Indycar

2016 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is always the traditional starting point for the international motorsport season. The grueling 24 hour sprint has been noted to be a bigger challenge than the Le Mans 24 hours, and is this year is the curtain raiser for the renamed WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. This year also is the first of the newly GT3 spec GTD class, along with the high profile debut for the Ford GT programme in the GTLM class.

All four classes are very hotly contested, and based on the times from the recent pre-race Roar before the 24 test, this race to set to be a thrilling encounter across all classes for the entirety of the 24 hours. The opening race preview looks at the contenders in the top Prototype class.

#0 DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13 Elan: Sean Rayhall/Katherine Legge/Andreas Wirth/Andy Meyrick

After being the subject of much speculation this winter, the unique DeltaWing returns for another full season in the Prototype class. After a up and down year in 2015 the team returns with Sean Rayhall now replacing Andy Meyrick as the full season partner for the returning Katherine Legge.

For the longer North American Endurance Cup events Meyrick returns, with the line up completed for Daytona by the German Andreas Wirth. With both Legge and Meyrick they will bring consistently quick times and experience with this unique car.

Wirth is an established name and has shown his pace in his domestic ADAC GT Masters series. The only question mark surrounding him will be the length of time it will take him to adapt to both Prototypes and the DeltaWing.

Sean Rayhall has shown his pace both in this series and Indy Lights in the past few years, and is now being rewarded with a full time step up to the Prototype class. He will likely be the teams young charger in the race, and despite the late announcement of this programme he will likely be up to speed with the car by the time of the race.

Reliability has always been a crucial factor in endurance racing, and this entry will be looking to improve on their retirement last year after only 90 minutes thanks to transmission problems. The car showed impressive pace in the recent Roar before the 24, and if they can finally match reliability with the car’s pace this car could be in the hunt for a podium come the final hours of the race.

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#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier JS P2-Honda: Scott Sharp/Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Pipo Derani

The Extreme Speed Motorsport team are using these early season WeatherTech Sportscar Championship as a precursor for their 2016 World Endurance Championship campaign. They return to the Rolex 24 with a tweaked driver line up this year. Team sponsor Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown is the team’s amateur driver, and long term team mates Scott Sharp and Johannes Van Overbeek returning. Both are very experienced and quick prototype racers, and are well bedded into the team helping amateur driver Ed Brown.  For this season the team have been joined by the very quick young Brazilian Pipo Derani.

He made the transition to sportscars last year, and has joined the ESM team after they switched to Ligier chassis for this year. In his debut at Daytona Derani posted the fastest time in the pre-race roar before the 24 test. His 1m39.249 time is a big statement of intent from him and the ESM team that they are looking to win this Rolex 24 race.

The Ligier JS P2 has fast become one of the premier LMP2 chassis, and as such with a hugely competitive field such as the Prototype the deciding factor will be down to unreliability and the ability to stay out of any drama’s and accidents over the first 20 hours. From there any subtle differences in car set up could be the deciding factor between victory and a place outside the top three.

Whilst the ESM team will be primarily focusing on the WEC this year, the freedom of not racing for a championship can allow them to take some chances in this race that some of the other championship contenders may not wish to do. This is a strong team  with a high quality driver line up. Whilst predicting the favorites is an impossible task across all four classes, this entry is one of many who can challenge for victory come the end of the 24 hour sprint that this race undoubtedly will be.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque/Scott Pruett

The Action Express team return in 2016 with a largely similar line up that has yielded two championship years in 2014 and 2015. The team have established themselves as the team to beat in American sportscar racing, and have only grown stronger this year.

The full season line up of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi remains, and for this Rolex 24 they have signed two very quick drivers. Audi Sport driver Filipe Albuquerque joins the team and is a good addition, as any Audi sport prototype driver will be both very quick and consistent throughout the race. The headline signing for this team was American sportscar racing legend Scott Pruett.

The very experienced Pruett is a legend of this race and jointly holds the record for most victories with five. At age 55 he is still a very fast and experienced racer, and his decades of knowledge of this race will be invaluable to the Action Express team. The team has a habit of always being in the running for victory late on, and will hope they this year they can avenge their defeat by  the tiny margin of 1.3 seconds and repeat their 2014 victory.

This team has all the tools and capability to win this race, only misfortune or unreliability will see them out of contention in the final hours.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP: Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli

The Wayne Taylor racing team return for yet another crack at the Rolex 24, after near misses in the last few years. The team is unchanged last year with South African team boss Taylor retaining the dynamic partnership of his long time team mate “Max the Ax” Angelelli and his two sons Ricky and Jordan Taylor.

This partnership has been unlucky multiple times and arguably should have a Rolex 24 victory of their CV if luck had gone their way. The team is one of the most competitive in the new WeatherTech Sportscar series, and much like Action Express can be counted on to be at the front in the final hours barring any misfortune.

The Corvette Daytona Prototype is a proven package that is both reliable and fast, and with former winner Wayne Taylor running the team they have every chance of securing a very popular and long overdue victory in this Rolex 24 event at Daytona.

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#31 Whelen Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Eric Curran/Dane Cameron/Simon Pagenaud/Jonny Adam

The second Action Express entry is yet another contender for victory, with a very good driver line up and one of the best teams in the class. Full season drivers Eric Curran and Dane Cameron return after a breakthrough 2015 season. The duo combined for two wins and finished the year in third, only five points behind their team mates in the championship battle.

Whilst this entry hasn’t had the attention it’s sister entry has, the #31 crew appear to be stepping out of the shadow of the #5 entry and will want another championship run this year. The best way to do this is to start the season well and the team have secured a very good lineup to help with this.

Alongside  quick amateur Curran and Cameron are Penske Indycar racer Simon Pagenaud and the Sunoco Whelen Challenge victor Jonny Adam. Pagenaud is a very quick sportscar driver and will provide both blistering pace and experience for this car, whilst Adam is a very quick British GT driver who will look to show his talents in the step up to prototype machinery.

With the Action Express crew running the car this car has every chance of victory come Sunday afternoon, although it will face very tough competition if this car wants to secure victory, the perfect car set up will be one of the key’s to victory. Do not overlook this car as it’s a contender.

#37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan: Maurizio Mediani/Nicolas Minassian/Mikhail Aleshin/Kirill Ladygin

The Russian SMP Racing team make their debut at the Rolex 24 this year, with their newly designed BRO1 car now looking to be a fully reliable and quick car after it’s introduction halfway through last season.

The team are novices at Daytona and will therefore have a lot to learn during the race week, although with the LMP2 entries having an apparent slight edge on the Daytona Prototypes based on the pre-race roar before the 24, this team could be an outside shout for a podium if it can have a relatively clean run in the race.

On the driving front the team has a very good line up consisting of their usual WEC roster. Ferrari backed driver Maurizio Mediani is a quick driver, with Nicolas Minassian and Mikhail Aleshin they have two very quick racers who will likely post the fastest times for this car. Completing the line up is the Russian amateur Kirill Ladygin, although he surprised everyone by posting the car’s fastest time in the pre-race test.

This entry has plenty of potential to spring a surprise in the race, although the lack of experience from both the team and driver line up in this race will surely count against them as the race progresses. If the team can have a good run a podium is on the cards, but it will all depend on staying out of trouble and how their amateur rated drivers does.

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#50 Highway to Help Riley-BMW DP: Jim Pace/Bryon DeFoor,David Hinton/Dorsey Schroeder/Thomas Gruber

The #50 entry returns for an expanded 2016 calendar comprising the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. This is typically a Daytona only entry, with the charitable cause benefiting is typically the primary goal for this team.

This year they have the highly professional Starworks Motorsport providing technical assistance to the team, although with a car that is now several years old and a largely amateur driver line up a good result for this team will be very tough to achieve.

For this team however, attaining a good result is simply an added bonus and instead will simply enjoy driving in the race. The line up will be led once again by Fox Sports TV commentator and long term racer Dorsey Schroeder. Racing is now a hobby for the experienced American, although expect him to still be driving quickly and leading this entry in the race.

Of the rest Jim Pace is one to look out for, as the experienced racer is a former winner of this race back in 1996 and can still turn fast times at this track despite his age. Bryan DeFoor, David Hinton and Thomas Gruber will be a solid pair of hands for this car, although don’t expect them to be setting the pace of the leaders in their stints. For this team finishing the race will be an achievement, with a top ten in class an added bonus for this team.

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#55 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot

The SpeedSource factory supported Mazda team return in 2016 with a petrol powered AER entries, after suffering with constant reliability issues with their previous Skyactiv diesel technology.

The team appear to be back in contention based on their times at the pre-race roar before the 24, although testing times are hard to gauge as the real representative times won’t be set until qualifying.

The team is experienced now in the series, and has a very good young driver line up in this #55 entry. Jonathan Bomarito provides years of sportscar experience a long with quick times in a car he is very comfortable with. His full season partner will be the young Tristan Nunez and he is a very quick up and coming sportscar driver. Whilst completing the line up the team completed a coup by signing Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot. He appeared to have adjusted well to sportscars and was setting quick times in the pre-race test, so his stints in the race will be well worth watching.

This team is somewhat of an unknown quantity going into the race thanks to it’s new petrol engine, therefore making a prediction on it’s form is very tough. If this team can remain trouble free with the new engine they will likely be in the hunt for a podium, although it’s not yet known if they have the last few tenths that will required to secure a podium placing in this race.

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#60 CURB Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda HPD: John Pew/Ozz Negri Jr/AJ Allmendinger/Olivier Pla

Michael Shank returns with his Ligier JS P2 for another crack at the race they won in 2012. The team were the first Daytona Prototype team to switch to the LMP2 spec Ligier, and with a year of running under their belts should come into this year’s race with a much better chance of victory.

The team have been working on the lack of torque and drive ability that they suffered with last year. This will be crucial especially for the experienced amateur rated driver John Pew, and could he could be the difference between victory and a podium place come the final hours of the race.

Full season partner Ozz Negri Jr returns once again as does Nascar race AJ Allmendinger, and this year are joined by on-loan factory Ford driver Olivier Pla. The very quick Frenchman spent last year with the Nissan LMP1 programme, and has extensive experience with the Ligier JS P2 prototype.

With a high quality driver line up like this and a quick car underneath them, only misfortune will likely stop this team fighting for victory. This entry is right up there with any other in the class for victory and don’t be surprised to see this car driving into victory lane immediately after the race.

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#70 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Joel Miller/Tom Long/Ben Devlin

The second SpeedSource Mazda entry is this #70 car, which was also looking very quick in the pre-race test. The team’s issues appear to have been solved thanks to the new petrol powered AER 2.0 litre engine.

The SpeedSource team has plenty of experience and factory Mazda assistance so therefore will be strong with pit stops and strategy in the race. On the driving front the team has a good, solid line up that will be able to get them to the finish in a good position.

Ben Devlin will likely take on the role of the experienced driver thanks to almost 15 years of prototype experience across Europe and America. Tom Long has been associated with Mazda for most of his career and also brings plenty of experience to this entry. Completing the trio is Joel Miller, who has adapted well in the past few years since switching from single seaters to sportscar racing.

There will be almost nothing this team and driver line up will not have seen before with this race, and this experience could prove crucial in a race that will be likely decided by the smallest of margins. If the new AER engines can remain reliable this team has the chance of a overall podium, which would be a huge result for the SpeedSource team.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP: Ryan Dalziel/Marc Goossens/Ryan Hunter-Reay 

The Spirit of Daytona squad came within a whisker of winning last years championship after leading it for most of the season, yet has decided to change their driver line up for 2016. Gone are the previous long term pairing of Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante, with Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens replacing them.

Both Dalziel and Goossens are very quick and experienced sportscar racers, with Dalziel winning the race in 2010 whereas Goossens brings over twenty years of racing experience. The new full season line up is joined for Daytona by former Indycar and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay. He will bring pace along with years of experience from competing in this race.

With a team that was arguably the best in the class last year, along with a driver line up containing this much experience and pace this entry is one of half dozen that are serious contenders for overall victory. For the local Spirit of Daytona team this would be a huge achievement and no one could begrudge this entry victory.

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#01 Claritin Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Alex Wurz/Andy Priaulx/Brendon Hartley/Lance Stroll

The fabled Chip Ganassi Racing team return for another season in the prototype class, despite also taking on the race debut for the works Ford GTLM programme this year also.The team once again brings two Riley-Ford’s to Daytona and will be looking to repeat their win from last year.

In recent years the Chip Ganassi team have dominated this race, winning three of the last six. This year the #01 has an all star driver line up of long term F1 and sportscar driver Alex Wurz, touring car and GT fast man Andy Priaulx, current WEC champion Brendon Hartley and up and coming F3 racer Lance Stroll.

This line up is likely the best in the class in my opinion, with Wurz and Priaulx providing years of experience along with plenty of pace to boot. It’s likely Hartley and Stroll will be the all out attack racers of this entry, although for Stroll he is still adjusting to the Riley Daytona Prototype. He suffered an accident in the pre-race test which hampered them, although his experience will only improve during race week.

With such an all star team and line up, only mechanical misfortune or a mistake from one of the drivers will likely stop this team. Amongst a potential half dozen serious contenders a lot of people would likely bet on this car if they were forced to. It will be interesting seeing how this car gets on throughout the race, don’t expect it to be far from the top of the timing screens all race.

#02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Scott Dixon/Tony Kanaan/Kyle Larson/Jamie McMurray

The second Chip Ganassi racing entry comes into the race as defending champions from last year. Whilst the #01 has taken a lot of the pre-race press attention, do not ever discount this #02 entry as they are more than capable of repeating their victory from last year.

Team boss Chip Ganassi has smartly retained his mixed roster of Indycar and Nascar racers this year, after their big success last year. Indycar duo Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are both very quick along with experience. It was the uncanny fuel saving ability of Dixon last year that played a part in their close fought victory, with Nascar racers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray swapping their stock cars for another crack at the Rolex 24.

The #02 slightly edged the #01 in the pre-race test, although choosing between the two will be very difficult to do until the early hours of the race have passed. Both entries have an equal chance of victory, and if any team will win this race it’s hard to look past the Chip Ganassi outfit. This entry in particular has a winning pedigree, one that it will want to continue this year.

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That concludes my preview of the prototype class for this year’s eagerly anticipated Rolex 24 hours at Daytona. As I’ve mentioned above there are half a dozen very serious contenders for victory, with a further half dozen likely to be in the hunt for victory if any of these teams slip up or suffer from misfortune in the race. Predicting a winner before the race is impossible, it will be thrilling to watch the race unfold and see who is in the right position to claim victory.

Coming up in the next few days will be my preview of the prototype challenge class, so stay tuned for that. I have to give huge credit to Motorsport.com for their incredibly high quality photos used in this preview and I encourage everyone to visit their website at Motorsport.com for all the latest news and high quality pictures from around the motorsport world. Finally I wanted to say thank you for making it this far and reading the article, I would greatly appreciate any feedback both positive or negative I want to hear your thoughts on this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where Next For Kevin Magnussen?

5th October 2015. Kevin Magnussen was celebrating his 23rd birthday. But a good day very quickly turned into a very bad one when he checked his emails. He noticed one from McLaren team principal Ron Dennis’s personal assistant Justine Bowen. He was being told his services as McLaren F1 reserve driver would not be required in 2016 and his contract would therefore not be renewed. Even for the famously business orientated Dennis this seemed a very harsh move.

Magnussen had grew up and developed with the team since he joined their young driver programme in 2010, reaching the pinnacle with a second place in his debut for the team at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Magnussen showed well against experienced former world champion team mate Jenson Button. But then the big names became involved. Honda were partnering with McLaren from 2015 onwards, and very quickly Fernando Alonso fell out of love with Marco Mattiacci and Ferrari, rendering him suddenly on the market for 2015.

This brought about a scenario which seemed impossible in 2008. Fernando Alonso would reunite with Ron Dennis and McLaren. This seemed impossible after their very bitter and public falling out in their first spell together in 2007. But I guess times change and money talks in F1, all of this leaving Magnussen battling Button for the remaining race drive for 2015.

Magnussen racing his way to the Renault World Series title in 2013. The future seemed bright for him at McLaren, but this would soon change. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

What followed was a very drawn out waiting game for both Magnussen and Button as months passed whilst McLaren tried to make their decision. Whilst it’s believed many in the team favoured the younger Magnussen, it appears at the last minute experience won out and the team announced their driver line up of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in early December.

With very little time to find himself another drive in a competitive series, Magnussen had little other option than to accept the role of McLaren reserve driver for 2015, before finding a race seat for 2016. One thing was clear. Kevin Magnussen still wanted to race in 2015. He was in the advanced stages of securing a Indycar drive for the year so he could continue to race. Then Fernando Alonso got in his way again.

In the later stages of pre-season testing Alonso mysteriously crashed his McLaren-Honda, and whilst the initial assessment was not a serious one, it was quickly discovered Alonso had suffered a concussion and was unlikely to make the opening Australian Grand Prix several weeks later.

Magnussen was forced to end talks of an Indycar drive as he was called into action to replace Alonso in Australia. What followed was a hugely disappointing grand prix weekend where both McLaren drivers were plagued with issues surrounding the new Honda power plant. Magnussen qualified last and didn’t even start the race as his engine failed before the start to complete a miserable weekend for him and the team.

Magnussen in pre-season testing for McLaren this year. His lack of racing would prove a huge frustration to him during the year. Photo copyright McLaren/LAT.

Fast forward nine months and Magnussen is now looking for a race deal in 2016 after largely being sat on the sidelines for 2015. He came close to joining the new Haas F1 team for 2016 but lost out to first choice Romain Grosjean, and has recently tested for World Endurance title winning Porsche 919 for the team.

Magnussen will surely be a driver high in demand for 2016 with his talents, it’s now whether he wishes to try and continue in single seater series such as Indycar/Super Formula or whether he changes tack and moves over to sportscars or GT racing.

Surely Magnussen will get another chance in F1 soon, he’s too talented to only have one season at the pinnacle of motorsport. Only forces beyond his control can stop him. Yet where does the young Dane go from here? He’s looking to bounce back in big way next year after being an after thought at McLaren this year. Add the extra fire surely provided by the process of his dismissal from the team and he will be looking to prove a point next year.

He was close to an Indycar drive this year, so could he cast his eye back to the series for next year. The only top line drive available appears to be the final Chip Ganassi Racing entry, a car he could seriously impress with next year. Should he take up this seat he would surely be a dark horse contender for race victories throughout the year.

For now another possibility that hasn’t been ruled out is joining the Super Formula series in Japan. It’s highly competitive with a top quality grid which would keep Magnussen race sharp as he looks towards a return to F1. Whilst it will make it harder to gain the attention of Formula One in Japan, the series would be every bit as good as Indycar for him right now. Whilst nothing has been mentioned and it seems unlikely, it cannot be ruled out.

Or could he be eyeing sportscars next year? The WEC is building in prestige and popularity every year, with an increasing influx of young single seater drivers making the move to become professional drivers. With the level of technology in the current leading LMP1 these prototypes are arguable more advanced than current F1 cars.

Magnussen posing before testing the WEC title winning Porsche 919 Hybrid at Barcelona. Will he be racing the car in 2016? Photo copyright Porsche AG.

After testing the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Barcelona, he raved about the car calling it “the most advanced race car in the world”. Should the European Grand Prix in Baku remain clashing with the Le Mans 24 Hours, that would leave a seat available in the Porsche team for their warm up events and the 24 Hours itself. Porsche say their considering several drivers, could Magnussen be one of them?

He would make a big impact for the Porsche team and would likely prove very fast in the WEC next year. The series would also be the perfect shop window for him to try find a way back into F1 when he feels the time is right. Porsche won both the championship itself and the marquee Le Mans 24 Hours, an opportunity to make your debut for Porsche contending for victory would be a dream for Magnussen.

From here who knows where Kevin Magnussen will be racing in 2016. The only thing we know is that whatever he’s driving, he’ll be going flat out and racing at the front.

Where do you think Magnussen will be racing next year? Let me know in the comments section and thank you for reading.

Japanese racing scene gaining popularity

In the 1990s Japan was a viable career alternative for young drivers who found their options limited in Europe. The resident Japanese F3000/ Formula Nippon and Super GT series attracted well known names such as Eddie Irvine, Tom Kristensen, Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz Harald-Frentzen.

During the late 1990s and 2000s the Japanese racing scene suffered a lull in worldwide attention, although in recent years both Japan and America are seeing a resurgance in interest as young drivers from Europe increasingly look further afield to attain a professional racing career. The racing scene seems increasingly focused on money in the last few years, with several Formula One teams struggling for finance, leading to a situation where increasingly a driver’s ability to bring a budget with him determines who is promoted from the junior formula’s.

In response to this Japan is seeing an upturn in popularity as the best young Japanese drivers are now being joined by accomplished and high profile drivers from Europe in their Super GT and Super Formula single seater series. In recent years the quality of the Japanese racing scene has been proven in Europe as long time Super GT and Super Formula drivers Andre Lotterer and Loic Duval led the Audi attack on the World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.


Andre Lotterer racing in the Super Formula single seater series last year. Photo sourced from http://www.racingblog.de

Other notable drivers to have turned their careers East to Japan include James Rossiter, Vitantonio Luizzi, Narain Karthikeyan and Andrea Caldarelli. The number of European drivers joining the Japanese scene only looks set to swell in 2015, with rumors that young drivers such as Macau GP winner Felix Rosenqvist, 2009 Formula Renault 3.5 series champion Bertrand Baguette, GP3 race winner Jann Mardenborough and 2013 GP2 champion Fabio Leimer all rumored to be looking for drives in Japan this year. Heikki Kovalainen is the latest driver to defect to Japan as he announced a deal this week to join Team SARD Lexus for the Super GT series this year.

Complementing the increasing European talent is the very best of Japanese driving talent, with the likes of Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima and Takuma Sato returning to race in the Super Formula and Super GT series. Alongside them are the likes of GP2 racer Takuya Izawa and former Indycar racer Hideki Mutoh show that the talent on the Super Formula grid is up there with any grid outside of F1 at the moment.


The Super Formula grid races away from the line at Twin Ring Motegi in 2013. Photo sourced from http://www.supergtbrasil.blogspot.co.uk

Japan is so attractive right now for young drivers as it promises the opportunity to become a professional racing driver rather than struggle to attract finance to continue on the young driver ladder in Europe. Alongside the chance to earn a professional driver there are also copious chances to link up with a manufacture, with Toyota running a LMP1 programme in the WEC, with Nissan joining them in LMP1 this year also. Honda is also returning to F1 and has links with Indycar also, with all of these manufactures assisting or running teams in the Super GT series. Japan is therefore the perfect shop window for young drivers to put themselves in should they wish to put aside their dreams of F1 and become a factory driver for a distinguished manufacture. The future seems increasingly bright for the Japanese racing scene, as it becomes increasingly prominent in international motor sport, returning it to it’s glory days of the past.

What are your thoughts on this article? Please feel free to leave any comments below good or bad.

Indycar rumour mill round-up

This week has already seen some interesting rumours develop relating to potential driver moves concerning the Indycar series. The American open wheel championship has become increasingly popular with drivers over the past few years, with plenty of European drivers now turning their back on the exorbitant costs needed to simply get close to Formula One, yet many of these racers spurn the well supported World Endurance Championship as they want to remain racing single seaters. This leaves the Indycar series as the only alternative prominent single seater championship outside of F1 or the junior categories such as GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 series.

After Carlin announced earlier this week that they would be joining the rejuvenated Indy Lights series next year, with a view to moving up to the Indycar series in the future, this shows the increasingly appeal of Indycar to the European racing community. Firstly whilst it’s not a particularly new rumour it does seem Daniel Abt is looking to move away from GP2 for next year and join the Indycar grid for next year.

He tested for the Andretti Autosport team in late October at Barber Motorsports Park and Abt was quoted as saying about the test “I had a fantastic day with plenty of fun and learned a lot. I didn’t do this test out of boredom, but would like to explore options for next year. The test was a cool experience that definitely whets my appetite for more.” Whilst Abt has current commitments with the new Formula E series, it does appear Abt is keen to change his direction and leave GP2 for the Indycar series next year.

Another former GP2 rival could be joining him stateside, as the American Conor Daly has switched his attentions back to his homeland after running into budget problems during his second year of GP2 this year. Whilst this once again isn’t a revelation it does show how the series is attracting top line American talent not just European drivers for the series, and Daly would need less acclimatization as he finished the 2013 Indy 500 in 22nd position in a one-off deal for the iconic race.

Another top line American driver that is looking to join the Indycar grid in 2015 is Alex Rossi, formerly the Caterham and Marussia reserve driver seems to have given up on F1 after coming very close this year to making his race debut with the Marussia team. Rossi was set to make his debut at this years Belgian Grand Prix in place of Max Chilton, however Chilton was re-installed at the last minute. Rossi has now switched his attention to the Indycar series for next year. Rossi has spent the last few months talking with prospective teams, and hopes to announce a deal with a competitive team in the next few weeks and into the new year.

British racer and GP3 runner up Dean Stoneman is another driver looking to switch from Europe to the American open wheel racing scene, and hopes to secure himself a Indycar test this winter in preparation for a move stateside. Whilst Stoneman himself feels ready to join the Indycar series, he has also stated if needed to he will join the feeder Indy Lights series first to gain experience of the american road circuits and the ovals. Whilst nothing is concrete at the moment, it seems plenty of Indycar and Indy Lights teams will be interested in him joining them next year. Could a potential link up with British team Carlin work out for Stoneman next year?

The final and most exciting potential rumour surrounding the Indycar series recently has been the news former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean Eric Vergne is very interested in joining the series, as his next move after being replaced in F1 for next year. The Frenchman has stated he very much is looking at the Indycar series and it seems likely he will have a string of offers to join the series next year. Whilst Vergne may take a season or two to learn the American ovals and road courses, once he gets comfortable Vergne would be a formidable competitor for anyone in the series. Nothing is planned at the moment in terms of tests or significant talks with teams, although it seems likely Vergne’s next stage of his career would be stateside.

What now for Jean Eric Vergne?

First of all, Jean Eric Vergne deserves to be on the grid at the next years Australian Grand Prix. Vergne has shown more than enough potential and results over the past three seasons to warrant a place on the grid in 2015. Vergne has simply become a casualty of the ruthless Red Bull young driver scheme.

Whilst Red Bull have backed him from a young age and gave him a shot in F1 for three seasons, if you don’t show the necessary progress you will quickly be replaced with the next young hot shoe product from the Red Bull line up. With the news last Friday that Red Bull junior F1 team Scuderia Toro Rosso would replace Vergne with their latest prospect Carlos Sainz Jr. For now it seems Vergne has few options to remain in F1 next year, so what options does he have to remain racing next year?

The most likely option it seems for Vergne to remain within Formula One next year appears to be with the Williams team. Rumors began during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as Vergne was spotted spending a fair amount of time in the Williams hospitality area. Whilst both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are confirmed to 2015 their reserve driver role is vacant as Felipe Nasr joins Sauber for next year. If this move comes to fruition it’s likely Vergne will get some Free Practice runs next year, and would be well placed to impress as Williams will be looking to replace Felipe Massa in several years time.

It seems the Williams role seems the most likely option to stay in F1 next year, with the only other likely reserve driver role would be with the Red Bull team, although this is unlikely to interest Vergne as there will be very little chance of being promoted to a race drive.

Vergne can be heartened by the thought that he will likely find plenty of offers from other disciplines of motorsport, and can take heart from the example of fellow Red Bull refugee Sebastien Buemi. Vergne was one of the drivers who replaced Buemi at Toro Rosso for the 2012 season, and Buemi became the Red Bull reserve driver before rebuilding his career with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, where he has shown his tremendous speed to claim the drivers title in the WEC alongside Anthony Davidson.

The World Endurance Championship is growing in significance every year with Nissan joining Audi, Porsche and Toyota in competing for wins next year. Vergne would be able to retain a reserve driver role in F1 with a WEC campaign with a manufacture or privateer team.

Another option for Vergne could be the new Formula E championship. The series has a prestigious line up of drivers and teams and is growing with every race in it’s debut season and would be an attractive option for next year. Formula E would be another series which could inter link with his reserve driver commitments should he find a drive within F1.

Other much less likely options would be for Vergne to swap F1 for Indycar, with his single seater skills would be clearly evident as he would likely become a household name in the series. Vergne once adjusted to the Dallara DW12 Indycar could become a multiple series champion such is his skill. Another option could be a top line career in GT racing with prominent series such as the Blancpain Endurance Series or GT classes within the WEC would be a great chance to rebuild his career after F1.

From here it’s not known where Jean Eric Vergne will be racing in 2015, with several options for him it’s up to him and his agent to decide which is his best option for next year. For me the best option would be a reserve driver role in F1 to keep his face known within the F1 community, with a sportscar campaign the perfect chance to show his considerable talent such as Sebastien Buemi has done this year. It would be a shame if Vergne isn’t racing at all next year, as he’s shown in his 3 years at Toro Rosso he deserves to remain at the top line of motorsport, where his talents belong.

Indy Lights on upward trend

After years of struggling with a old car and a decreasing grid, the Indy Lights finally looks to have turned a corner next year with the announcement of a new Dallara race car which has sparked a resurgence in interest in the series. The feeder series to Indycar now appears to have restored itself as a haven for young North American open wheel racers, whilst simultaneously being a viable alternative for frustrated talented young European drivers.

It’s only the middle of October yet already the series has confirmed 10 teams have already agreed to run in the series next year, with likely two cars from each team producing a likely grid of 15-20 cars. This is easily an improvement over the past few years where then entries have been around 10-14 cars. Those already confirming their orders are powerhouse team Schmidt Peterson who have ordered two cars for their Indycar feeder team. Other existing teams to place orders are 2014 front runners Juncos and Belardi racing who have both ordered two cars also. New team McCormack racing have also confirmed their commitment to their series, whilst sportscar team 8star motorsport has confirmed one entry, with the potential for a second also.

Indycar racer Tristan Vautier developing the new Dallara IL15 racer in August.

Existing teams Andretti Autosport and Team Moore are some of the team likely to have placed orders but yet to go public with their intentions to run in the series next year. On the driving front, it appears the quality of the grid will be greatly improved next year. Championship runner up this year Jack Harvey is working on a deal to return to the series next year. He will be keen for the title but will face stiff competition from the likes of 2014 Pro Mazda champion Spencer Pigot, who is likely to move up to IndyLights . Others likely to be returning are 2014 front runners Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham and Luiz Razia. 8Star are also keen to run promising sportscar racer Sean Rayhall if they can find the budget, with young racers Alan Sciuto and Parker Kligerman potentially earning themselves a seat next year after impressive post-season tests so far.

Finally leading the European racing influx so far for next year is Puerto Rican racer Felix Serralles, the only confirmed driver for next year so far. He will join the 2014 champions Belardi racing for next year after some difficult years in the European F3 Championship. Serralles previously proved his considerable talent in the British racing scene, and expect several more racers abandon the cut and thrust money dependent European racing scene for a fresh start at stardom in Indycar.

The final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy scheme is already creating plenty of buzz around the series with an influx of new teams and a new Dallara racer for next year. From here the future looks bright for the Indy Lights series with the support from Mazda providing young drivers the support to move up from the bottom rungs to Indycar, such as with 2014 champion Gabby Chaves and for Spencer Pigot next year. The series will hopefully entice plenty of European racers across to the series with the promise of a part season in Indycar including the a chance at the Indy 500 for the champion surely enough to tempt those disillusioned with the funding required to step up the European single seater echelons below F1. I for one will be eagerly keeping track with the revamped Indy Lights series next year.

For more information on the series please visit the link below
http://www.indylights.com/about/2015-indy-lights

Interview with Indycar racer Pippa Mann

Today see’s a first for this site as we recently completed an interview with Indycar racer Pippa Mann. For the die-hard motorsport fans that don’t know of Pippa Mann, she is a British racer who rose up through the junior single-seater ranks in both Britain and Europe, eventually spending two years in the highly competitive Renault World Series. Despite becoming the first female pole sitter and points finisher in the series her two years in the series were largely frustrating with issues beyond her control.

This severely derailed her career momentum in Europe, before she embarked on a career in the American open-wheel racing scene. After rising through the ranks she began to show promise in her second year of  Indy Lights. 2010 saw her become the first female pole-sitter at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, before picking up a debut win at Kentucky to finish 5th in the standings with a highly respectable 312 points.

From here she carried her career momentum over to the premier Indycar series, where she qualified for her debut Indianapolis 500, despite a competitive field and a small team. From here she has carried on her momentum with successive part-seasons in 2013 and this year, making the Indy 500 both years. She has yet to display her full potential in the Indycar series, although that is down to unfortunate circumstances rather than a lack of talent. Here is the interview in full.

What made you decide to switch your career to America?

In 2008, I was going into my second year in World Series by Renault, and I had really started to get to grips with the car and the formula towards the end of the previous season. I was strong in the off season testing, and everyone, myself included, expected me to have a very good year the following year. But the new car for 2009 and I just didn’t mesh at all. From ergonomic problems I had fitting into it, to the fact it just didn’t suit my driving style with the set-ups we were running on the old car.

It took me all year to start to get comfortable again, and that meant that I just didn’t bring home the results I wanted. I was frustrated. I knew I had probably lost my opportunity to continue racing single-seaters in Europe, and I started looking to potentially race sports cars in 2009. I started to race a Porsche in the UK Cup Championship, and by my second and third race weekends, I was up in the top 10 of that championship on pace on a regular basis and starting to have a lot of fun. I thought my future was probably set, but then I got a call, asking me to come to the US and meet with a team, who were looking for a female driver for one of their sponsors in Indy Lights for the following season.

They had looked at who was racing currently in the US, then decided to cast the net wider to include Europe, and when they did that, I was the only one at the time who was racing in any of the big open-wheel championships in Europe. Given at the time I was the only female driver to have a pole in World Series by Renault, to have scored points and top ten finishes in some of their races, they were interested. So I packed a bag, got on a plane, and I guess the rest is kind of history now!

What has been your racing highlight so far in your career?

I think it probably has to be qualifying for the 2011 Indy 500. It was my first ever IndyCar race, and I had just one day of testing before we started running at the speedway with everyone else. I was with a small team, expanding from one car to two cars, and my team mate was struggling in his first full-time season of IndyCar, leaving my team boss worried he might not make it into the race.

There were 42 cars competing for 33 slots, and my job was simple. I was there to make sure we got at least one of our team cars into those 33 spots however long the odds against us seemed… We made it. Just. I was the only one-off rookie attempting their first IndyCar race at that Indy 500 to make it in.

Several full-time drivers racing all season long, including my own team mate, did not make the show, and yet with our shoe string budget, and two to three guys only working on the car, we made it happen. It’s probably not a highlight that other people expect me to think of, they expect me to talk about my poles in 2010, or winning Kentucky in that year, or even my first Indy 500 itself maybe… But all of those pale into the fact I was not only in my first Indy 500, I earned my way in the hard way, and together we were the little team that could.

What has been the best race of your career so far?

This is a tough question! The easy answer is winning Kentucky in 2010 in Indy Lights, but actually, despite not being a race that many people outside the team would notice, I think the 2014 Indy 500 was pretty special too… We had an issue at one of the pit-stops that put us several laps down at my second pit stop, but the car was fantastic all day long, and I learned so much from the fact we got back out there, and I was able to run in dirty air for the entire rest of the 500 miles.

The guys I was racing against in the first two stints of the race finished 12-17th place, and our goal going in was to try and bring home a top 15 finish. Given our pace was on a par with theirs even after our stop issue, and I was actually still running with that group all afternoon long, just laps down and unable to play – it didn’t come away looking like much on paper, but we as a team were all really pleased with everything but that one bum pit stop during that race.

Then of course the 2011 race itself being my first Indy 500 was pretty special to me too. I actually didn’t have a working water bottle in that race, and was pretty badly dehydrated – I was having searing cramps all up and down my right arm, and particularly in my right shoulder from where you’re muscling the car around the track, but I was absolutely determined it wasn’t going to stop me, and I was going to finish the race in my rookie year. I came 20th.

Have you started looking at your 2015 plans yet? E.g talking with teams?

Yes, absolutely! I think it’s no secret to say that Dale would very much like me to come back in 2015, and I would love to drive for him again too. His team has been the most incredible home for me the past two years at the Indy 500, and I really enjoy working with the great group of people he has put together.

Susan G. Komen also had a great experience this year at their first Indy 500, and they want to come back with us too, so the plan is to bring the pink car back for it’s second Indy 500. Right now I am working hard on the business side of that equation, so that we can put the funding in place to make this all happen!

What inspired you to become a racing driver?

Actually it was pure chance. I got to drive a go-kart on an indoor kart track when I was around 12 years old, and absolutely loved it. That was it. Bitten by the bug, and I’ve never looked back since!

What are some of your earliest memories of motorsport?

Being taken to watch the British F1 race with my Dad at Silverstone, and watching the standing start from the grandstands opposite the front straight. I was a race fan long before I ever got to drive anything, or the thought that I could one day drive had even crossed my mind.

What advice would you give to aspiring drivers?

Be determined. Learn the business side, and be just as determined in that too. Don’t let people tell you you’re not going to be able to make it happen. Expect to work really hard, and expect it to be hard – for most of us this life is not easy, and you have to be prepared to bust a gut 24-7 on the business side, always put time and effort into being prepared physically for when the next opportunity comes your way, and you have to be very strong mentally too.

There may be times when you’re out of a race car for long periods of times in your career, but you just have to keep digging, keep adapting, and be prepared to take on other work and diversify (such as instructing, coaching, etc.) to survive.

Would you ever be tempted to race in other forms of motorsport e.g Sportscars?

Oh absolutely. I think I mentioned earlier on in this interview that I got to race a Porsche a few times in the UK before I moved to the US, and I have never had the chance to drive a GT car since, but I had an absolute blast in those races – it was so much fun. If the opportunity arose, I would love to do some sports car races alongside my commitment to the Indy 500 each year, however with the current licensing system, it’s very difficult for someone like me to get those opportunities.

In terms of license grade I am ranked the same as someone who races IndyCar full-time, and has multiple IndyCar wins under their belt… Yet I only get to race a couple of times a year in open-wheel, usually only on ovals at the moment, and I only have those few races in a GT car in the UK under my belt… So if you were looking at taking on someone with my high a grade of license, you probably wouldn’t pick me!

It’s something a lot of drivers in my position, or similar positions to me in the US are facing right now, and to be honest, it’s something even some of the guys who are coming up through the sports car ranks themselves are facing. I understand why there needs to be a licensing system to make it fairer to the AM drivers who fund a lot of sports car teams, but at the same time, I do wish there was a little more flexibility in the rules. There’s an awful lot of us who would love to race, and who could do a good job, falling through the cracks with this current system.

If you could compete in one motor race that you haven’t already which one would it be?

Ooooh. Good question. I guess I would love to compete in one of the big 24 hour sports car races one day – either Daytona, or Le Mans. That would be pretty special!

Why do you feel there has been a recent spike in European interest for Indycar/Road to Indy scheme?

Drawing from my personal experience, and from recent conversations I actually had with European drivers when I visited Monza to watch the F1 race a few weeks ago, I think that often there is a lot of fear surrounding the unknown that is racing in the US, and racing on ovals in particular.

In Europe, you seem to race a lot of the time thinking you’re in a bubble where sure, motor sport is dangerous, but nothing’s ever going to happen to you… In the US, with the speeds we race, so close to the walls, you can’t live inside that bubble any more, and you have to accept that our sport can be brutal at times. Not everyone can do that, and I think it takes a lot of people some time to get past that mentally.

We strive to make our racing as safe as it possibly can be, but when something goes wrong at 220+ mph next to a wall, it’s unfortunately just physics that sometimes it can go really wrong. So I think that scenario, plus the fact guys find it so hard to believe that we’re cornering faster than they often go in a straight line, makes it tough for Europeans to get their head around. Combine this then with the old thing that someone who hasn’t driven an oval, and doesn’t understand one, thinks “it’s just too corners, how hard can it be?” and you get this odd juxtaposition of opinion surrounding what they don’t really know, but what they think they know about our sport here in the US… For years I think these opinions have all contributed to lack of interest, and not many people being prepared to take the leap.

However recently I think there have been a number of European drivers who have come across and made the transition well, and whom are happy to talk about how much they love IndyCar. I think someone like Conor Daly running the Indy 500 last year, then going back and telling all of his fellow drivers in the series he was racing in Europe a) how much he loved the experience, and b) how hard it actually is to race a car for 500 miles at those speeds in constant dirty air, and how incredible the challenge is… I think that helps educate, and as people start to understand better, there’s less fear of the unknown.

Then right now in the US, we have something which does not exist anywhere else in the world in terms of a concise, direct open-wheel ladder, where every champion gets help towards his crack at the next rung on the ladder. With the new Indy Lights car coming out in 2015, a much needed upgrade on the previous car I raced, that chassis is suddenly much more in line with what European guys have been racing.

The costs are still cheaper than most comparable series in Europe, and with the new championship prize rules, if you win, you’re effectively guaranteed a shot at next year’s Indianapolis 500 in an IndyCar through the prize money scholarship scheme, and potentially a few more races tacked onto that depending on the team, and what other money you’re able to put together too. If you win the GP2 title, there are no guarantees of anything.

In fact most recently Kevin Magnussen came from World Series by Renault, which I used to race, and by passed GP2 altogether on his way to F1. The ladder in Europe is complex, expensive, and winning the title lacks giving you that final push you really want from it. Here, winning means more than getting to write it on your resume. It means that shot I was talking about at the biggest race of the IndyCar season.

That’s a pretty massive prize and incentive right there. I know this is a long answer, but I also want to touch on one final thing before I quit talking about the ladder series. I think it’s very important for people looking at coming over from Europe to IndyCar and the MRTI ladder to look at Indy Lights before IndyCar. My reasoning? Learning the ovals. Learning them in an IndyCar is very hard, and for many drivers who come across it’s a very difficult and tough transition.

However, a season of Indy Lights gives you the opportunity to really get your head around them, and start to get your teeth into them. For the record, as the girl who is currently the only female pole sitter ever at IMS, I certainly didn’t do that in my first year, and I didn’t win a race on them in my first year either.

It took me two years to get comfortable, to learn what I needed from the car, when to push, and when to understand that just doing what you could with what you had was going to be the best decision for your race result. And now, I’m in a position where ovals are viewed as my strong point, and it’s where most of my opportunities to drive an IndyCar come from. If I had tried to rush things, and get ahead of myself, I’m almost 100% certain I would not currently have the opportunities I do to get in the car each year, and so I will always be very grateful for everything Indy Lights has taught me!

That was an amazing interview with British Indycar racer Pippa Mann, she provided some brilliant answers and for more info on Pippa’s latest news and goings on please visit her website http://www.pippamann.com or Twitter account @PippaMann . Please enjoy these great answers!