Friday, May 3, 2013

Talladega, Hockenheim and Spa

While IndyCar is in São Paulo, NASCAR, DTM and the FIA World Endurance Championship all are racing at legendary circuits.

The second restrictor plate race of the NASCAR season takes place at Talladega Superspeedway and Denny Hamlin has been cleared to race, six weeks after breaking a vertebra at Fontana. Hamlin missed four races including his home race at Richmond last week. Brian Vickers will be on stand-by should Hamlin need a substitute. Hamlin has dropped to 28th in the points standings, 71 markers back of Kurt Busch in 20th and 126 points back of Paul Menard in 10th. The Chase is not out of reach as long as Hamlin can win a race or two and gets into the top twenty to have a shot at a wild card position.

Chevrolet has a firm grasp on Talladega, winning 34 of the 50 races since restrictor plates were mandated in the 1988 season but have only won five of the last ten. Chevrolet and Toyota each have four victories this season with Ford's lone win coming at Phoenix with Carl Edwards. Hendrick Motorsports occupies three of the top four positions in the points. Jimmie Johnson is first, 43 points ahead of Edwards in second and 46 ahead of Hendrick teammates Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who are tied for third. Clint Bowyer is fifth, the highest Toyota and defending champion Brad Keselowski is sixth after his worst finish of the season, a 33rd at Richmond. Kyle Busch has won two races in 2013 but is down in seventh after four finishes of 20th or worse. Greg Biffle is eighth, ahead of Richmond winner Kevin Harvick and his Childress teammate Menard in tenth. Aric Almirola is eleventh and would be one of the two wild cards, along with Matt Kenseth, a two-time winner this season, in thirteenth. Kenseth's win at Kansas may not count towards the wild card should Joe Gibbs Racing lose their appeal of penalties handed down after the Kansas race.

Coverage of the Aaron's 499 will be Sunday 1:00 p.m. ET.

The 2013 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters begins this weekend from the Hockheimring in Baden-Württemberg. Eight BMWs, eight Audis and six Mercedes-Benzs will take part in the German based championship in 2013. Defending champion Bruno Spengler returns to BMW, along with all the 2012 BMW drivers, Dirk Werner, Martin Tomczyk, Andy Priaulx, Augusto Farfus and American Joey Hand. BMW added two German drivers. Marco Wittmann makes his DTM debut this weekend after running three seasons in Formula 3 EuroSeries where he finished runner up in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Wittmann was a BMW test driver in 2012. Timo Glock will also be making his DTM debut at Hockenheim. Glock was slated to return to Marussia F1 at the beginning of the year before he parted with the team in mid-January. Glock raced at Hockenheim three times over his Formula One career but his best finish at the track was a disappointing 18th.

Mercedes enters 2013 with two less cars than 2012. Four drivers return including Gary Paffett, last year's runner up to Spengler, Roberto Merhi, Christian Vietoris and Canadian Robert Wickens. Rookies Daniel Juncadella and Pascal Wehrlein join Mercedes in 2013. Juncadella won the 2012 Formula 3 Euro Series championship. Wehrlein finished runner up to Juncadella in 2012. After 2012, Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard retired from racing. Susie Wolff left to become test driver at Williams F1 and Jaime Green has gone to the Audi camp.

Jaime Green is the only new driver at Audi, taking the vacant seat left by Rahel Frey. The other seven drivers include past DTM champions Timo Scheider and Mattias Ekström, past DTM race winners Mike Rockenfeller and Edoardo Mortara and three drivers who have scored a podium in DTM, Felipe Albuquerque, Miguel Molina and Adrien Tambay.

Green flag for the Hockenheim will be at 7:33 a.m. ET on Sunday May 5.

The second round of the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship season takes place at Spa-Francorchamps. Audi is coming off a one-two at Silverstone three weeks ago. Audi is entering a third car this weekend with drivers Oliver Jarvis, Marc Gené and Lucas di Grassi. In first practice earlier this morning, Audi was 1-2-3, led by the team of André Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler. The Toyota TS030s were in fourth and sixth, split by the Rebellion Racing of Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani and Nick Heidfeld.

The fastest LMP2 car was the OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan of Olivier Pla, Alex Brundle and David Heinemeier Hansson. The Silverstone class winners Antonio Pizzonia, Tor Graves and James Walker were fourth fastest in class.

The Ferrari of Kamui Kobayashi and Toni Vilander were the fastest GTE Pro car, ahead of their AF Corse teammates Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella. An AF Corse Ferrari also held the top spot in GTE Am with drivers Jack Gerber, Matt Griffin and Marco Cioci.

Other notable names to Americans: Mike Conway was second quickest in the LMP2 class, Bertrand Baguette and Martin Plowman were fifth quick in LMP2. Chris Dyson and Michael Marsal were eighth quick. In GTE Am, the Krohn Ferrari of Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson and Maurizio Mediani were eight fastest in class. Green flag at Spa will be Saturday 8:30 a.m. ET.