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BTCC: Tordoff Remains In Control

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Sam Tordoff leads the British Touring Car Championship by 11 points over Gordon Shedden
(Photo from: www.btcc.net)

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Sam Tordoff remains in control of the 2016 British Touring Car Championship season after three consistent rounds at the weekend, as those around him faltered. The WSR BMW driver now leads the standings by 11 points of reigning champion Gordon Shedden with Matt Neal in the second Honda Civic Tyre-R a further 2 points behind in third.

None of the championship contenders had it their own way on Saturday during qualifying as Ashley Sutton took his second pole position of the season in the Triple Eight MG with Tom Ingram second and Josh Cook in the second MG third. Andrew Jordan qualified fourth with Adam Morgan fifth Rob Austin sixth. Matt Neal was the highest place championship contender in seventh with Hunter Abbott eighth. Aron Smith and Gordon Shedden rounded out the top 10.

Race 1 and as the lights went out it was Ingram who took the lead ahead of Sutton, Jordan and Cook as many drivers went wide at Copse as Warren Scott span. At the end of lap 1 the order was Ingram, Sutton, Jordan, Cook, Austin, Morgan, Aron Smith, Neal, Shedden and Moffat.

The MG duo would eventually loose their 1-2 finish (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

The MG duo would eventually loose their 1-2 finish (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

The top four quickly developed a gap over the rest of the field as Morgan overtook Austin for fifth. Behind the top 10 the championship contenders were on the move as Tordoff, Jackson, Collard and Turkington were all together just outside points. Lap 4 and Cook and Jordan collided at Luffield as Cook attempted to go round the outside of the Pirtek Racing man. Cook managed to recover and completed the move for third going into Becketts and quickly set his sights on the lead duo.

Lap 7 and Sutton made his move as Ingram ran slightly wide at Luffield enabling the MG rookie to slide up the inside, and taking the lead as they went onto lap 8. Onto lap 12 and Cook had closed onto the back of Ingram and, with the help of a slight tap at Luffield, he made his way past into second. However behind Shedden fell to the rear of the field as he suffered a front left puncture.

As the race went on the big battles started to occur behind the leaders as on lap 18 Austin re-overtook Morgan for fifth as Aron Smith was seventh with Matt Neal performing a fantastic defence display to keep Moffat, Hill, Depper and Collard behind him. A lap later and Neal and Moffat clashed allowing Hill through with Collard passing Moffat a lap later. Depper was the loser however as he suffered damaged in the contact leaving him with only three wheels on his car.

There was more bad news for Neal as he too suffered a puncture on lap 21 though at the front Sutton took the flag to take his second win of the season ahead of his teammate Cook, with Ingram third, Jordan a lonely fourth with Rob Austin fifth and Adam Morgan sixth. Seventh was Jake Hill followed by Aron Smith, Collard and Colin Turkington who rounded out the top 10.

However the dram from race 1 was not over as after the race ended as the Triple Eight MG’s were excluded from the race for a technical infringement which promoted Tom Ingram into first, Jordan second and Rob Austin third. It meant that the duo would have to start from the rear of the grid for Race 2 however they would keep the success ballast they got for the positions.

Onto Race 2 with Ingram on pole and Jordan second. Again Ingram lead the first lap after a good start followed by Jordan, Austin, Morgan, Hill, Collard, Aron Smith, Turkington, Plato and Moffat. The order at the front remained the same until lap five when Morgan made his move for third, which also allowed Jake Hill through for fourth. Onto lap eight and Jordan made his move on Ingram for the lead, diving up the inside of Becketts, which also gave Morgan a chance to move up to second, which he completed at Luffield.

As the race went on Rob Austin started to drop down the order as Aron Smith, Turkington and Plato all made their way past the Toyota. However lap 10 and Smith ran into difficulties as he also suffered a left front puncture. Lap 11 and Turkington and Plato passed Hill for fourth and fifth respectively.

Lap 13 and it went from bad to worse for Austin as he too suffered a left front puncture, dropping out of the points and to the rear of the field. Jeff Smith also suffered a front left puncture three laps later, however his blow out was so sever it blew the front left corner off his car, spreading debris all over the circuit down the Wellington Straight. This bought out the safety car.

Lap 20 and the safety car was back in, with five laps to go, leaving Jordan and Morgan to resume their battle for the lead. However Jordan stretched out his lead and was able to take his second win of the season and keep his slim title hopes alive. Adam Morgan kept second ahead of Ingram, Turkington and Plato. Mat Jackson finished sixth, Collard seventh however it was heartbreak for Hill who suffered a read left puncture on lap 22. This ensured Shedden finished eighth, Moffat ninth as Abbott rounded out the top 10.

Race 3, and time for the reverse grid race as Shedden found himself on pole with Collard second. Lights out and Collard took the lead into the first bend, using his rear wheel advantage from standing starts to perfection as Jackson and Shedden ran side by side for half a lap before the Scot was able to slot into second.

At the end of lap 1 the order was Collard, Shedden, Jackson, Plato, Turkington, Ingram, Jordan, Morgan, Moffat and Tordoff. Lap 2 and Shedden was back in the lead, performing the move of the day on Collard, flinging his Honda up the inside of Becketts on the brakes and taking the lead before the right hand bend onto the Wellington Straight.

A lap later and Jackson was through for second, again at Becketts but this time around the outside to take the inside line around the right hander. Behind Matt Neal was on a charge, following a lacklustre second race, and on lap 4 he made his move on Jack Goff for twelfth.

Shedden began to eke out a gap over Jackson who was closely followed by Collard and Plato. Lap 8 and the first casualty of the lead group occurred as Aron Smith again retired, this time with a mechanical issue.

Behind Tordoff and Neal were making their way through the field with the duo up to eighth and ninth respectively on lap 11. The following lap and Tordoff was past Jordan for seventh, his final overtake of the day, while Neal was able to get past two laps later at his favourite overtaking spot Becketts. The same lap Adam Morgan received a drive through penalty for track limits, dropping him out of the points while a lap later fifth placed Ingram crawled back to the pits with a technical problem.

Gordon Shedden won his fourth win of the season (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

Gordon Shedden won his fourth win of the season (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

This promoted Tordoff and Neal up the order however Neal was not done as he overtook his championship rival on lap 20 for sixth. Six became fifth on the final lap as Jason Plato suffered a left front puncture however no one could get near Shedden who took his fourth win of the year, ahead of Jackson who performed another superb defensive drive for second. Rob Collard rounded out the podium places ahead of Turkington, Neal, Tordoff, Cook and Jordan with Moffat and the second MG of Sutton rounding out the top 10.

It was a fantastic three races which leaves eight drivers with a mathematical chance of winning the 2016 BTCC drivers title. Brands Hatch plays host to what will be a fantastic finale.

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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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