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Monday Motor Sport Report

By Peter McKay, 29 Sep 2014 Motorsport

Monday Motor Sport Report

Merc battles F1 reliability, rain causes MotoGP mayhem, Aussie Moto3 championship leader crashes out and NASCAR Chase narrows down

F1: Flying Mercs’ have to beat unreliability … and Ricciardo

It’s hotting up.

At a fascinating point in the Formula One world championship – with Lewis Hamilton leading team-mate Nico Rosberg by a mere three points – the circus next weekend moves to Suzuka, Japan, one of the great old-time drivers’ circuits.

Having won all grands prix this year except for the three rustled by Daniel Riccardo and Red Bull Racing, the dominant Mercedes cars will be favoured. Their Achilles heel is reliability. More on this later…

At the business end of the championship, Ricciardo, 60 points behind the leader, is still a mathematical chance at the drivers’ crown, helped by the Mercs too-regular mechanical issues. Of course it’s a long shot, but while there’s a chance he says he’ll go hunting the guys in the Silver Arrows.

At the last race in Singapore, won by Hamilton from RBR’s Sebastian Vettel and Ricciardo, the reigning world champion managed his tyres well enough to stay ahead of his nemesis. Ricciardo had intermittent problems with the battery and at different times it did not deliver power. For just the third time in 14 races Vettel came home ahead of Ricciardo.

Ricciardo’s really looking forward to the Japanese Grand Prix. 

“Suzuka is all good, but for me the first sector is just a delight. It’s a dream. You have those fast changes of directions through the Esses, hard around the Dunlop Curve and then, arguably the best bit, turns Eight and Nine: Degner. Through Eight you’re hanging on, it’s so narrow and there’s no room for error but you want to push as hard as you can. Then just as you straighten up the car, you’re on the brakes, throwing it into this cambered right-hander and hoping you’ve got it right because if you haven’t then it’s all over. Getting to do that 53 times in a row is a pretty good way to earn a living.

“What you maybe don’t see on TV is that it’s a real rollercoaster, dropping into valleys and climbing up again, so that you’re rarely on a level surface.”

In Singapore, Hamilton won with no real opposition with Rosberg’s dramas beginning 30 minutes prior to the start. The steering wheel buttons would not react to him pressing them. Only the gearshift pedals worked.

Changing the steering wheel didn’t help and then Rosberg could not encourage the car to leave the pits after the first tyre change – he could not engage first gear due to a fault with the cable running through the steering column from the steering wheel to the ECU.

Rosberg’s non finish did nothing to help Mercedes’ appalling reliability record. According to F1 expert Michael Schmidt, the Mercs have an 80 per cent reliability record on race weekends, including technical troubles encountered in the practice. Last year the reliability was 88 per cent.

But the Mercs have the grunt and on race day and everyone else plays catch-up.

MotoGP: Amazing Aragon ends in mayhem

For so much of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Aragon, it was what we expect from modern MotoGP as under leaden skies Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa went at it like prize fighters.

Valentino Rossi was a little further back until he had a massive crash and was stretchered off to hospital for checks.

All three of the front runners had turns in the lead and it seemed we were in for a stunning fight to the finish.

Then it began to drizzle, enough for the white flag to be displayed – a message that the riders may at any time thereafter come to the pits to swap to bikes fitted with rain tyres. For several more laps, no-one did. Then Andrea Dovizioso slid off, and riders started pitting to switch bikes while the Spanish trio up front stayed out and continued their scrap amidst the growing chaos.

The rain was light at the back of the circuit, but very evident on the front straight, and with four laps remaining Lorenzo ignored the high-risk gamble of Marquez and Pedrosa to pit for a bike better suited to the worsening conditions.

Pedrosa then crashed in turn one and a lap later Marquez also went down. Both riders were able to get back to the pit lane and change bikes, but clearly they had also tossed away any chance of winning.

Led by Lorenzo, the riders who made smarter calls and pitted earlier were stealing the race. Lorenzo won his first GP of 2014 for Yamaha while, fighting for his first MotoGP podium, Aleix Espargaro, also on a Yamaha, held off a rejuvenated Cal Crutchlow’s Ducati to take second.

Marquez collected 13th place points and was left to rue his poor decision making. Pedrosa, who survived a scary high-speed off, was 14th and also in the points.

"Today's race was difficult because I, like many other riders in MotoGP, had never experienced track conditions like this before,” said Marquez. “It was a shame that it started to rain; if it hadn't, then I think that Dani, Jorge and I would have made the end of the race really exciting for the fans. I think that we did a good job all weekend – it was just a pity about the crash. I tried to hold on because there were only a few laps remaining, but today I learned that in these situations it is better to use a different strategy.”

Marquez (292) still leads the championship by 75 points over Pedrosa (217), who is three points ahead of Rossi (214). Lorenzo (202) has closed the gap considerably after his race win.

The championship now moves to our neck of the woods, for the three back-to-back races in Japan, Australia and Malaysia.

Moto3: Miller crashes out of title lead

A controversial crash with his title rival Alex Marquez in Moto3 at Aragon cost Australia’s Jack Miller his long-held championship lead with just four grands prix remaining in the 2014 season.

Nineteen-year-old Miller went into the race nine points up, and was battling for the race lead in the early stages with Marquez on a drying track when the two banged together, with the Townsville rider flung into the air and off his KTM.

Marquez stayed aboard his machine and went on to take second behind Romano Fenati, while Miller remounted but couldn’t salvage anything from a day that looms as one to define the championship.

The wet-drying conditions saw a huge number of crashes throughout the race, some riders falling multiple times. Miller had a second crash and was classified 27th.

Marquez and Miller were summoned by Race Direction after contact between the pair saw Miller crash early in the race.

The start of the race had been delayed by mist and fog and although a dry line formed for the Moto3 contest the conditions were difficult for the lightweight class competitors.

Miller blamed Marquez for the crash didn’t make a big issue of the incident. “In the crash, Marquez had tried to overtake me on the straight but did not have the pace to do so. On the entry to the corner I was on the dry line and went in normally. I knew Marquez would try to block off inside corner, but he did not cut the gas and made me fall off the bike. Sometimes these things happen –it’s racing.

“Now we head to a circuit that I like and we’ll see what happens,” said Miller, who is now 11 points behind Marquez going into the next round of the championship on October 12 at Motegi, Japan.

NASCAR: Who’s in and who’s out of the Chase

And who can unravel the crazy system to determine the champ?

Gee, remember when the guy who accumulated the most points over a NASCAR season was declared the champion? Way too simple.

The Sprint Cup race at Dover proved crucial for the 16 drivers in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship, with four destined to be eliminated and 12 progressing.

AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Marcos Ambrose’s team-mate Aric Almirola are now out of contention while a happy dozen have done enough to move to the next part of the Chase.

Advancing to the Contender Round are:

Brad Keselowski (Won at Chicagoland)
Joey Logano (Won at New Hampshire)
Kevin Harvick
Jimmie Johnson
Jeff Gordon (Won at Dover)
Kyle Busch
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Matt Kenseth
Ryan Newman
Carl Edwards
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne

One of this dozen will be champion. Eventually. The Contender Round comprises three races: Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. A Chase driver who wins one of those three races will automatically advance to the (next) Eliminator Round. The rest of the eight-driver field to make the Eliminator Round will be determined by the points scored in the three Contender Round races.

Got that?