Mercedes untouchable at Belgian Grand Prix

Mercedes dominated the Belgian Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton leading yet another 1-2 finish for the team. The pair finished over 30 seconds clear of third placed driver Romain Grosjean, who qualified fourth before dropping to ninth with a grid penalty.

There was a lot of focus on the race start after new regulations surrounding what drivers can and cannot say to their drivers in the moments just prior to the lights going out. A couple of drivers were slow away on the formation lap but it went without any major problems in the race start proper. There was an aborted start following problems for Nico Hulkenberg on the grid. The Force India driver reported loss of power on his out-lap to the grid, and had been advised by his team to return to the pits at the end of the warm up lap. The team then changed their mind and told Hulkenberg to take the race start as they believed the problem was resolving itself. This was not the case and Hulkenberg was wheeled back into the pits. Carlos Sainz also had his own problems and was asked to return to the pit-lane prior to the start.

When the lights went out it was Sergio Perez who made the biggest impression, going from fourth to second as Nico Rosberg dropped to fifth. Perez made an attempt to take the lead of the race but Hamilton but failed to get past and that proved to be his only opportunity. Pastor Maldonado became an early retirement from the race as his car quickly slowed due to engine problems. He was able to make it back to the pits. Other retirements from the race were Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz.

After Ricciardo retired on track following the final chicane, the Virtual Safety Car was used, neutralising the speed of all the cars on track. The Mercedes duo were pulling away at the front of the field and it was Sebastian Vettel who slotted into third race. He became a late retirement after a tyre delamination in the final couple of laps. After a pit-stop on the 14th lap of the race, Vettel was attempting to go to the end on the medium tyres but he failed to make it. He had found himself under pressure from Grosjean but had been keeping himself ahead of the Lotus driver, with the Ferrari benefiting from good straight line speed. Vettel had called for another pit-stop but the team chose to leave him out.

Daniil Kvyat backed up his strong showing at the Hungarian Grand Prix – where he got his first podium – put in a strong end to the race to finish in fourth. Fresher tyres allowed him to catch and pass the cars ahead. Perez eventually finished fifth, ahead of Felipe Massa in sixth. Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen – who started 16th following problems in qualifying and a gearbox penalty – finished the race in seventh with Max Verstappen eighth, Valtteri Bottas ninth and Marcus Ericsson tenth. Williams suffered a pit-stop blunder which saw Bottas’ car fitted with one medium tyre and three softs – a breach of the regulations. Bottas was given a drive through penalty for the mistake but he still managed to salvaged a couple of points.

Felipe Nasr finished in 11th ahead of the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. Button suffered problems throughout the race including a lack of power, allowing his team-mate to pull away from him. Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens were classified in 15th and 16th with Vettel classified 12th despite not finishing the race.

It was another crushing performance by the Mercedes team, following their disappointment in Hungary. The next race is in two weeks time at Ferrari’s home race of Monza.

Lewis Hamilton on pole for Belgian Grand Prix

Mercedes led the way in the first three practice sessions ahead of qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. Drivers going into the session with grid penalties were Max Verstappen, Romain Grosjean, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. Verstappen got a ten place grid penalty for a component change while Grosjean got five places for a gearbox change.  The McLaren duo went into qualifying with combined grid penalties of 105, meaning they will start at the back of the grid regardless.

Q1

Most drivers went out on the medium compound tyre at the start of the session, with Roberto Merhi, Felipe Nasr, Carlos Sainz, Marcus Ericcson and Will Stevens opting to use the softs straight away. Nico Rosberg’s first flying lap put him ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just under a tenth of a second. Sebastian Vettel slotted into third albeit six tenths of a second off the leading pair. Both McLaren drivers went out to complete laps, despite knowing they would be right at the back due to their penalties. Times started to fall as drivers switched to the option tyre with Force India moving to the head of the times with Sergio Perez. Hamilton soon returned to the top of the times, just a hundredth clear of Rosberg with Perez still within a tenth of a second of the Mercedes duo.

  1. Lewis Hamilton 1:48.908
  2. Nico Rosberg 1:48.923
  3. Sergio Perez 1:49.006
  4. Vallteri Bottas 1:49.026
  5. Carlos Sainz 1:49.109
  6. Sebastian Vettel 1:49.264
  7. Kimi Raikkonen 1:49.288
  8. Romain Grosjean 1:49.353
  9. Daniil Kvyat 1:49.469
  10. Nico Hulkenberg 1:49.499
  11. Marcus Ericsson 1:49.523
  12. Pastor Maldonado 1:49.568
  13. Daniel Ricciardo 1:49.664
  14. Felipe Massa 1:49.688
  15. Max Verstappen 1:49.831
  16. Felipe Nasr 1:49.952
  17. Jenson Button 1:50.978
  18. Fernando Alonso 1:51.420
  19. Will Stevens 1:52.948
  20. Roberto Merhi 1:53.099

Q2

Valtteri Bottas set the first flying lap of the session – a 1:49.678 – before quickly being dislodged at the top of the times by Lewis Hamilton with a 1:48.024. Nico Rosberg went faster still – the Mercedes team-mates once again separated by under a tenth of a second. Kimi Raikkonen came to a halt on track bringing out the red flag with eight minutes of the session remaining. Max Verstappen complained of a loss of power and looked like he wouldn’t be taking any further part in qualifying. There were a flurry of times at the end of the session, with Nico Hulkenberg dropping out of the top ten while his team-mate went fourth. The top thirteen drivers who set a lap time were separated by just over a second and a half, with sixth to eleventh covered by a tenth of a second setting up a close fought pole position shoot out.

  1. Nico Rosberg 1:47.955
  2. Lewis Hamilton 1:48.024
  3. Sebastian Vettel 1:48.761
  4. Sergio Perez 1:48.792
  5. Felipe Massa 1:48.806
  6. Pastor Maldonado 1:48.956
  7. Romain Grosjean 1:48.981
  8. Daniel Ricciardo 1:49.042
  9. Valtteri Bottas 1:49.044
  10. Carlos Sainz 1:49.065
  11. Nico Hulkenberg 1:49.121
  12. Daniil Kvyat 1:49.228
  13. Marcus Ericsson 1:49.586
  14. Kimi Raikkonen No Time Set
  15. Max Verstappen No Time Set

Q3

Going through to the pole position shoot out were both Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez, both Williams, both Lotus, Daniel Ricciardo and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz. The Williams driver of Valtteri Bottas was first out on track for Q3, soon joined by Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa. Bottas once again set the first flying lap of the session – 1:48.567 – which was promptly beaten by Lewis Hamilton by over a second. Nico Rosberg was four tenths off his team-mate. Hamilton improved his lap-time and maintained pole position. Bottas secured third with Grosjean fourth before his five place grid drop. Perez ended the session fifth, with Ricciardo sixth, Massa seventh, Maldonado eighth, Vettel ninth and Sainz in tenth.

  1. Lewis Hamilton 1:47.197
  2. Nico Rosberg 1:47.655
  3. Valtteri Bottas 1:48.537
  4. Romain Grosjean 1:48.561
  5. Sergio Perez 1:48.599
  6. Daniel Ricciardo 1:48.639
  7. Felipe Massa 1:48.685
  8. Pastor Maldonado 1:48.754
  9. Sebastian Vettel 1:48.825
  10. Carlos Sainz 1:49.771

Derek Sheils doubles up at Faugheen 50 road races

Derek Sheils took two wins at the weekend at the Faugheen 50 road races in Co. Tipperary.

Following a narrow victory for Brian McCormack in the Open Non Championship race, Sheils took the win in both the Open Championship race and the Grand Final. McCormack beat Derek McGee by just a hundredth of a second in the non championship race with William Dunlop taking third, just eight tenths back. Dunlop broke the lap record on the way to his podium. John Walsh and Seamus Elliott completed the top five.

Sheils won the Open Champonship race by two tenths from McGee with Dunlop once again completing the podium. It was McGee who won the Supertwins race, taking a commanding eight second victory over Paul Jordan with Michal Dokoupil in third. This was following his first International victory in the same class at the Ulster Grand Prix. John Horgan finished in fourth with Mark Sheils coming home in fifth. In the Supersport class it was another victory for Dunlop on his CD Racing Yamaha, meaning his maintained his 100% record in the class at Irish Nationals this year. He beat McGee by three seconds with Walsh in third, McCormack fourth and Thomas Maxwell in fifth.

Jordan beat Nigel Moore and Paul Robinson to victory in the 125cc – Moto 3 race while Brian Coomey won both 201cc – 400cc races. In both races he was joined on the podium by John Horgan and Brendan Glover. The Senior Support Non Championship race was won by Dean Campbell, who beat Steve Tobin and Daryl Tweed while Tobin beat Tweed and Stephen Casey in the Championship race. Neil Kernohan, Elliott, and Dokoupil filled the podium positions in Junior Support.

In the Classics it was another victory for Robert McCrum in the 250 – 350cc class, beating Ed Manly by over 24 seconds with Sean Leonard in third. He also won the 500 – 1000cc Classic race by a narrower margin of 16 seconds over Richard Ford with Manly in third.

In the Grand Final Sheils crossed the line marginally ahead of McGee with McCormack coming home third after holding off Dunlop who finished fourth. Walsh rounded out the top five finishers.

Next up on the road racing calendar are the Classic TT and Manx GP which is due to start later this week. The final Irish National road race of the year is Killalane which takes place on the first weekend in September.

Lee Johnston the new ‘General’ of Dundrod

Lee Johnston was the Man of the Meeting at last weekend’s Ulster Grand Prix after winning three races.

Johnston – who is known as General Lee – took victories in the Superstock class as well as both Supersport races, his first wins at the Ulster Grand Prix.

Bruce Anstey had taken the win in the Dundrod 150 Superbike race after battling with Guy Martin, who crashed out and was forced to withdraw from the remainder of the event. The fan favourite sustained a number of fractures including to his hand and several vertebrae.

First up on the order on Saturday – which started off a clear and dry day – was the Superstock race. Keith Amor was promoted to pole position but lost out at the start. It was Johnston who went on to win but not without a close battle with Peter Hickman who had taken the early lead. The race ran to the line and the pair were separated by just 0.090s with Michael Dunlop finishing in third place. He finished ten seconds clear of brother William with Amor rounding out the top five.

Next up was the Supersport race and it was another close fought affair. William Dunlop lead for most of the race but was pipped to the line by on form man Johnston. Their gap was just three hundredths of a second with Glenn Irwin in third on his second visit to the Dundrod circuit.  Anstey narrowly missed out on a podium while Ian Hutchinson finished in fifth place after a disappointing retirement in the opening race of the day. Following the Supersport machines it was time for the combined Ultra Lightweight and Lightweight classes. Sam Wilson was the victor in the Lightweight class finishing ahead of Neil Kernohan and James Cowton. Paul Owen was fourth with Michal Dokoupil in fifth place. Christian Elkin was the clear winner in the Ultra Lightweight class. The Moto 3 rider had had an accident on Thursday during a Supertwin practice session but was soon back in action. He was nearly half a minute clear of Connor Behan who finished second, with Nigel Moore in third.

There was controversy in the first Superbike race as it was red flagged on the sixth lap. Due to the rules, which specify that if a race is red flagged then it will be counted back to the last fully completed lap, Anstey was declared the winner despite Hutchinson leading on the road. He later revealed that he had been racing a strategic race – making sure he was leading at two thirds race distance should the race be red flagged. The PBM team planned to appeal the result but it stood with Anstey as the winner with Hutchinson second and Johnston third. Hickman, Conor Cummins and William Dunlop completed the top six.

The second Supersport race was also red flagged due to a fatal accident involving Scottish rider Andy Lawson. Johnston took the victory with Irwin second and Hutchinson third. Dean Harrison took fourth place with William Dunlop fifth and Anstey sixth. Following a lengthy delay as the race directors consulted with Andy Lawson’s family – who wished for the event to continue – the Supertwin class got out on track, albeit in tricky conditions as the rain had set in. Derek McGee held off Cowton throughout the four lap race with Dan Cooper taking his first International podium in third. He and Irwin had circulated closely on track but it was Cooper who was ahead when it counted – as they crossed the line.

It was a depleted grid for the seventh and final race of the day – the second Superbike race. It was another close fought affair as Cummins worked his way through the top five to finish just two hundredths of a second off Hickman. It was Hickman’s first International victory. Michael Dunlop finished off a fairly anonymous day with a third place finish. Amor took fourth ahead of Russ Mountford and Dan Kneen.

Man of the Meeting Johnston was just one of the riders who chose to sit the race out – the list also included Anstey. Horst Saiger was awarded the Best Newcomer award. Next up on the road racing calendar is Faugheen this weekend.

Bruce Anstey wins Dundrod 150 Superbike race

Bruce Anstey was declared the winner in a red flagged Dundrod 150 Superbike race, following a difficult day at the event.

A number of red flags throughout the morning practice sessions resulted in just one race of a five race programme running. After practice was called off on Wednesday due to poor visibility Thursday morning Ulster Grand Prix qualifying sessions were used for the Dundrod 150 meeting as well.

The first race of the afternoon – the Ultra Lightweight/Lightweight class – was red flagged on the first lap and eventually postponed. The schedule had already been rearranged, bringing the Superbike race to run second. Guy Martin had qualified on pole position ahead of Anstey, Ian Hutchinson, Peter Hickman, Lee Johnston, and William Dunlop.

Hutchinson took the lead at the start of the race but he soon became one of the retirements from the race along with Michael Dunlop and Johnston. It turned into a two horse race between Martin and Anstey, with the former holding a narrow advantage over the latter for most of the race. Anstey closed the gap to the Tyco BMW rider to just a tenth of a second as they headed into the closing stages of the race. The race was red flagged on the last lap of the race and it was soon revealed that Martin had come off his bike following a highside. The Tyco team tweeted that their rider was a bit banged up but had nothing broken.

Conor Cummins came home in second place ahead of Hickman and Dan Kneen on the second Valvoline by Padgetts Honda. Keith Amor finished in fifth ahead of William Dunlop, Dean Harrison, Ivan Lintin, Russ Mountford and Seamus Elliott, who came from the second group.

The rest of the Dundrod 150 racing was unfortunately cancelled. Racing is set to continue on Saturday for the Ulster Grand Prix.

2015: Ulster Grand Prix Preview

The world’s finest road racers are about to take to the track for the world’s fastest road race, with the start of the Ulster Grand Prix race week just days away.

Lap record holder Bruce Anstey will be joined by Ian Hutchinson, William and Michael Dunlop, and Guy Martin. Along with the likes of Keith Amor, Conor Cummins, Dean Harrison, Lee Johnston, Dan Kneen, Ivan Lintin, Peter Hickman, and Glenn Irwin it is a stellar line-up set to compete at the third International road racing event of the year.

Bike Week runs from 3rd – 8th August, with practice and racing taking place on the Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. A host of events are planned for the week and a programme of the schedule can be found on the Ulster Grand Prix official website. Practice sessions will take place on the Wednesday, with roads due to close at 12pm, with Dundrod 150 races taking place on Thursday along with further practice for the Ulster Grand Prix. Racing for the main event will take place on the Saturday. Roads are due to close at 10.30am on Thursday, opening again by 9.30pm while they will close at 8.30am on Saturday morning.

Last year Bruce Anstey was named Man of the Meeting, taking wins in both the Supersport and Superbike classes. There were difficult conditions on the Saturday and a number of red flags but there was some close racing including a 0.001 second victory for Dan Kneen over Dean Harrison in the Superstock race.  Anstey and Guy Martin went wheel to wheel in the Dundrod 150 Superbike race and the corresponding race in the Ulster Grand Prix. Martin took the laurels in the Dundrod 150 race, beating Anstey and Michael Dunlop, while Anstey overtook the Tyco Suzuki rider on the last lap of the Superbike race on Saturday. Lee Johnston finished in third place. The feature race and one of the Supersport races were later abandoned due to deteriorating weather conditions.

The most recent Irish National Road Race was at Armoy last weekend, where Michael and William Dunlop were amongst the race winners. Guy Martin was also in strong form, winning the first Superbike race ahead of his team-mate. Martin is the most successful current rider at the Ulster Grand Prix and he is one of the favourites to add further wins to his tally. There has been plenty of national action since the last international road race – the Isle of Man TT in June – as well as the Southern 100. At the North West 200 in May it may have been Alistair Seeley monopolising the top step of the podium, but riders including Lee Johnston and Glenn Irwin put in strong performances and they will be ones to watch this coming week. Irwin made his Ulster Grand Prix debut last year and this year will see him with John Burrows BE Racing team on the Supertwin. He is standing in for Jamie Hamilton who was seriously injured in an accident at the TT but is recovering well. Ian Hutchinson was back to winning ways at the TT – securing a hat-trick of victories – and he will no doubt be hoping to continue his strong form into the Ulster. Bruce Anstey can never be discounted as his impressive record of a podium finish at every North West 200, TT and Ulster Grand Prix since his 2002 proves. Another one to watch will be Peter Hickman who made his debut last year and completed a 131mph lap of the Dundrod circuit.

This year the Ulster Grand Prix has launched an app in association with FanZone which includes features such as allowing fans to arrange car shares and travel arrangements for the week. The app is available to download for free on both iOS and Android.

Wristbands for the week cost £25 and can be purchased from Lidl stores and road ends at the circuit, amongst other places.

Dunlop brothers win at Armoy Road Races

Michael Dunlop was the victorious rider in the feature race at last weekend’s Armoy Road Races.

Dunlop beat Guy Martin in the Race of Legends Grand Final, crossing the line over two seconds clear of the Tyco BMW rider. Dean Harrison rounded off a successful weekend with third place ahead of William Dunlop, Derek McGee, Seamus Elliott, – making his Wilson Craig debut – Andy Lawson, John Walsh, Davy Morgan and Thomas Maxwell.

Earlier in the day Martin had led home a Tyco BMW 1-2 in the first Superbike race, finishing ahead of team-mate William Dunlop, with Derek Sheils in third. Michael Dunlop was fourth ahead of Harrison, Ryan Farquhar and Lawson, who was the leader from the second group. Morgan was eighth ahead of Walsh and Maxwell. Martin also set the fastest lap of the race on his way to the victory.

Racing had commenced on Friday evening with William Dunlop winning the Supersport race by nearly 3.5 seconds from Martin. Dunlop was on his CD Racing Yamaha while Martin was racing a Tyco Suzuki. Harrison finished third ahead of a returning Keith Amor. McGee finished in fifth place with Sheils in sixth and Elliott seventh. Lawson and James Cowton came from the second group to finish eighth and ninth respectively, in front of lead group rider Billy Redmayne. The second Supersport race was run on Saturday and was once again won by Dunlop, again ahead of Martin and Harrison. The latter two on the podium were separated by just 0.034s as they crossed the line. The rest of the top ten was completed by McGee, Sheils, Elliott, Lawson, Redmayne, Connor Behan, and Christian Elkin.

Farquhar beat McGee to victory in the Supertwins race on Saturday with Behan crossing the line in third. Cowton finished ahead of Elkin, Paul Jordan, Lawson, Michal Dokoupil, Andy Farrell, and Darren James. Martin had been due to race in the Supertwins class, riding Jamie Hamilton’s BE Racing bike but he encountered problems on Friday.

Elsewhere Jordan took victory in the Moto 3/125cc race beating Sam Wilson and Nigel Moore. Adam McLean, Sam Dunlop, James Kelly, Neil Kernohan, Sean Leonard, Derek Clark, and Craig Gibson were the other top ten finishers. Wilson won the 250cc race ahead of Michael Dunlop and Paul Robinson. Dunlop was standing in for Michael Sweeney on the BE Racing bike. Stephen Davison won the Non-Qualifiers race.

Junior Support was won by McLean who beat Brian Coomey and Timothy Elwood, while Kevin Fitzpatrick beat Ryan Maher and Dean Campbell in Senior Support. Barry Davidson added another win in the 250cc/350cc Classic class to his tally, beating Mark Johnson and George Stinson. The 500cc/1000cc Classic race was won by Richard Ford who finished ahead of Freddie Stewart and Billy Lyle.

There was a lengthy delay following a red flag in the 400cc race, which was won by Dokoupil. Local rider Ian Simpson was airlifted to hospital where he is said to be in a stable condition. The race was red flagged following five racing laps and the results were declared from the end of the fourth lap which was Elliott in second and David Howard finishing third.

Attention now turns to the Ulster Grand Prix with bike week kicking off on Monday.