Massa and Ferrari Dominate Bahrain – Felipe Massa won the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday as the desert circuit kick-started his Formula One championship challenge for the second year in a row.
The Brazilian had failed to score a point in the first two races of the year, an even worse performance than last season’s disappointing start, but the track again delivered the result he needed.
Massa took the lead from BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica going into the first corner and stayed ahead of world champion teammate Kimi Raikkonen to steer Ferrari to their first one-two since last year’s Brazilian season-ender.
The 10 points lifted him to sixth in the standings, nine points behind leader Raikkonen with 15 races remaining.
His relief was palpable, even if he played down the pressure. “Finally, after a start to the championship under dark clouds, I can see the sunshine again,” he said.
The clouds were caused by retirements in Australia and Malaysia, with the Brazilian again coming under fire in Italy with the media speculating on the likelihood of him seeing out his contract to 2010. “I have not had very easy weeks but that’s life,” he told a news conference. “It’s not the first time and won’t be the last one as well. You have some bad days in your life. I had two bad days in the first two races but I know that we are quick.”
Massa followed up his win in Bahrain last year with another victory in Spain and Turkey’s Istanbul circuit later in the season.
The calendar has changed this year and Spain and Turkey are now the next two races, leaving the Brazilian looking forward to the weeks ahead.
“I think Barcelona is a nice circuit and one that I like, Turkey as well, so I think that we have very good circuits in front of us at which our car always behaves very well,” he said.
The Brazilian was never truly challenged for the lead but he said it had not been an easy afternoon, with oil on the track making conditions hazardous.
“The race was pretty difficult because I didn’t want to make any mistakes, just didn’t push so much and tried to bring the car home, controlling the pace…for sure I had all the time in my mind what happened in the last race,” he said. “I love the circuit, it’s the second victory in a row and I always went very strongly here.”
Like Father, Like Son – Standing next to his battered car on a humid night at Homestead-Miami Speedway less than two weeks ago, Graham Rahal didn’t wear disappointment well.
The No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps car had careened into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on the oval, transforming the Dallara’s suspension into metal spaghetti. Already short on parts because of the quick turnaround since the announcement of American open-wheel racing unification under the IndyCar Series banner, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing principals decided not to chance further damage – to the car or potentially the novice oval racer.
So Rahal watched from pit lane what would have been his IndyCar Series debut. Only 10 laps of testing – cut short because of rain – early last week at Sebring International Raceway didn’t exactly inspire confidence heading to the concrete cavern that is the St. Petersburg temporary street course.
But if there’s one mental motorsports note he remembers via osmosis from his famous father, it’s perspective. “Keep moving forward,” he said in an earlier interview.
Low and behold, 13 laps shy of the halfway mark of the scheduled 100-lap Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Rahal’s car spun when tapped by the No. 8 car driven by Will Power in Turn 14 and dropped him to 23rd place.
If ever there was a time for perspective. So he pressed on – and moving forward. When most of the field pitted under caution on Lap 60, he remained on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit and was running second to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 17 Team Ethanol entry – a car co-owned by Bobby Rahal.
On the Lap 64 restart, Rahal ducked inside Hunter-Reay in Turn 1 to assume the point. There were 19 cars on the lead lap, and two-time defending race winner Helio Castroneves was bearing down. But the young man who graduated high school last June remained calm, poised as time was running out in what was turning into a timed event.
Disappointment now seemed light years ago as Rahal took the checkered flag with 83 laps completed to become the youngest (19 years, 93 days) winner of a major open-wheel racing series race.
“After getting hit by Will in the rain and everything, it was going to be a tough start,” said Rahal, who is the fourth to win in his IndyCar Series debut and the 12th to win in his first season. “It doesn’t get any sweeter than this; to expect a win in our first race. We had the pace and we pulled away from them, so it wasn’t like we lucked into it. This is just awesome.”
Castroneves finished 3.5192 seconds behind in the No. 3 Team Penske car. Pole-sitter Tony Kanaan wound up third and two other drivers who have transitioned to the IndyCar Series from Champ Car – HVM Racing’s Ernesto Viso and Conquest Racing’s Enrique Bernoldi – were fourth and fifth, respectively. Andretti Green Racing rookie Hideki Mutoh finished a career-best sixth and KV Racing Technology’s Oriol Servia was seventh. Power, who started on the front row in the Aussie Vineyards-Team Australia car for KV Racing Technology, recovered to finish ninth. Danica Patrick also recovered from two early spins off course to post a 10th-place finish.
“Do you think he’ll ever listen to any advice from me again?” said Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner. “He really thinks he knows everything now. He drove a phenomenal race and the crew did a great job.
“I’d hire him, but I can’t afford him.”
Mainly because the first 10 laps were run under caution on a rain-soaked race course, the fourth annual race turned into a two-hour timed race. It was the longest 120 minutes in the younger Rahal’s life, punctuated by a tense final few laps of green-flag racing after a late full-course caution.
“Obviously, Helio is very successful and has won a lot of races. But, at the same time, I knew we had the pace and I knew if I could just keep calm we could pull away,” said Rahal, who started ninth and led a field-high 19 laps (one more than teammate Justin Wilson). “We were pulling away before and we were aggressively fuel saving, so I knew if I could attack the car we could pull away.
“I just needed to keep calm and make it through the last set of corners, especially since there was a yellow out on Turn 11. I just wanted to be cautious but I knew we had quite the gap, so I wasn’t too worried. This has just worked out so well. It’s awesome.”
Castroneves, who started fourth, took a 10-point lead in the series championship standings.
“It was so close,” he said. “Team Penske did everything we could to get that car set up well and I’m extremely happy to be a part of this organization. But in the slow section, the car was really pushing and I couldn’t just take a chance. Second place is good. Obviously, I want to win the race but I’ll take it. In terms of the season championship, second is worth a lot.”
Kanaan first overtook Viso and then Hunter-Reay in the waning laps to score a third-place finish for the third year in a row.
“Finishing third is not bad, but I think there is a curse on me here at St. Pete,” said Kanaan, who was second in the inaugural event. “I’ve finished on the podium every time I’ve been here but not in the right spot.”
In this hard-fought race, Rahal found himself in the center spot of the podium celebration.
Click it: Box score
Audi Wins St. Pete – Audi’s Lucas Luhr passed Romain Dumas on a restart with three minutes left Saturday to give the manufacturer a victory in the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg presented by XM Satellite Radio, its first overall victory of 2008. Luhr teamed with Marco Werner in Audi Sport North America’s No. 2 Audi R10 TDI as the German marque won on the streets of St. Petersburg for the second straight season.
Butch Leitzinger’s spin and crash in one of the Dyson Racing Porsche RS Spyders with 12 minutes left brought out the yellow flag with Penske Racing’s Dumas in the lead. The crash also collected the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of Jörg Bergmeister. Dumas, who claimed LMP2 honors with Timo Bernhard in a Penske Porsche RS Spyder, took the lead from Luhr with 19 minutes to go under green.
But the torque of the Audi proved to be the difference on the long front stretch when the green flag flew. Luhr moved to Dumas left and made a clean pass going into the opening turn.
Dumas and Bernhard did salvage their weekend with their eighth straight LMP2 victory dating back to Mid-Ohio in July of last year. The duo were five seconds clear of David Brabham and Scott Sharp in the Patrón Highcroft Racing entry, the highest finisher among the three Acura ARX-01bs.
The sister Audi of Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro were second in LMP1, followed by Intersport Racing’s cellulosic E85-powered Lola-AER of Jon Field.
Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta led flag-to-flag for their second consecutive St. Petersburg victory in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R. Beretta qualified on the class pole position and never gave up his advantage as Gavin beat Jan Magnussen to the line by 4.754 seconds. It marked the first victory for cellulosic E85 in the American Le Mans Series as both Corvette factory cars are powered by the alternative fuel.
Tafel Racing posted its first Series victory as Dirk Mueller and Dominik Farnbacher won in GT2. The duo stayed clean as electrical problems and contact sidelined the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 and the Sebring-winning Porsche from Flying Lizard Motorsports.
It was Mueller’s first victory in the Series since 2000 and the first ever for Farnbacher. Mueller crossed the line by more than 13 seconds ahead of Flying Lizard’s No. 46 Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet.