Who’d be a race team strategist? Sometimes a goose; other times a dill.
On Saturday, race eight in the Australian Supercars Championship was won by Craig Lowndes after a decision to make an extra (third) pit stop for fresh Dunlops, giving him the pace to fight back to the front.
Twenty four hours later, reigning champ Mark Winterbottom clung on for a tension-charged first win of the season after taking one fewer tyre stops than much of his opposition, on a track noted for its abrasive surface.
The turnaround for Winterbottom came after a horror Saturday he described as one of his worst for some time.
While the Triple Eight Holden trio of Lowndes, Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup rampaged to a podium shut-out, Frosty struggled to an inglorious 22nd place.
Lowndes’s race engineer Ludo Lacroix deserves the kudos for the daring mid-race call to bring in his driver for new boots. At the time it looked all wrong, but upon re-joining the fray, Lowndes methodically started picking ‘em off…
Back down the field in Wally World, Winterbotton was doing it tough after a miscue sent him ploughing through the sand. Then he copped a Liberace from another car, as he slowed to enter the pits for tyres.
But Sunday was a different story, partly dictated by a ruined set of tyres the previous day.
His race engineer Jason Gray strong pushed to lock-in a two-stopper when most of the field felt that three was the way to go.
This strategy put the Ford driver way out in front when he made his last stop with 30 laps remaining in the 200km race, but with an ever-reducing margin to pursuers Scott McLaughin in the Volvo, and Lowndes.
They were closing at around half-a-second a lap, although the gap appeared manageable until Winterbottom lost nearly two seconds as he was overhauled by a faster lapped car driven by Aaren Russell.
“I thought Aaren Russell ruined my race,” Winterbottom said later. “I thought I was gone.”
We all did. The chasing pack was on his tail.
But, driving magnificently, Winterbottom kept the Falcon straight, treating the accelerator with judicious respect so as not to buzz his fading rubber.
The best had also gone from his pursuers’ fresher tyres and Winterbottom was able to repel one big thrust from McLaughlin to take a stunning win, by a mere 0.3sec.
Winterbottom becomes the eighth individual race winner for 2016.
The Sunday race outcome left Lowndes as championship leader, 42 points ahead of Jamie Whincup (who finished 11th) with McLaughlin a further six points adrift. But Frosty is on the move; he’s up to fourth and 78 points behind Lowndes.
Next race is the Winton SuperSprint on May 20-22.
WEC: Audi wins Six Hours of Spa as Porsche and Toyota falter
Porsche was strong at the start and then Toyota looked good for four hours. But it was a six-hour race…
Toyota’s factory Gazoo Racing lost a likely victory in the second round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) when mechanical issues hit both cars at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
A Toyota led comfortably after four hours and looked set to take victory in the WEC Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps - its first since 2014. Engine problems then hit both TS050 Hybrids, removing them from contention.
Seizing the chance to take the win were Audi drivers Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis, who took a first WEC victory together in a race of survival and not just a few shunts.
The trio in the #8 Audi R18 e-tron finished two laps clear of the Marc Lieb/ Neel Jani/Romain Dumas Porsche 919, which was forced to run nearly all the race with reduced hybrid power levels.
The winning Audi inherited the lead during the fourth hour when the #5 Toyota TS050 shared by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima suffered major engine failure.
It was a lap up on the Audi when it struck trouble.
In a telling tale with the 24 Hours of Le Mans only weeks away, all six factory LMP1 cars struck problems at Spa.
The winning Audi was least bothered, a late-race change of the rear body section being a precaution rather than a necessity.
"It's clear we didn't have the performance this weekend compared to the Porsche or even the Toyota," said Jarvis.
"But we stayed out of trouble and the car was reliable - that's what endurance racing is about.”
Mark Webber’s 2016 season continues to be problematical. The Aussie and his team-mates Brendon Hartley and Tim Bernhard were initially slowed by two punctures, the second of which damaged the bodywork of the pole-winning Porsche 919 Hybrid. It had led the opening stint in the hands of New Zealander Hartley, before the front-axle energy-retrieval system required changing, costing the trio more than an hour.
The Webber Porsche re-joined the fray to complete the required 70 per cent of the winner’s distance to be classified, ending up in 30th.
It wasn’t a great dress-rehearsal for Le Mans although the Jani/Dumas/Lieb Porsche trio have extended its championship points lead.
WEC Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps results:
|1st||#8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis)||160 laps|
|2nd||#2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/ Lieb)||+2 laps|
|3rd||#13 Rebellion (Tuscher/Kraihamer/Imperatori)||+4 laps|
|4th||#12 Rebellion (Prost/Piquet/Heidfeld)||+5 laps|
|5th||#7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer)||+5 laps|
Lorenzo charges to championship lead in crash-filled Le Mans
Dominant flag-to-flag win to the reigning MotoGP champ in crash-filled French round…
Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo completed an impressive start to finish victory at the historic Le Mans circuit in France on Sunday. The win propels him to the top of the championship standings.
After qualifying on pole – where he recorded the fastest-ever two-wheeled lap of Le Mans – Lorenzo got a good start and led in to the first corner. Extending his lead over the first lap, he continued to push hard for the whole 28-laps.
The Spaniard eventually crossed the finishing line more than 10-seconds ahead of his nearest rival, team-mate Valentino Rossi. The rest were nowhere.
Nine-time world champion Rossi, rode a calculated race to pick off his opponents. After starting from seventh on the grid, he moved up to second on lap-14, staying there until the chequered flag.
Helped by a spate of fallers – including previous points leader Marc Marquez, both Ducati riders, Cal Crutchlow and Australia’s Jack Miller – many riders found themselves with a shot at strong finishes.
Marquez remounted unhurt and brought his battered Honda home safely in 13th.
Suzuki’s Maverick Viñales took the final podium place and the first top-three finish of his MotoGP career. The 21-year-old Spaniard also fought his way through the field after starting from eighth, his third was also Suzuki’s first podium since 2008.
Lorenzo moves to the top of the championship with 90 points, with Marquez forced to concede his lead after the crash. Rossi stays third, just 12 points behind Lorenzo.
Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi now have a mistake each to their name this season and with only 12 points between them in the championship; the action is just starting to warm up…
The MotoGP field now goes to Mugello, Italy, for round six of the MotoGP World Championship.
Fifty seconds went begging during McLaren fuel economy drive in Russia
A need to save fuel cost McLaren Honda the chance to match Williams in Sochi, says Boullier.
At a power circuit that blows any fuel efficiency mandates out the window, steadily improving McLaren Honda still finished in the points with both cars in the Russian Grand Prix – but it could have been even better according to the team’s racing director, Eric Boullier.
Fuel saving cost the thirsty Honda-powered McLaren 50-seconds in the 53 lap race, Boullier insists.
Fernando Alonso finished sixth, one lap down, but was 52.829secs behind fourth-placed Valtteri Bottas at Sochi.
Without the requirement to save fuel throughout, Alonso would have matched Williams's pace, Boullier says, declaring that the big margin was entirely down to the Honda engine's fuel thirst compared to the Mercedes used by Williams.
Towards the end of the race, with the fuel consumption managed, Alonso was more than 1.2secs faster per lap than Bottas.
So Boullier optimistically deducts that without fuel saving his cars would have been another 50 secs up the road.
Though there is work to be done on the fuel economy, he takes comfort that the drivers were happier with the pace and the balance of the McLarens.
Said Alonso: "We had the fifth-fastest lap of the race so I think sixth position is what we deserve and I'm happy with the way everything is going.
"We seem more and more competitive every race, so let's hope from Barcelona and Monaco to get some more points."
The TV superstar from Brissie has never forgotten those who helped him early in his career
Leigh Diffey is the king motor sports commentator on NBC Sports but he remembers those who gave him a leg up…
Leigh Diffey is riding high as one of the more familiar Australian faces and voices on US network television as a host and play-by-play commentator for NBC Sports Formula One and Indy Car coverage.
In August, he’ll be off to the Olympics in Rio to call the rowing.
Diffey is a highly recognisable superstar of the small screen in the US, where he has lived for the past decade.
Through talent and persistence Diffey — the ex-school phys-ed teacher from Brisbane — has managed to cement a career in the TV big-time unmatched by anyone else from the Antipodes.
In a country where a foreign accent is often a handicap, Diffey’s Aussie twang has been welcomed, accepted and compartmentalised as part of the furniture.
His success is rare for an outsider but not so difficult to understand. His knowledge runs deep across everything with wheels. His recall is impressive too. He brings up colourful anecdotes or a fascinating fact from back in that impressive hard drive called the Diffey brain. Moreover, he loves motor sport (and golf, let it be said). The passion shines through. Diffey is also smart enough to tweak the right buttons. He doesn’t yell at his audience; it’s more like a cosy chat, then bringing in his fellow commentators and experts to trigger a little controversy and debate. He has opinions yet isn’t opinionated. See? C lever!
Over two decades, 45-year-old Diffey has honed his craft across three continents, in a career which so far includes covering V8 Supercars for Australia’s Network Ten as well as the World Superbike Championship and WRC for the BBC. If that wasn’t already impressive enough, Leigh’s also handled varied forms of motor sport for ESPN, Speed and NBC Sports in North America with aplomb.
Since 2013 Diff has been the main man – the cop directing busy “expert commentary” traffic around the battery of microphones - for the NBC Sports Network’s coverage of Formula One and the IndyCar Series.
Married with two boys, Diffey has also called NASCAR, sailing, golf, and the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, where he handled play-by-play duties for bobsled, skeleton and luge.
Okay, so you get the picture… Diffey is a big wheel in the massive US TV market.
But this past weekend, Diffey had a rare weekend off. He could have chilled out at home in Connecticut, but instead flew from New York to LA to Sydney, and then drove to Mittagong to stun a long-time mate, Phil Christenson, and help him celebrate his 70th birthday.
Christensen — a motor sporting entrepreneur who’s run his own two-car team in the Bathurst 1000, and staged monster track shows — was also one of the group of three who created the phenomenon known as stadium supercross in Australia. He gambled on hiring the then unknown young Queenslander to call the action.
Diffey was on his way. And he has never forgotten. Which is why he flew halfway around the world on his weekend off to join the celebrations. And then back again. The birthday boy was blown away.
He’s a good bloke, is Leigh Diffey.