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BTCC: Shedden Crowned 2016 Champion

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Gordon Shedden became the first person to overcome a lead going into the final round since 2007
(Photo from: www.btcc.net)

After three fantastic races, Gordon Shedden was crowned the 2016 British Touring Car Champion, beating WSR’s Sam Tordoff by two points. The Scott, who was 11 points behind Tordoff at the start of the day, becomes the first driver to win back to back titles since Fabrizio Giovanardi in 2007 and 2008.

However Saturday saw another challenger take pole as Colin Turkington achieved the fastest time in a crazy session, ensuring he achieved the most pole positions of 2016 with three. He was joined on the front row by Tom Ingram, however following post qualifying checks it Ingram’s car was deemed too low and subsequently failed the ride height test. This meant that all his times were deleted and he was sent to the rear of the field. This promoted Rob Austin to second in his Toyota with Jason Plato in third and Hunter Abbott an impressive fourth. Josh Cook and Jack Goff were fifth and sixth. Gordon Shedden, Adam Morgan, Aiden Moffat and Sam Tordoff rounded out the top 10.

Colin Turkington took his third pole of 2016 (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

Colin Turkington took his third pole of 2016 (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

Race 1 and it was a great start by Turkington however Austin gave it his best shot to take the lead however Turkington was able to fend off the Handy Motorsport driver’s advances and quickly developed a lead. At the end of lap 1 the order was Turkington followed by Austin, Plato, Cook fourth with Goff fifth, Shedden sixth as Morgan, Moffat, Abbot and Collard rounded out the top 10.

Lap 2 and the action continued as Matt Neal, Rob Collard and Hunter Abbott ran three abreast going into Druids. However three into one did not work and Abbott found himself spun by Neal with the luckless Jordan unable to avoid the stricken Chevrolet. This incident bought out the safety car as Jordan’s Ford was recovered.

Lap 4 and the green flags were out allowing Turkington to redevelop his lead. However Collard found himself falling down the order, as Neal climbed it. Neal eventually climbed to seventh, overtaking Moffat on lap 7.

However it was Turkington who took the first win of the day by 4.5 seconds ahead of Rob Austin who defended well throughout the race. The final podium place went to Josh Cook who overtook Plato at the final turn. This result meant that Plato was out the running for the 2016 title. Gordon Shedden finished a quiet fifth ahead of Morgan, Neal and Moffat with Ashley Sutton and Sam Tordoff rounding out the top 10.

The result meant that Shedden cut the gap to six points to Tordoff with Neal ten points and Turkington 20 points behind going into the second race of the day.

Race 2 and Turkington started from pole with Austin alongside. As the lights went out Turkington got another good start and was able to take the lead convincingly by Paddock Hill Bend. However it was Plato who had the best start out of the front runners, who immediately jumped Cook’s MG and even had his eye on second as he and Austin approached turn 1.

Once again Turkington quickly developed a lead with Austin defending well ahead of Plato and Cook, although the fastest car on the circuit was Matt Neal. The two Hondas were running fifth and sixth with Shedden leading Neal in sixth. However Neal’s fine form did not last long as on lap 4, Neal suffered a throttle failure as he exited Paddock Hill Bend. Although he got the car working again on the exit of Druids, he made contact with Sutton’s MG pitching him into the barriers and into a violent spin. Having from retired the race his championship aspirations were essentially ended.

With Neal’s car stranded in the middle of the track, the safety car was deployed and by lap 7 racing had resumed. Shedden immediately made his way past Cook for fourth however Tordoff did not make his own move stick.

One lap later and Plato was also on the move as he made his way past Austin for second, setting his sights on teammate Turkington, with seemingly no team orders in play between the duo. Shedden also made his way past Austin for third down Pilgrims Drop.

Aidan Moffat completed his most successful weekend with second in Race 3 (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

Aidan Moffat completed his most successful weekend with second in Race 3 (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

With the Subaru duo fighting for the lead, Shedden was able to close and attempted to pass for second, though Plato was able to hold on. Behind the lead trio, Austin slowed with two laps to go and dropped to the rear of the pack, ensuring Cook was up to fourth and Tordoff fifth. This is how the top five remained to the flag ensuring there would be a three way fight for the championship going into the final race of the season.

It meant that Tordoff lead the championship by two points with Turkington a further eight points behind.

Behind the top five, Aiden Moffat finished sixth ahead of Mat Jackson, Adam Morgan in eighth with Ingram and Collard rounding out the top 10. Following his crash in race 2, Matt Neal was not able to take the start for the third race, after suffering concussion.

Race 3 and time for the reverse grid race, a crucial draw with the top 3 all waiting to see their positions. Number 7 was drawn out the bowel ensuring Mat Jackson was on pole with Moffat alongside the Motorbase driver.

As the lights went out yet again the pole man got the best start as Jackson quickly found himself well in the lead ahead of Moffat. As the first lap ended the order saw Jackson continue to lead ahead of Moffat, Tordoff, Cook, Shedden and Morgan. Behind the top six saw Plato, Ingram, Collard and Turkington round out the top 10. Turkington began to lose places as the race went on, ending his hopes of winning a miraculous third title.

Lap 4 and Shedden was on the move as he overtook Cook’s MG for fourth as the safety car was deployed following Warren Scott’s retirement from the race. Once the safety car returned on lap 7 Shedden was all over Tordoff’s WSR BMW and made his move at Clearways on the first green flag lap. This left the duo level on points in the standings however Shedden was the champion elect due to his amount of wins.

Shedden quickly closed in on Moffat however he was unable to improve on his third place. However Tordoff found himself fallen down the order as on lap 13 Adam Morgan made his way past, creating a 2 point gap between the lead duo. The safety car was deployed once more on lap 15 to recover Dan Welch’s Proton.

Shedden found himself under immense pressure from Morgan however the Scott was able to hang onto his podium place and in doing so won the 2016 BTCC title. However it was Mat Jackson who took the win, his fifth of the season which promoted him to third in the final standings with Moffat a career best second. Behind Shedden and Morgan saw Torodff fifth, Ingram sixth and Josh Cook seventh. Jake Hill, Collard and Plato completed to the top 10.

It was a fantastic final weekend to cap off an incredible 2016 season, one which will last long in the memory of many fans, not least for three time champion Gordon Shedden.

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Formula 1 Legend Niki Lauda Dies at 70

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Niki Lauda

Legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda has passed away at the age of 70 years old, according to his family (h/t TMZ Sports).

“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday.”

“His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain.”

“A role model and a benchmark for all of us, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather away from the public, and he will be missed.”

Lauda is widely considered one of the greatest drivers in Formula 1 history and he reportedly passed away on Monday, nine months after he underwent lung transplant surgery.

While Lauda is known for wining the Formula 1 drivers’ championships back in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari, and again winning the championship in 1984 with McLaren, he is perhaps best known for his crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix which saw his car crash and catch fire.

While he was badly burned during the crash, he amazingly returned to racing only 6 weeks later, making him a legend in the sport.

Lauda’s well-documented rivalry with British driver James Hunt was the plot basis for the movie ‘Rush’.

 

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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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