Lewis Hamilton Supreme in Hot Bahrain

Lewis Hamilton drove to a dominant victory in Sunday’s 2015 Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, but Mcrcedes teammate Nico Rosberg ultimately fell prey to Kimi Raikkonen after a brake issue and a race-long battle with Ferrari.

A clever switch of strategy put Raikkonen on the faster soft tires for his final stint, during which he was able to haul in the medium-tired Rosberg, before passing the German, who like Hamilton had brake issues, on the penultimate lap.

Raikkonen’s teammate, Sebastian Vettel, had been in contention for second until a mid-race error forced to him to make an unscheduled pit stop for a new nose and he ultimately came home fifth, just losing out to Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.

Both Red Bulls scored points, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth and Daniil Kvyat ninth, though the former’s car expired as he crossed the finish line. Between them were Lotus’s Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Perez.

Williams’ Felipe Massa took 10th, having charged through the field after a problem on the grid forced him to start from the pit lane.

McLaren-Honda’s Fernando Alonso scored his best result of the season in 11th, narrowly missing the team’s first points.

McRae and others primed for the ultimate Race to the Sky

A lovely piece of road; “a real driver’s road” is how star rally driver Alister McRae describes the Repco Race to the Sky course prior to this weekend’s return of the iconic hillclimb event.

McRae is one of 108 competitors contesting the resurrected Cardrona Valley hillclimb, all of whom spent Friday making reconnaissance runs of the 14.5 km course.

McRae is competing in Race to the Sky for the first time and pilots the Vantage Subaru world rally car that the late Possum Bourne used to win the event in 2001.

“I did have a look at it [the course] from in-car footage from previous years, but I think the condition of the road this year is very good,” says McRae who, as a former Subaru team-mate of Bourne’s, appreciates just how special this car is to Kiwi motorsport fans. “The road is probably wider in places than it looked. I’ve driven plenty of world rally cars, but never one with the horsepower that this has got, so you’ve got to feel your way in a bit, but you also want to be putting good times in to see where you are [against the others]. The final run on Sunday is the one when you want to get it up there as quickly as possible; that’s the one that counts. I think it’s just trying to remember the bad parts and not mix them up with the very fast parts, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Steve Riley, one of three Australian drivers competing in the unlimited category against McRae and eight-time Race to the Sky King of the Mountain champion Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima, is excited to be back.

“The Race to the Sky is really wonderful event. It combines so many different parts of engineering. It’s a ‘run what you’ve brung’ sort of race with no regulations. So you can be a farmer like myself who built something in the shed or a Formula 1 expert with 28 technicians. It’s encompasses bikes, cars and quads – everyone gets a run here and at the end of the day, it’s the fastest guy who wins so there’s nothing fairer than that and it’s a great event to come and be part of.”

Riley’s assessment of the course is that it’s graded up well. “It’s fast and it’s smooth. It’s a bit wider than what I remember it. It’s going to really suit the aero-package sort of cars.”

Believed to be one of the youngest competitors to ever tackle the event is 14-year-old Jack Hawkeswood. Son of respected rally driver Andrew Hawkeswood, the St Peters’ Collage student has travelled to Race to the Sky with some of his father’s crew while Andrew competes in a national rally championship event in the North Island.

“We bought this car, a BSL Terra off-roader, about five weeks ago so it is quite new, but it’ll be alright,” says Hawkeswood who’s raced trophy kart off-roader category with considerable success. “I thought the course was looking fast and quite slick. The thing will be what the weather does over the weekend.”

Hundreds of fans have already purchased tickets for the return of 18 and 19 April hillclimb and thousands are expected at the Cardrona Valley event village over the weekend.

Melanie Kees, events manager for Highlands Motorsport Park which is bringing the Repco Race to the Sky back to life, says she’s been delighted with the support shown by local business and fans for the event’s return.

“So many people have got in behind the event and are pleased to see it return,” says Ms Kees. “With a full entry list and great support from fans, we’re all looking forward to a spectacular weekend of racing.”

Marquez to start on pole in Argentina

World champion Marc Marquez will start the Grand Prix of Argentina from pole position following a stunning display in qualifying.

The Honda rider once again showed his class at the Termas Rio Hondo circuit by posting a session best time of 1:37.802s, which proved to be more than 0.5s quicker than his nearest rival.

Such was Marquez’s dominance, the 22-year-old had time to switch bikes during the session before going on to increase his pole position margin.

The battle for second proved to be hard fought with Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro emerging on top just three events into the Japanese manufacturer’s return to grand prix motorcycle racing.

Second on the grid confirmed Espargaro and Suzuki’s pace after the Spaniard had topped the times in both practice sessions on Friday.

Ducati’s Andrea Iannone secured the final place on the front row of the grid as he pipped LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow by the slimmest of margins.

It proved to be a difficult session for Yamaha with two-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo fifth, while team-mate Valentino Rossi could only manage eighth, behind the Ducati’s of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci.

Meanwhile, Suzuki’s sister bike of Maverick Vinales and Tech 3 Yamaha rounded out the top 10.

Dani Pedrosa’s replacement Hiroshi Aoyama was a lowly 15th on the factory Honda.

Australia’s Jack Miller will start from 21st on the grid aboard the Open class LCR Honda.

Audi Win WEC Silverstone Thriller

Marcel Fässler, Benoit Tréluyer and Andre Lotterer became the latest names to be added to the impressive roll of honour on the base of the 110 year old Tourist Trophy after Marcel Fässler took the chequered flag in the no7 Audi Sport R18 e-tron quattro to win the 6 Hours of Silverstone.

A 72 second lead for Fässler over fellow Swiss driver Neel Jani in the no18 Porsche 919 was reduced to just 11 with 15 minutes left on the clock when the no7 car was given a Stop-Go penalty for abusing track limits.  This set up a great battle for the final few laps, but Marcel Fässler was able to hold on to the lead and take the win by just 4.6 seconds.

 In LMP2 it was all smiles in the G-Drive Racing pit after the Russian team converted a 1-2 in qualifying into a 1-2 on the podium.  The no26 G-Drive Racing Ligier of Roman Rusinov, Sam Bird and Julien Canal took the win, with the sister no28 car taking second place to score a 1-2 finish for the Russian team. 

The no17 Porsche of Mark Webber led the race for the first 80 minutes but a drive train issue forced the Australian into the pits and into retirement.  The no18 Porsche took over the top spot but had to contend with the Audi R18s which closed up on the twisty parts of the Silverstone track.  However once on the long straights the Porsche would pull away, only to be caught again on the twisty stuff, keeping the fans on the edge of their seats.

By Lap 56 Neel Jani in the Porsche and Marcel Fässler in the Audi were battling hard for position while the two Toyotas of Anthony Davidson and Mike Conway were 3rd and 4th respectively, with Davidson just 3.8 seconds behind the duo at the front of the field.

Davidson pitted on lap 79 followed by Fässler and Jani a lap later, with Davidson leading the race followed by Conway in the no2 Toyota.  Andre Lotterer, now at the wheel of the no7 Audi, caught and passed Conway’s Toyota, the German then began the process of catching the lead car of the reigning world champion.  It took until lap 96 until Lotterer could make the move into Village corner but once he was in front Lotterer set about building an unassailable lead.  With 60-minutes of the race remaining Lotterer pitted to hand over the car to Fässler for the final part of the race.

The Swiss driver had a huge lead over the no18 Porsche of Jani but a late stop-go penalty for abusing track limits upset the plans of the Audi Sport team.  It seemed that the no7 Audi, with a 72 second lead, would be able to pit and come back out still with a healthy lead.  However when Fässler came in, he stopped at his pitbox to refuel the car, which meant he had to come back in for a second stop on the following lap to serve his penalty.  Everyone held their breath to see if the no7 Audi would emerge still in the lead, which it did with an 8 second gap with less than 15 minutes remaining on the clock. 

Jani sensed an opportunity to snatch the victory and the no18 Porsche started to close the gap but there wasn’t enough time to catch the leading Audi.  The no7 Audi took the flag 4.6 seconds ahead of the no18 Porsche with Sebastien Buemi claiming the third spot on the podium just 5.6 seconds behind the Porsche. 

 In LMP2 Nick Tandy in the KCMG Oreca05-Nissan got a great start to take the lead in the LMP2 category but had to fend off the attentions of the two G-Drive Racing Ligiers.  Sam Bird took the lead on lap 6 but Tandy was still able to mount a challenge.  However KCMG’s race came to an end when a holed radiator forced the Oreca into the pits for a long stop. The car did emerge from the garage to finish the race and be classified one place behind the brand new Strakka-Dome of Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane.  

The no36 Signatech Alpine of Paul Loup Chatin had a big off at Copse, hitting the tyre wall hard.  The French driver was unhurt but his car was too damaged to continue and causing a full course yellow period that slowed the race for a few laps.

The two G-Drive Ligiers continued to battle amongst themselves with Roman Rusinov holding the top spot from Gustavo Yacaman as the clock hit 3 hours remaining.  This is how it remained during the second half of the race and by the chequered flag the no26 Ligier was a lap ahead of the no28 Nissan powered car and Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird were able to savour the view from the top step of the podium alongside teammates Gustavo Yacaman, Ricardo Gonzalez and Pipo Derani in second. 

The no30 Tequila Patron sponsored Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD-Honda of Scott Sharp, David Heinmeier-Hansson and Ryan Dalziel finished the race in third place in what should be the last race for the older open cockpit ARX03B chassis. However in post race scrutineering the no30 ESM HPD was excluded from the results after the minimum thickness of the front and rear plank was under the 20mm minimum required and was in breach of Article 3.5.6a 3 of the LMP2 Technical Regulations. This promoted the no42 Strakka Racing Strakka Dome into third place.  

 Marcel Fassler – Audi Sport Team Joest:  “I must say this (the battle with Jani) was one of the best fights I have had in my whole career and I really enjoyed this whole race today. I have to say it was pretty fair from Neel who gave space and I think we raced well together. I must say it was a bit annoying him passing me on the straights like that! It was really a nice race to drive and I think what we showed today was great.”

Anthony Davidson – Toyota Racing: “I think we had to double stint the tyres to stay in the fight today. This forced everyone else to give it a go as well. Once the fuel had gone in the car it felt pretty much the same as it had at the end of the first stint and my second one was actually faster than the first stint.

“Hopefully when we get to some circuits where tyre-wear is a bit more critical than here at Silverstone where it is pretty kind on tyres, we can get in to a position where we can have an advantage again. But overall we have always seemed to struggle here at Silverstone.”

Neel Jani – Porsche Team:  “I definitely enjoyed the race with Marcel today, especially as I know we can trust each other driving side-by-side without actually touching. Obviously I couldn’t avoid smiling on the straights each time I went by him!

“I think at the beginning we struggled a little bit with brake temperature issues but we got it back under control and it started to get better and better and I could pick up the pace. For sure it was a great sportscar race and all three manufacturers are all very close. We have to push because it is a six-our sprint race.”

Roman Rusinov – G-Drive Racing:  “Sam (Bird) did the perfect job today so I have to say thank you to him and also to Julien (Canal) who was also very good. We just didn’t take any risks as we know we have a good car. But I had some problems with the Strakka because when I was lapping this car it was touching me and I lost 8-seconds which was not too bad. But the team were excellent again all weekend and we are very happy.”

Erebus enlists Campbell Little

Highly respected engineer Campbell Little has joined Erebus Motorsport as an exclusive consultant to the V8 Supercars program for the remainder of this year's Championship as the team looks to further enhance its overall performance.

In a boost for the team ahead of the third round of the Championship in Perth in early May, Little will be charged with providing support and oversight to the teams sporting and technical operations and will work closely with existing Team Manager Ben Croke, Technical Director Wes McDougall and General Manager - Motorsport Barry Ryan.

Little brings a wealth of experience to the team having celebrated Championship and Bathurst success with various V8 Supercars teams as well internationally in other motorsport categories.

Little will join Erebus Motorsport on a consultancy basis as he also manages other commitments within the sport on international and domestic levels.

"I'm really excited to be working with Erebus and the prospect of helping the team’s continued growth and improvement,'' said Little.

"It's a team that boasts some great people, resources and lots of potential.

"All the right ingredients are here, it’s all about making sure we get the best out of everything and everyone to ensure the team is capable of competing consistently at the highest level.’’

In addition to the employment of Little, Melbourne-based Ryan will take on an enhanced operations role with the V8 Supercars side of the business in addition to his chief focus with the Erebus GT, V8 Ute and Academy operations.

Erebus Motorsport CEO Ryan Maddison welcomed Little to the fold and said his years of expertise would perfectly complement the team’s evolution and existing senior managers in Croke, McDougall and Ryan.

“As a team we have undergone some key personnel changes since our first year in V8 Supercars so the introduction of Campbell will further complement the more than capable structure we already have in place,” said Maddison.

“Barry too has had many years of experience in all different categories so his enhanced involvement with the V8 operation can only have a positive impact on the team.

“We have a very passionate team owner in Betty and key personnel that want to make sure that we are operating as a team in the most optimal way.

“With the gains we have made already this year following an extensive period of development, we are excited about what the remainder of the year will bring.’’

Erebus Motorsport has had a tough start to the 2015 season, however a top 10 finish at the Clipsal 500 was positive for rookie Ash Walsh, as were two top four qualifyings and a top 10 race finish for Will Davison at the last event in Tasmania.

Tussle of champions: Jimmie Johnson outduels Kevin Harvick

Jimmie Johnson continued his recent domination of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night, rallying after a late pit stop for a victory in the 19th annual Duck Commander 500.

Johnson, the six-time NSCS champion, took the lead on Lap 321 of 334 when he drove under and past Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick exiting the dogleg of Texas' high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval. The final 14 laps featured a battle between Johnson and Harvick, the reigning series champion, who finished second despite scraping the Turn 4 wall on Lap 331.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, finished 1.107 seconds ahead of Harvick and his No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS. Johnson, of Hendrick Motorsports, posted his 72nd career victory in 478 NSCS starts.

"The end of the race was nutty," said Johnson, who said he woke up sick Saturday morning and addressed the media post-race through a scratchy voice. "Those last three pit stops with the varied tire strategies, our car wasn't handling like it did when we were leading. The third one (on Lap 310), our car was really, really good and I was able to work our way forward. The No. 4 was having trouble with the No. 1 (of McMurray) and slid up…and I thought I had it under control. Just a lot of great racing; the (worn-out) surface of this racetrack allows that to happen."

Johnson scored his fifth win at TMS and third in his last six starts, but his first victory in the spring event. Johnson earned his first win of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a sister 1.5-mile layout to TMS, in the second race on the schedule.

"I think the tracks with high-wear and bumps…I think the surface fits my style and Chad's style and what we do together," Johnson said in reference to crew chief Chad Knaus.

"This is a racetrack that falls into Jimmie's liking," said Knaus, still sporting his Victory Circle Stetson. "Do we always race at night (here) in the spring? We've run very, very well here in the spring race so I think it was just circumstances that we hadn't been able to pull it off previously. Nothing specific."

Johnson pitted with most of the lead pack during the race's eighth and final caution period on Lap 310, when Knaus played it safe with a call for four Goodyear tires. Four drivers—McMurray, Kyle Larson, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr.—opted for right side tires only. Johnson exited pit road in seventh after Larson was penalized for driving through too many pit boxes.

Johnson moved into third on Lap 317, behind leader McMurray and Harvick. Johnson completed his charge to the front on Lap 321, with Harvick taking second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also passing McMurray. Earnhardt moved around Harvick on Lap 326 for second before Harvick returned the favor on Lap 329. Harvick then lost momentum on Lap 331 when he slid and scraped the wall in Turn 4 but still managed to maintain second. By then, Johnson was headed to the white flag.

Earnhardt, Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, finished third in his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS. Joey Logano, last year's Texas spring race winner and the reigning Daytona 500 champion, finished fourth in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion. Brad Keselowski, the 2012 NSCS champion and Logano's Team Penske shopmate, finished fifth in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.

"I had the car I anticipated I would have," said Earnhardt, who scored his 15th top-10 finish in 26 races at TMS. "We made some good adjustments. We seemed to have a good pattern of what was working for us and I think by the end of the race we had our car as good as we had it all night.

"I like racing here. I think it was a good show. It was raining debris out there for a while and we needed some green-flag runs to get some of the track position back that we were having trouble keeping. Finally the rain shower of debris ended and we were able to finish the race."

Johnson led on nine occasions for a race-high 128 laps to become the third driver to record wins in the spring and fall races at Texas, joining Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, both of Joe Gibbs Racing. Harvick, a two-time winner this season for Stewart-Haas Racing, led nine times for 96 laps.

Harvick's desire to get his first win at TMS in 25 starts was evident on Lap 314, when he nudged the rear bumper of Logano's car and moved him out of the way while battling for third.

"Yeah, it’s fine," said Harvick. "Like the No. 22, you knock them out of the way and that’s the chance you take when you block." Harvick setted for his 13th top-10 finish in those 25 TMS starts and his seventh top 10 in 2015.

Logano classified Harvick’s move as "hard racing," then admitted he was blocking. "It's the end of the race. I blocked him and he got into me," Logano said. "I get it. Early in the race that's not acceptable. End of the race, we're racing for the win. I'd do the same thing."

Harvick exited Texas with a 25-point (306-280) lead over Logano in the points standings, with Truex, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, third and 40 points out of the lead after a ninth-place result.