an entire nation on his side. So watcha  gonna do when Bowmanmania runs wild on you?

 

Final grade – B

 

Photo courtesy of Autoweek

 

 

 

 

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Recap of the Go Bowling 400

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For the second time in as many races at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr flexed his muscle and totally outclassed his comrades leading 104 laps of the scheduled 267 run on Saturday night.

Positive karma was certainly on the side of NASCAR’s resident Jersey boy on Saturday night as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing laps of the race. After letting one slip away at Kansas last season there’s no way Truex Jr would be denied on this night.  Once Martin finally cleared Ryan Blaney who arguably had the fastest car of the evening on lap 249 there was no going back.   The race was in the bag despite a few late restarts that Turex Jr ultimately controlled down the final stretch.

Saturday night’s victory was the seventh since 2015 for the powerhouse combination of Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing. Who are clearly primed for another deep playoff run once the chase starts in the fall of 2017.

 

While the Furniture Row Racing team celebrated in the winner’s circle the entire NASCAR community was overcome with deep despondency.  Overshadowing Furniture Row’s jubilation was one of the most vicious wrecks in recent memory. On lap 201 Joey Logano’s car got loose and sent Danica Patrick hard into the  wall in turn 1, in the process collection an oncoming Aric Almirola.  The Richard Petty Motorsports driver would take the hardest lick of the three drivers involved in the wreckage.

After several tense moments Almirola with the assistance of the Kansas Speedway safety crew would be cut from his car, and air lifted to a local medical facility.   Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement early Sunday morning that Aric Almirola suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra. He returned home to North Carolina Sunday and his driving status at this time has yet to be determined.

As for Danica Patrick, Saturday night’s carnage was the cherry on top of a melted sundae that is the queen of speeds hellacious 2017 campaign.

Heading into next weekend’s Coca Cola 600, Danica Patrick sits 33rd in the driver standings, making this the worst start to her five year Monster Energy cup career.

Danica’s slow start has many speculating 2017 could indeed be the final year we see the popular driver turns laps on Sunday afternoons.

One of these weekends Ryan Blaney is going to put it all together and capture his first career Monster Energy Cup series victory.  If it weren’t for bad luck Ryan Blaney would have no luck at all in 2017.  With that being said the second generation driver put some of the bad karma behind him at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. Ryan Blaney looked untouchable for a better part of Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 before Martin Turex Jr passed him and put of bow on the race.

Moral victories don’t count however bringing home a 4th place finish after several weeks of unfortunate misfires is a step in the right direction for the Wood Bros and young Ryan Blaney.

Momentum breathes confidence.

Despite the fact Blaney should have scored 3 victories by my account this season, putting these failures in the back of the ol memory bank makes this guy one of the most intriguing drivers to keep an eye on as the summer months roll on.

 

Although Ricky Stenhouse Jr failed in his bid to go back to back fresh of the heels of his first career cup win, he and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne continue their meteoric rise to the top of the heap in the Monster Energy cup series.

The Roush Fenway Racing drivers finished 10th & 11th respectively in Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400.  If the chase stared today both drivers would be firmly in the thick of the title picture.

While Stenhouse Jr is working on a career year ( 1 win, 3 top 5’s, 5 top 10’s, 1 pole) though the first 11 races, his teammate Trevor Bayne continues his vast improvement finishing inside the top 20 in 8 of the 11 races run this season.

 

Daniel Suarez is one incredible driver. Is he not?

The 2016 Xfinity series champion continues his march towards the winners circle just 11 races into his cup series career.

Suarez tied his career best finish of 7th on Saturday night.

In a time when Joe Gibbs Racing looks completely out of sync, Daniel Suarez represents a beacon of hope for an organization in desperate need of a pick me up.

Despite being unexpectedly trust into the role as driver of the #19 Toyota weeks before the Daytona 500 and working with two different crew chiefs this season Suarez has completely shattered all expectations while looking like a seasoned pro instead of a green horn.

 

 

 

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F1: Russia Preview

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2017 is what we have been wanting for years
(Photo from: www.bleacherreport.net)

Three rounds down, and 2017 is already shaping up to be a classic season in the making with little to choose between two of the best drivers in the world, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Between them they have won seven of the last eight world championships, dating back to 2010 when Vettel won his first of four.

Now with Ferrari he is hoping to end Mercedes’ dominance of the hybrid era by taking his fifth crown and become only the third driver to achieve this feat. He will face tough competition throughout though from Hamilton who will be hoping to add to his three titles and become the only British drivers to win four World Championships.

After three fly away races, Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix. First held in 2014 around the Winter Olympic park in Sochi, the circuit has become popular amongst fans, who cheer on local hero Daniil Kvyat. Although the circuit has been praised by drivers, it has often played host to rather monotonous races, due to the low degradation surface, which ensures drivers are able to often complete the race with only one pitstop.

However, the race has already to some championship defining moments such as in 2015 when Nico Rosberg’s throttle developed problems and forced him to retire, effectively ending his championship aspirations.

Leading up to this weekend there have been many stories breaking regarding the drivers and the sport’s governing body, the FIA.

The latest piece of news which has broken this morning (Thursday) is that the FIA will begin to enforce old rules regarding the size of a car’s number and driver name, ensuring that fans will be able to see who is who out on circuit, effective from Barcelona. In a letter composed by race director Charlie Whiting will state that “We feel that to be clearly visible the numbers should be no less than 230mm high, have a minimum stroke thickness of 40mm and be of a clearly contrasting colour to their background.”

Whiting also confirmed that if these requirements are not met then the car in question could be deemed ineligible
to race.

The FIA also announced this week that changes in dimensions will ensure that T-wings and shark fins are banned for 2018. These design features have appeared and reappeared this season following a loophole in the regulations after the area opened up for development around the car after changes were made elsewhere in the regulations.

From 2018 onwards the rules now state that bodywork above the engine cover is now banned.

The next piece of news is regarding the Sochi circuit as speed bumps have been added to the exit of turn 2 in an attempt to stop drivers from gaining an advantage if they run wide and miss the turn 1 apex. In previous seasons, we have seen multiple incidents where drivers have missed the first bend or been forced of the circuit and returned to the circuit with a much larger gap than they had previously.

If the changes have the desired affect then we could see an interesting race this weekend. What happens though, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are destined to be close.

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