This week’s round-up includes two first time winners, one at the tender age of 50, as well as a whole days running at Spa. Sounds like heaven.
We begin this week in the forests of Ardennes. The #33 WRT-run Audi won the Spa 24 Hours (it lasts 24 hours and it’s held at Spa, Sherlock), continuing the German marque’s fine form this season. The car – driven Audi DTM racers Mattias Ekstrom and Timo Scheider and Belgian-born Greg Franchi – took the flag with a two lap lead over the Team Schuster BMW.
The race also saw the 24 hour debut of McLaren’s new GT machine – but it didn’t go well at all. Their most fancied Pro class car (which included the driving talents of GP2 race winners Oliver Turvey and Alvaro Parente) lasted just two laps before Andrew Kirkaldy was tipped off the road, whilst their other Pro entry was out after 88 laps. They got one Pro-Am machine to the flag, albeit down in 25th overall.
Fairy tales in motorsport aren’t just limited to Formula One. The cheqeured flag for this weekend’s NASCAR race at Indy, nicknamed the Brickyard 400, was taken by Paul Menard, giving him his first Sprint Cup victory at a track near where he grew up. The Richard Childress Racing driver suffered a pitlane penalty in the early going, but overcame this to jump to the front of the field thanks to a fuel gamble that would only pay off without any yellow flags.
Thankfully, the usually rowdy NASCAR field kept their cars on the black stuff and Menard led home Jeff Gordan and Regan Smith, after keeping his pace lean before his pit chief, affectionately named “Slugger”, told him he could put in the fast laps to hold on for the win. Jamie McMurray, who won the same event last year, managed to wrestle the lead from Menard with a few laps to go, but then dropped way back thanks to not having enough fuel to finish.
Carl Edwards could only manage 14th, but still leads ahead of Kevin Harwick and reigning 5-time champ Jimmie Johnson.
The GP2 title is now all but decided, with Romain Grosjean enjoying a stellar weekend in Hungary to take a 25-point lead over Giedo van der Garde with just 40 left to score. The former Renault F1 driver won Saturday’s feature race from fifth on the grid thanks to a smart tyre strategy and a drive-through penalty for long-time leader Marcus Ericsson. Scruffy son of a millionaire Charles Pic and polesitter Luiz Razia completed the podium.
Grosjean then fared well in a chaotic feature race to take third, with well-groomed son of a millionaire Stefano Coletti the winner and Sauber reserve Esteban Gutierrez second. Van der Garde was fourth in both races to continue his consistent campaign – the Dutchman hasn’t won a race all season, but five podium finishes and plenty more points mean he’s still Grosjean’s closest rival.
It’s largely a done deal though. Romain only needs to score within five of what van der Garde does at Spa to wrap up the title there. You get the feeling that to do it at the circuit where he made a bit of an idiot of himself during his F1 foray with Renault would be rather cleansing.
A level below in GP3 Valtteri Bottas – best known for being Williams’ test driver and looking like a giant baby dressed in racing overalls – went to the top of the standings with a win in the feature race and second in the sprint. Erstwhile points leader Alexander Sims failed to score in Hungary, being disqualified from the feature for ride height irregularities and then taking ninth on Sunday.
James Calado was the man on the move in the sprint: he went from 25th on the grid to take third, behind team-mate Bottas. Indonesian teenager Rio Haryanto won that one, nabbing the lead from Nigel Melker – who tumbled to fourth – on the final lap.
The WRC returned to action in Finland, a rally with a fearsome reputation and one that non-scandinavian’s struggle on. It wasn’t the case for Sebastian Loeb though. Most of his weekend was spent battling it out with Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier and Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala, not only in terms of speed, but also in positioning ready for the final day.
When it comes to gravel rallies, the first man to run usually suffers thanks to how loose the surface is to start with, but the Frenchman bucked tradition to open up a 10-second gap that was never troubled by either of his rivals. Latvala took second, while a puncture relegated Ogier to third. Kimi Raikkonen was 9th, nearly 4 minutes off the pace. Leob extends his points lead to 27 points over Mikko Hirvonen.
Oschersleben was the host of not one, but two race categories over the weekend. Starting with Auto GP, it was quite the weekend for Sergei Afanasiev, who held off Adrien Tambay to take his second career win in race one. There was more action down the field as series leader Kevin Ceccon came out on top of a three-way battle to take third place on the podium, but only after Kevin Korjus retired on the penultimate lap and Fabio Onidi made a mistake on the very last.
In race two, Giovanni Venturini benefited from the reverse grid to win from pole, but it was Afanasiev who was the real victor. Daniel De Jong and Adrien Tambay were the Italian’s main threats for the afternoon, but both made mistakes while pressuring him and left the road, and the Russian duly capitalised to take 2nd place. The results catapult him up to third in the standings, 17 points off the top, still held by Kevin Ceccon.
Still in Germany, but with a bit more metal around four wheels, the WTCC continued to be dominated in race one by Chevrolet, and in particular, Yvan Muller. The Swiss racer led teammate Rob Huff home for his third race win in a row and closed the gap to the Brit in the standings to only 8 points.
It was all change in race two though, as 50-year-old Franz Engstler took his maiden triumph at the wheel of his independant BMW. The tin-top veteran inherited the lead when compatriot and fellow BMW driver Norbert Michelisz spun early in the race, and held the lead despite being under heavy pressure from Chevrolet’s Alain Menu for most of the closing laps. It was the first time in 11 races that Chevrolet had failed to win, but they still lead the standings, with Muller cutting Huff’s points lead back a bit more, with it now standing at 6 points.
Red Bull fans should be aware that it was their boy, Antonio Cairoli (Red Bull KTM), who won this weekend’s World Motocross Championship (MX1) race in Belgium. It’s not all about the F1 squad – you have to support all of Red Bull’s teams.