racing

Lando Norris on Way to The Top

 

What a twelve months it has been for young English driver Lando Norris. This time in 2016 he was still basking in the glow of his dominant Toyota Racing Series triumph. With this and a MSA Formula title to his name, he had cemented himself as one of Britain’s best young drivers. In the space of a year he has gone from this to an internationally recognised talent with a reputation which has now caught the attention of the Formula One paddock.

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2017 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The 2017 international motorsport season begins in earnest with the 55th running of the Rolex 24 Hours from the Daytona International Speedway. This years running marks a new era for the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar championship, with wide scale changes to the premier prototype division thanks to a new combined rulebook aligning the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype cars.

With the new DPI regulations they should ensure greater equality between the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype entries. Whilst there will be inevitable balance of performance issues to iron out in the build up to the race, one thing that can be guaranteed is the overall quality and competitiveness in the prototype category. Every car in the premier class has a chance of victory, should they have a good run and be blessed with that all important luck needed to win such a prestigious 24 hour race.

Last years victors Extreme Speed Motorsport return to the IMSA series full time this year after two years in the World Endurance Championship, but they will have plenty of competition for the victory once again this time out. Let’s take a look at the entries and assess their chances of victory.

#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp/Pipo Derani

Tequila Patron and the Extreme Speed team have returned stateside after a mixed two years in the WEC, and despite a new range of prototype entries expect them to pick up exactly where they left off in this series. This is the crew that came out victorious in last years Rolex 24, therefore the target will be on their back all weekend as they aim to do something very difficult and retain their trophies from a year ago.

Despite being the reigning champions a lot has changed for this crew from last year. Most notably is the new Ligier-Nissan DPI package that they have chosen to use. With such a new set of regulations its currently unclear which package will prove most suitable for the Daytona track, with the Roar not giving away too much as teams don’t want to show their hands too early.

On the driving front the team also has some changes, with the team switching across Ryan Dalziel and Johannes Van Overbeek for this year. With the talented Scot Dalziel now partnering Sharp and Pipo Derani this team has a great mix of speed and experience in this lineup.  Derani in particular stole the show last year with his consistently fast driving, and if he can repeat those feats this year, backed up by Sharp and Dalziel this team has every chance of victory if their new DPI package can stay reliable.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing  Dallara Cadillac DPI: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque

The Action Express team have established themselves as one of the premier prototype teams in the IMSA series over the past three to four year, largely based on the results of this number five entry.  With back to back titles in 2014 and 2015, this entry was beaten only by its teammates in last years championship.

The team always run strongly at Daytona and last year once again challenged for the overall victory until the final hours. They have remained with General Motors, although this years new DPI is badged as a Cadillac rather than a Chevrolet. Aside from the new DPI car the team have stuck with a driver line up that has produced major success for them.

Both Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi are hugely experienced whilst retaining their speed, something Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque does not lack. He showed well with the team last year and this year will be hoping they can remain in the lead fight right up until the chequered flag. Along with the #2 Extreme Speed motorsport entry this is one of half a dozen cars who have a very good chance of victory. Expect to see this car at the front for large portions in the race if they can run cleanly.

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#10 Konica Minolta Dallara Cadillac DPI: Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli/Jeff Gordon

The battles between the Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing teams have gone down in this championships short history, with the two of them separating themselves from the rest of the full season entries in the past three years. This year their battle for victory will be renewed beginning with the Rolex 24, a race that has not been kind to this team in recent years.

The team have always found trouble late on when in contention for victory, something the team will be hoping a new set of regulations may help with. They have decided to also stick with what they know and the GM brand, and have retained three quarters of their driver line up from a year ago.

Owner Wayne Taylor’s sons Jordan and Ricky return and will be right on the pace all weekend, ably supported by the vastly experienced Max Angelelli in his final race before retirement. Angelelli has been a huge asset to this team since his days partnering Wayne and will be hoping he can end his career on a high note. For their final driver the team have caused a stir by signing retired Nascar legend Jeff Gordon. Whilst he has limited Sportscar experience, he has plenty of pace and is a good addition to this already formidable lineup. This is another entry to look out for throughout the 24 hours.

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#13 Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson:  Sebastien Buemi/Nick Heidfeld/Neel Jani/Stephane Sarrazin

The Rebellion team embark on their first season in the LMP2 category after being mainstays of the LMP1 privateer class. Along with their WEC programme is a crack at the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, consisting of the premier races on the IMSA calendar.

With a stable Oreca-Gibson chassis/engine combination the highly experienced team have put together an all star line-up for the Rolex 24. LMP1 factory drivers Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin (Toyota) and current WEC champion and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Neel Jani (Porsche) are joined by regular driver and ex-F1 mainstay Nick Heidfeld.

The team having previous experience from their 2013 successful foray into the American Sportscar scene, are will be looking for a debut victory this time out. If the team can have a clean run, this entry is a very serious contender for the overall win. With such a competitive class and the 24 hour race duration anything can happen, although if I was forced into choosing a pre-race favourite, I would likely back this Rebellion racing entry.

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#22 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Bruno Senna/Brendon Hartley 

The other Extreme Speed motorsport entry is not going to play second fiddle to the teams other car. This entry still has a very good chance of victory, given the professionalism and quality of this team, along with a great driver line up.

Porsche LMP1 factory driver and former WEC champion Brendon Hartley is an excellent signing for this team, one of the genuinely fastest guys on the sportscar scene at the moment. Former F1 driver Bruno Senna has also joined this lineup, showing his talents with a excellent adaption to prototype racing in the LMP2 class of the WEC last season.

Full season drivers Johannes Van Overbeek and Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown complete the lineup. Van Overbeek has a wealth of experience and speed, forming an excellent working relationship with long term co-driver Brown. The only slight question mark surrounding this entry may be Brown.

He is one of the few true amateur drivers in the class, and whilst he has excelled and improved rapidly in sportscar racing, he may struggle to match the consistent ultimate pace of the world class professional drivers he will be competing with. Do not count this entry out as you may regret it, although they may need a little extra help if they want to be wheeled into victory lane come Sunday afternoon.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing Dallara Cadillac DPI: Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Seb Morris

The defending WeatherTech IMSA champions return for a crack at the Rolex 24. the jewel in the IMSA season crown. This entry stepped out of the shadows of their illustrious team mates last season to win the title, and will be hoping they can repeat this result this season, despite the major changes in the prototype class.

It’s unclear as to the ultimate pace of the new Cadillac DPI entries, having not topped the times at the pre-race Roar before the 24 test several weeks ago. Were they sandbagging, or are they genuinely short on pace compared to their rivals? Only the teams themselves know.

On the driving front the full season lineup of the very fast Dane Cameron and Eric Curran are joined by Brits Mike Conway and Seb Morris. Conway is a Toyota factory prototype driver and is an excellent signing for this team. Morris is a slightly different story, having won the Sunoco challenge, which rewards the best overall driver in British national racing with a drive in the Rolex 24. Such alumni of this prize include F1 driver Felipe Nasr, so do not discount Morris. He was a very quick single seater driver before switching his attention to GT racing, having shown similar pace in British GT last year.

With Conway leading the lineup this entry may lack that blistering ultimate pace of their rivals over the course of a stint, but do not think they are simply here to make up the numbers. They are the reigning champions and that alone will mean no other team counts them out.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier JSP2-Gibson: Tom Kimber-Smith/Jose Gutierrez/Mike Guasch/RC Enerson 

The PR1/Mathiasen have been front runners in the prototype challenge class for the past several years in the IMSA series, tasting some success with class victory in the 2015 Rolex 24. With the widespread change in the prototype class regulations, the team have made the step up for this season.

Given pre-season testing choosing the Ligier JSP2 package seems a smart move at this moment, and the team have stuck with a lot of their PC class drivers. With familiarity and experience needed with the move up this is a smart move by the team. The vastly experienced Tom Kimber-Smith will likely lead this team, having plentiful experience at this level from the past few years.

Jose Gutierrez showed himself well last season in his sportscar debut, having made the jump across from the Pro Mazda single seater series. Although he didn’t complete the entire season, a year of adapting to the series will put him in good stead for this season. Mike Guasch is a quick amateur driver for this team, and has spent a large portion of his recent career with the team. After winning the LMP3 class in the European Le Mans Series, he will be hoping his good form can continue into 2017.

Completing the lineup is the young American single seater racer RC Enerson, who makes his sportscar debut this weekend. He has progressed up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder right up to Indycar last season, although his lack of experience will sportscar may hamper him during the week. He is tremendously fast and once he adapts to the car and the level of traffic, expect him to flash some seriously fast times during the race.

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#55 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot 

The works backed SpeedSource Mazda team return to the IMSA series in 2017 having shown promise throughout the 2016 season. With a new Mazda badged Riley DPI, which in my opinion is the best looking car in this class, will be hoping they can finally deliver on their long running promise.

The team is highly talented and this extends to the driver line up. Former single seater convert Jonathan Bomarito has now added experience to his speed and is well versed with the team having spent the past few years with them. He will provide the most experience, although both young team mates Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot have also raced this entry last year.

Nunez has adapted well having progressed through the Cooper Tyres IMSA lights series, having been nurtured by this team he gets better with every passing season and is now established as a prominent IMSA sportscar driver, despite being only 21. Pigot is a single seater who flashed promise in Indycar last season, and returns to Daytona looking to improve upon last years frustrating race where mechanical issues forced them out. If the Mazda DPI proves quick expect this team to be taking full advantage of it, and maybe they can achieve a rare and long overdue podium come Sunday afternoon.

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#70 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Tom Long/Joel Miller/James Hinchcliffe

The other Mazda factory entry is this #70 car, both of which have shown well at the pre-race Roar before the 24. Whilst it was the #55 car that set the headline times at the test, this entry has just as much a chance of victory or class podium. The SpeedSource team are highly professional and have plenty of experience in this race, plus the might of Mazda North America supporting their efforts.

The team remains largely unchanged on the driving front, with long time Mazda drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller providing a wealth of experience for this entry. Both are also capable of produce a very fast average pace across a stint, especially former single seater convert Miller. Completing the trio is Indycar star James Hinchcliffe, who reunites with the SpeedSource team for Daytona after taking last year out. He will be the star turn and if he can adapt to the new Mazda DPI car quickly, he will likely be the one setting the cars fastest times. So much in unknown going into this race, but if the testing pace proves to be an accurate reflection of outright speed, expect this car to be on the podium if it can keep clean and reliable.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Loic Duval/Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Lapierre

The very young DragonSpeed racing team make their Rolex 24 debut with one goal in mind this weekend, to claim overall victory in this prestigious race. The team are racing their Oreca 05 from last season, updated to new 07 spec, and have impressed so far.

The team debuted at the Sebring 12 hours last season and again have returned stateside before taking on the European Le Mans Series this year. What the team lack in sportscar experience they more than make up for with their driver line up. Amateur Swedish racer Henrik Hedman has plenty of sportscar experience however he will likely to struggle to match the pace of the professional drivers simply because he is an amateur doing this for fun, do not think that will mean he is slow and he will be a very good and consistent driver for the team.

Joining him is Brit former single seater Ben Hanley, who like a shooting star rose to prominence very quickly before seemingly disappearing just as quickly. He is still a very quick racing driver who seems to have finally found a home with this DragonSpeed team. Completing the lineup are sportscar royalty, Audi factory driver Loic Duval and LMP2 WEC champion Nicolas Lapierre. Both have plenty of top line sportscar experience and will provide blistering pace for this car when they are at the wheel.

Having topped the pre-race test this team are looking good if they can keep this pace up consistently across the week culminating in the race. If they can be reliable this team has every chance of a class podium, despite the seeming disadvantage of an amateur driver, such is the overall quality of the team and the rest of the lineup.

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#85 JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca 07-Gibson: Mikhail Goikhberg/Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Mathias Beche 

The second team to step up from the Prototype Challenge class is this JDC/Miller motorsport entry, and they will have fond memories of this race from last year. They survived a race of attrition in this class to secure an unexpected victory, something that carried across to the rest of the season as they finished third in class.

The team have chosen the Oreca 07-Gibson as their weapon of choice, with the DragonSpeed team showing the potential of the car in the re-race test. If this team can get to grips with the car and extract similar pace they will definitely be contenders for yet another upset victory this year.

The team has gone with familiarity for this year, having retained Stephen Simpson and Mikhail Goikhberg for this year. Both excelled last year and a resurgent Simpson reminded people why he was a formerly highly rated A1GP and Indy Lights driver. He has not lost any of his previous pace, he has simply now added experience to his sportscar armory. Goikhberg adapted well after winning the 2014 Mazda Prototype Lights series, he has found a home with the JDC/Miller team and rewarded them with an excellent season last year.

Chris Miller also returns this year after partial IMSA seasons with the team over the past several years. He has struggled with attaining a full season drive for several years now, which only makes his performances for this team even more impressive, considering his lack of experience. He is an underrated driver deserving of a full season IMSA drive, and so far he will be joining the team for the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. Completing the lineup is Swiss racer Mathias Beche, a driver who has firmly established himself as a promising sportscar talent. He has impressed in recent years with the Thiriet by TDS and Rebellion racing teams, and is currently being rumoured to be joining the Toyota factory LMP1 programme this year. He will be hotshoe in this car and will lead the team as far as they can go in this race.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Riley Mk30-Gibson: Renger Van Der Zande/Marc Goossens/Rene Rast

Long time IMSA entrants VisitFlorida.com racing return having gone a slightly different route to their traditional rivals. Whilst the likes of Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing have gone with the DPI route, this team have instead gone for a more European twist with their new LMP2 spec Riley Mk30. The team have made no secret of their desire to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours in the coming years, with their’s the only traditional Riley on the grid this year.

After an overhaul with their previous driver line up this year seems more stability, with the vastly experienced and very quick Belgian Marc Goossens remaining with the team for this year. He will have a new team mate in Dutchman Renger van der Zande, with Ryan Dalziel returning to the Tequila Patron ESM team. Van der Zande has long been one of the fastest drivers in the PC class, and is long overdue this promotion to the Prototype class.

This lineup is completed with Audi factory driver Rene Rast, someone who has solidified his success at this race in the GTD class in years prior. With plenty of Audi LMP1 experience he should find the adjustment to the Riley relatively easy, and he will be very fast throughout the week no doubt. This locally based team have never had much luck in this race, and could a new car bring a change in their fortunes? Based on testing times they may struggle, but many expect the order to have significantly change come the race.

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That wraps up my preview of the Prototype class for this years 2017 Rolex 24. The class seems rejuvenated this year with plenty of intrigue as genuinely you could not call a winner for this race. I will be one of the many sportscar eagerly glued to the race this weekend, excited to see the outcome. I have to say thank you for reading this and I hoped you liked it, any comments would be greatly appreciated. I have to also give a final thanks to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page, I urge everyone to visit their site for the latest news and high quality pictures from across the motorsport world. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

 

Lando Norris: A Feature

Lando Norris is a spoilt teenager who is indulging his passion thanks to daddy’s money. At least that’s what some fans and people in the paddock may assume. They may label him selfish or ungrateful. After all, just look at his father’s success and his upbringing.

His father Adam Norris sits equal 501st on the 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, having a net worth of £207 million from the financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown and his investment company Horatio. This money has proved a massive help but also in some aspects a hindrance to his son’s career. Motorsport is a juxtaposition as increasingly major financial backing is needed for young drivers to progress to Formula One, yet when a young driver already has that backing they are labelled a pay driver. Whilst Norris has not yet been fully tarred with this brush, much like recently promoted F1 driver Lance Stroll, questions linger as to his ultimate potential.

At age 17 it has been a life of privilege so far for young Lando. Born and raised in the village of Glastonbury, his father’s success with the financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown has allowed him some of the finer things in life. He was educated at Millfield School, who for a mere £35 000 pounds a year will give your child the finest education money can buy from the ages of two right through to age 18.

He has only recently turned 17 on November 13th, and yet he has already been racing cars for three years. He made his debut in a 150mph Formula Three Dallara at the end of October, yet he could only start learning to drive a month later. To insure him to drive on the road would cost £9000, yet for his family this is not an issue.

So, for a lot of you reading you may assume the stereotype is true. He’s your typical rich kid who gets everything he wants. What does he know about real life? In fact, this could not be further from the truth. He is a wise head on young shoulders, and gives off the impression as a remarkably calm and down to earth young man. There is no element of aloofness or ego that come across when chatting to him, even though his exemplary junior racing CV would allow him to get away with having one.

“Yeah that’s the aim is to win championships in Formula One”. These are lofty goals for a 17-year-old, but Norris is no ordinary 17-year-old. He’s already been a karting world champion and is coming off a 2016 season where he won an astonishing three junior championships, ranging from New Zealand to Central Europe.

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Lando cemented himself as one of the rising stars of karting from a young age, culminating in world title triumphs in both 2013 and 2014. Photo copyright CIK/KSP.

As the sun shines down on a mild Friday afternoon in November, the sounds of the passing lorries on a busy A road dominate the air. Looking across at the sign for Coxbridge Business Park the silver letters reflect in your eyes when meeting their gaze. Here in a nondescript business park in a town which prides itself as having won an in-bloom award, it almost seems like it can’t be the right place. Walking along the winding road is industrial units for every trade imaginable, but reaching the far corner of the park hides a cornerstone of British motorsport. As employee’s hose down the race trucks I’m met with the sight of an all-glass foyer and adjoining race bays tell me I’m at the right place without even looking at the signs. Here is Carlin Motorsport, one of the most important junior racing team on the planet.

Getting set up in the conference room it’s impossible to miss the success of this team. Lining every flat surface is trophies of all shapes of sizes, ranging from former F1 driver Jean Eric Vergne’s 2010 British F3 trophy to various GP3 and Macau Grand Prix trophies. And that is exactly why I’m here. His busy schedule ensures it’s here that I meet Norris, as he takes a break from simulator sessions, prepping himself for the F3 World Cup on the streets of Macau.

Norris was interested in motorbikes initially “before I was seven I was into motorbikes and I had a motorbike when I was six, my hero at the time was Valentino Rossi, so I watched quite a bit of the MotoGP.” His interest in motorsport however wasn’t sparked until a chance opportunity aged seven. “One day after school my dad took me to the local kart track which was Clay Pigeon, because it was the national championships in karting, I said that I wanted to have a go, and yeah I think then for my seventh birthday I got a Bambino go-kart and I guess it basically all started from there.”

He still holds the record for being the youngest karter to secure a pole position at a national karting meeting, but strangely enough for someone so talented he was not obsessed with the sport growing up. “I wasn’t hugely into motor racing when I was younger, I never really watched every Formula One race, I just watched a few, from when I started karting I started watching more and more and got more interested in Formula One.”

Things moved quickly for Norris and by the end of 2013 he could call himself a karting world champion at the tender age of thirteen. He won both the 2013 CIK-FIA European KF Junior championship along with the world title in Bahrain, but for Norris it was winning the senior world championship a year later which he holds up as a career highlight up to date. “I think the main one for me was probably the world championship in karting, I wasn’t the fastest at all really on that weekend, I was just pretty good but we basically never gave up, kept fighting throughout the weekend, and yeah I mean obviously to come away as a world champion.” At this point he pauses and allows a broad smile to creep onto his face as he reflects on his achievement before adding “is something pretty cool to have your name on”.

The 2014 season was a busy one for Norris, who was combining his final season of karting with his debut season in cars. He stepped up to the Ginetta Junior Series, specifically aimed at 14-17 year olds. Stepping up with champion team HHC Motorsport he acquitted himself very well, taking four wins and eight poles to end the year second in the points, although he would drop to third once dropped scores had been taken.

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Celebrating his debut title in British F4 in 2015, so far winning has proved a habit for Lando. Photo copyright FIA Formula 4.

A switch to single seaters was always on the cards for 2015, as he switched across to the inaugural season of the new MSA Formula series, the UK equivalent of the FIA F4 entry level concept. Joining a high profile experienced team in Carlin proved an inspired move as he found himself in a title battle all year with Ricky Collard. Norris eventually sealed the title with a victory in the first race of the final weekend, ending the year with eight wins as he firmly put himself on the radar with such an impressive debut season in single seaters.

2016 started with a trip down under for the Toyota Racing Series, a long running national championship in New Zealand which in the last decade has attracted an increasing number of young drivers from around the world, all looking for extra track time in the winter of the European season. This is something Norris admits attracted him to the series’ “I think the reason I did it last year was, it’s pretty much one of the only things you can really do during the winter, especially racing wise.” The trip proved worthwhile for Norris as he proved himself the class of the field, taking six wins from 15 races, including the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix which boasts former winners such as Stirling Moss, Graham Hill and Keke Rosberg.

Norris returned to Europe ready to take on a season in Formula Renault and BRDC F3, a lot for such a young driver. The Formula Renault campaign took priority, however the BRDC series would also prove useful. “the whole purpose of doing the BRDC races was more track time and it’s a very competitive series there’s obviously a lot of good drivers in it, and it’s a new car, so it helps me learn how to adapt from one car to the other. I think all together it was the track time and more experience in racing and everything which was the reason of doing the BRDC F3.” Four wins and eight podiums from eleven races proved his adaptability, having served its purpose.

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Norris on route to one of his four poles in a partial BRDC British F3 campaign in 2016. Photo copyright BRDC F3.

Formula Renault would prove more of a challenge. A dual campaign in the centre -piece Eurocup and regional Northern European Cup was a major challenge for a driver in his first year of the category. “the plan was always to do the Renault, it’s obviously a very competitive series and obviously quite a bit of track time in both series so I think overall Renault was definitely the right decision to do, and you know obviously, we got to go to Monaco this year, which was definitely very cool, very different to anything I’ve ever done.” The smile and excitement that creep into his voice as he mentions Monaco shows the passion he has now for the history of the sport.

What followed next was a season unlike other in Formula Renault since it established itself as the single seater benchmark in the mid-2000’s. Five wins and twelve podiums in Eurocup was matched by six wins and eleven podiums in the NEC series, resulting in a double championship win that impressed a lot of people within the motorsport community. Whilst from the outside it didn’t seem as if he had any hiccups all year, for Lando it was a lot different.

He secured the Eurocup title at Spa with a round to spare, but he very nearly didn’t race at all thanks to a mystery injury. “On Sunday I had a bad neck injury and I was not expecting to even go out for the race, we were probably going to sit it out or sit qualifying out and maybe do the race, but probably just leave it until the last round. “

“We thought we would give it a go so I would do a few laps or just a lap to see what it was like in qualifying and we had to put all the pads in on my neck just so it kind of didn’t move at all which is very different to how I normally drive, it was very weird to get used to a different driving style. I really, really struggled on the first lap, I came on the radio and said I have to box I couldn’t, I couldn’t do it anymore, but as soon as a bit of adrenaline starting to kick in, you just forget about it,, it kind of goes to the back of your head, and yeah I think I ended up P4,P5 or P6 I can’t remember, but I was even more surprised by that because I was only like two tenths off pole.”

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Norris about to enter the daunting Eau Rouge at Spa in a crucial Eurocup weekend. Lando was able to win the title, however he came close to sitting out with a neck injury. Photo copyright Diederik van der Laan/Dutch Photo Agency.

Things were not much easier come the race in the afternoon “I still really struggled but I think I kind of didn’t give up and I beat Max Defourny in both, not in qualifying but in the race, and ended up winning the championship on that weekend so I think that was definitely one of the hardest weekend’s I’ve had.”

With the Formula Renault titles secured Norris progressed up to Formula Three for the end of year F3 World Cup at Macau. With experience from the final FIA European F3 series round Norris impressed all weekend, running in the top ten for most sessions, before an opening lap accident during the qualifying race ruined any chances of a great result. Starting 27th, Norris still managed to salvage some pride with a brilliant drive to finish eleventh, a very impressive result considering Macau is notoriously difficult to pass on.

Sandwiching Macau was the hugely prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport award, where four of the U. K’s best young drivers are pitted against each other in a Mercedes DTM car, McLaren 650S GT3 and a F2 car. All of them provide a stern challenge for the young drivers and from here the expert judging panel look for anyone who stands out.

The great and good of the motorsport world gathered in London on December 4th to celebrate the season, with the most nervous people in the room being the four nominees for the McLaren/Autosport award. With a prize including a maiden Formula One test and paid simulator role with McLaren, it was with great anticipation that Norris was announced as the winner, joining the likes of David Coulthard and Jenson Button on the winners list.

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Norris tackling the world’s most demanding street circuit in Macau, in only his second F3 race he rose from 27th to 11th against the best F3 drivers in the world. A promising sign for 2017 and his FIA European F3 campaign. Photo copyright James Gasperotti/ JGP Motorsport Images.

A perfect season for Lando is now ending, and thoughts are moving towards the 2017 season. In the run up to Christmas it was announced that he will be stepping up to the FIA European F3 championship next year with Carlin, a team he is comfortable with. “I have a great history with them over the past two years, and yeah I basically grew up in car racing effectively with them so they’re definitely a good bunch of guys I get along with.”

After such an impressive season for Lando it’s no surprise he is attracting interest from Formula One, with teams keen to add him to their junior driver programmes, but for now he remains focused on his own racing. “I’ve been in contact with a couple of teams but it’s not kind of been anything serious. I’m happy leaving it till next year, where we really kind of try to get on board or in contact with some serious teams, but yeah I think it’s possibly a bit early now to do anything.”

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Lando Norris and his closest friends and family embrace after being announced as the winner of the 2016 BRDC McLaren/Autosport Award. Photo copyright LAT Photographic.

It’s clear that Norris is currently on course to realise a dream and reach Formula One as he ascends the single seater ladder. With his father’s financial backing he can focus on his driving, something that he is clearly very talented at. Whilst it’s easy to make the comparison with new Williams driver Lance Stroll because of their record of winning everywhere they have gone, in my opinion Norris has a higher ceiling than the Canadian. To win two Formula Renault titles in your rookie season is unprecedented whilst his outings in F3 so far have proved he can step up to an even higher category. McLaren will be watching intently when he earns his test prize next year, who knows where it may lead.

So just how good can Lando Norris be? Former grand prix driver and world sportscar champion Derek Warwick outlined his thoughts when handing Norris the award “this guy has got a great career in front of him, we’ve got a future Formula One driver, and even a future world champion.”

By Jordan Wilkins

 

Antonio Giovinazzi deserving place in F1

Antonio Giovinazzi. The 22 year old Italian has taken the GP2 series by storm in his rookie season, but he still doesn’t seem to have been placed with the tag of an up and coming talent. Some of the rivals he has previously beaten are being linked with Formula One drives for next year, so why is Giovinazzi not yet being considered for the step up to F1?

The Italian has a stellar junior racing CV, winning at every category he has raced at. From the very beginning Antonio has not followed the traditional path, something that has served him incredibly well to this point. Beginning racing in the Formula Pilota China series in 2012, was a double edged sword for Giovinazzi. He dominated the series with 13 podiums from 18 races, however racing so far away from Europe kept him out of the spotlight.

Giovinazzi moved back to Europe for 2013, but found the running difficult in the ultra competitive FIA European F3 championship. Driving with the Double R team he struggled with no podiums in thirty races, finishing the year 17th overall. In a truncated British F3 campaign he was more successful, with two wins he finished second overall in a small yet high quality field.

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Giovinazzi in action during his dominant title winning Formula Pilota China campaign in 2012. Photo copyright Formula Pilota China.

After a year learning the circuits and adjusting to the step up in standard, he joined front running team Carlin for 2014. Helping him was support from Jagonya Ayam, the Indonesian KFC franchise. With sizeable long term support Giovinazzi was free to focus on racing. His sophomore campaign was far more successful, with two wins and five further podiums from 33 races. 6th overall was his reward and was seen as one of the top contenders for the following campaign, with the drivers ahead of him all moving up the single seater ladder.

Returning to European F3 for a third year was a risky move for the Italian, with anything other than fighting for the title would seriously halter his career momentum. Staying with Carlin for another year proved fruitful, with six wins propelling him into a title fight with the experienced Swede Felix Rosenqvist. Giovinazzi ultimately finished second, but a win in the one-off F3 Masters at Zandvoort and 4th in the Macau GP showed he was a name to watch.

Not content with having a break during the off-season, he teamed up with fellow Jagonya Ayam backed driver Sean Gelael for two rounds of the Asian Le Mans Series. Winning both rounds kept them both sharp as they prepared for the step up to GP2.

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Giovinazzi in the opening round of the 2015 FIA European F3 championship at Silverstone. 2015 would be the year he solidified himself as an up and coming driver. Photo copyright FIA F3/TSphoto.

Giovinazzi joined the Prema team for both parties first season in the premier feeder series to Formula One. Whilst both had showed well in F3, expectations were kept low with both being newcomers to the series.  Even with expectations kept low for his rookie season, he will have been disappointed with his start to the season.

With a best finish of 11th from the opening four races, any slim chance of a title challenge seemed to have vanished.So what happened at the next meeting shocked everyone in the paddock. At the all new Baku city circuit in Azerbaijan he proved the class of the field, winning both races whilst others around him struggled to adapt to the challenging street circuit. The two wins propelled him into title contention, as he sat in third position, only eight points behind title leader Artem Markelov. Winning both races of the same meeting had not previously been done since Davide Valsecchi in 2012.

Over the course of the season consistent points scoring kept him in the title chase, as one of the most evenly contested title fights for years played out. With several drivers all vying for the decisive advantage, wins for Giovinazzi in Belgium and Italy were the perfect shot in the arm for his title bid.

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Antonio celebrating his double victory in Baku. He was the first driver to do the double since 2012, and the two wins thrust him right into title contention after a poor start to the year. Photo copyright GP2series.com .

His strong finish to the season continued at the penultimate round supporting the Malaysian Grand Prix. A win in the longer feature race was backed up with a fourth in the sprint race, these results proving enough to propel him into the title lead for the first time all year.

With a month to wait until the title deciding final round in Abu Dhabi, the pressure is on for everyone involved. In theory Raffaele Marciello is still in mathematical contention, but being 39 points behind with 48 available, it will be extremely tough for him to come out as champion.

Realistically, the title is going to come down to Giovinazzi and Frenchman Pierre Gasly. Giovinazzi is seven points ahead of the latest Red Bull prodigy, and although its a cliche to say its all to play for, it really is.

Despite Giovinazzi bidding to become the series first rookie champion since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009, he has yet to receive much attention from Formula One. In September it was announced he would be joining Ferrari to conduct simulator work, but this is so far his only link to F1.

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Giovinazzi has also dabbled in sports cars over the past year, and could provide another avenue to becoming a professional driver should he be inexplicably overlooked by the F1 paddock. Photo copyright Motorsport.com . 

From the outside it seems a strange move, with such a remarkable debut GP2 campaign and the budget he can bring from his sponsors, the fact he’s not even being linked with any of the remaining available F1 seats seems very strange indeed. Whether the F1 paddock knows something the fans don’t is unknown, but this is a pivotal time in his career.

If the F1 community for some reason discards him, he will still have plenty of options left open to him. He could continue in single seaters and follow the path of 2015 champion Stoffel Vandoorne. He switched the the highly competitive Super Formula series before attempting the move back to F1.

He could similarly change tack and join the burgeoning sports car ranks. The World Endurance Championship and other affiliated series are enjoying a renaissance in the past half decade, with plenty of young drivers moving across from single seaters to the dream of  professional deal with a sports car manufacture.

Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, Giovinazzi has already proved any remaining doubters wrong this season. His performances have proved he’s a very talented young racing driver who will likely succeed in whatever aspect of racing he competes in over the coming years. Watch out for Antonio Giovinazzi, this is not the last we will hear of him.

What are your thoughts on Antonio Giovinazzi? Please feel free to share your opinion below, I would hugely appreciate it. Thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

End Of An Era With Audi Departing Departing Sportscar Racing

Nobody would have predicted when Audi first went to Le Mans in June 1999 with their two experimental R8R and R8C cars, that they would leave a legacy that would arguably be the most dominant in the sports history. This era has begrudgingly now come to an end with today’s announcement that Audi are to end their sports car effort  at the end of the season. But just how did the Audi brand become synonymous with Le Mans victory?

Expectations were low despite a huge four car entry comprising both the Audi R8R open cockpit car and the R8C coupe. Third and fourth overall in their first running showed their potential, yet very few people would have predicted what came in store next.

A new millennium came and with it was an era of complete Audi dominance in the sport. Returning with their revised R8 model,  a car that would go down in sports car racing as one of those revolutionary cars that change the sport, such as the Ford GT40 and the Porsche 956/962.

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The Porsche 962 taking its customary place at the front of the field, circa Le Mans 1987. Photo copyright Porsche.

Despite manufactures such as BMW, Mercedes and Nissan all pulling out of the end of 1999, nobody questioned the dominance of their victory. They cruised to a 1-2-3 podium lock out, with a winning margin of 24 four laps over their closest competitors.

The 2001 edition would be a lot tougher victory, with extreme weather conditions and the loss of driver Michele Alboreto only months before the race made it an emotional one for the team. From here it was on wards and upwards, with another victory for the #1 driver line up of Frank Biela, Emmanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen cementing their place in history as the first driver line up to win the race three years in a row.

The factory team pulled out after 2002, paving the way for sister marque Bentley to win comfortably in 2003. After this small hiccup the R8 returned to the winners circle in 2004 and 2005 in the hands of the privateer Japanese Team Goh and America’s Champion Racing.

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Tom Kristensen celebrating his seventh win and the final victory for the iconic Audi R8, 2005, the end of an era. Photo copyright AudiWorld.

The R8 will not go down in history as simply a fast car, it was designed to make mechanical issues a lot quicker to fix. It was the first sports car to have this design philosophy and therefore it always had a huge advantage over the rest, because of how little time they would spend in the pit lane.

2006 would herald a new chapter in the Audi story, with the factory returning to Le Mans with an brand new diesel powered R10 TDI. It was the first of its type and would become the first ever diesel powered car to win Le Mans. This was a feat they managed to repeat in both 2007 and 2008, despite opposition from a strong Peugeot manufacture presence.

2009 woulds prove that Audi were human when their new R15 TDI proved uncompetitive at Le Mans thanks to issues with it’s radiators. 2010 and 2011 would provide epic battles with Peugeot as Audi introduced first the R15 Plus and then the R18 TDI, their first closed cockpit car since the initial R8C in 1999.

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Audi achieving yet another mile stone, becoming the first overall winner with hybrid power. Photo copyright F1fanatic.co.uk

2012-2014 would bring a further string of victories as they introduced hybrid power into their prototypes. The return of sports car legend Porsche in 2014 provided a mouth watering prospect for everyone involved, but unfortunately it would not be able to live up to high expectations.

Both Audi and Porsche would never both be truly competitive over the three years, with Porsche winning the mini-battle 2-1 in terms of Le Mans wins. Audi this season have proved to be fast but fragile, not a usual characteristic of theirs. Rumours have persisted for most of the season questioning whether they would return in 2017, and today we had the answer.

Whilst I’ve looked back at the success of Audi between 1999 and this year, just looking at their 13 Le Mans 24 Hours victories doesn’t accurately judge their dominance. They had an unbroken podium streak every year they competed at Le Mans, but it wasn’t just in La Sarthe where they ruled the roost. Both the Audi factory programme in the American Le Mans Series and with privateers in the European series, they were to prove dominant for over a decade.

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Audi’s final Le Mans challenger went out with a whimper. A fortuitous third place doesn’t represent their era in sports car racing, but for now this is the last we will see a factory Audi at the worlds greatest motor race. Photo copyright Motorsport.com 

They have won every significant prototype race on the planet multiple times, and with success as far as the notorious Sebring 12 Hours in Florida right up to their victory in the ALMS Race of Two Worlds at Adelaide in 2000. To try and put into words the level of dominance Audi have had on sports car racing since 1999 is impossible to put into words.

Looking at simply their results doesn’t do them justice. To speak to everyone past and present in the paddock during their period in the sport, would help to tell you one thing. They would all likely say, quite simply, Audi completely changed sports car racing as we know it. Their level of dominance is one that will live in history and will likely prove unmatched for a very long time.

Thank you Audi for an incredible 17 years in the sport, sports car racing owes a lot to their commitment to the category. Quite simply, Le Mans 2017 will be plain weird without them there.

Any thoughts on Audi’s dominance of sportscar racing? Feel free to share your comments below, I would hugely appreciate it. Thank you for reading.

 

2016 Indianapolis 500 Preview Part 3

Part three is my final roundup previewing the upcoming Indianapolis 500, one of the centre piece events in motorsport. Feel free to visit my other preview pages on my blog, with this entry previewing the final thirteen entries on the grid. The race will undoubtedly provide plenty of action and drama throughout the 500 miles of racing, so let’s take a look at the final batch of contenders.

#25 KVSH Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Stefan Wilson

The #25 entry is a very special one, as it’s being run in honour of the popular Brit Justin Wilson, who was tragically killed last August by debris at Pocono. This is why his brother Stefan is making his Indy 500 debut this year, with the KVSH racing team.

Whilst Stefan is a rookie and his on track performance is of course important, unlike any other car on the grid this one has another purpose. To raise money for charities linked with Justin. Whilst it’s fitting that it’s his brother who keeps the Wilson name on the Indycar grid this year, it will be tough to produce any headlines on track.

He has only competed in one other Indycar race, making this his first Indy 500 and first Indycar event since 2013. He’s qualified 30th and will find it tough to make up places, despite a strong KVSH team behind him. To claim a top twenty spot would be a result for Stefan, although the wider goal of money raised will be irrespective from his on track performance.

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#26 United Fire Data Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz is a young Colombian who is making a name for himself in Indycar as a very solid young driver. He started the season off well with eighth, but since then a string of finishes outside the top ten have hampered his progress.

Andretti Autosport and Honda appear to be hooked up here in Indianapolis, with three of the Andretti entries in the top five of qualifying. Munoz was the third of the entries in fifth, a great starting position for the race. Although he will have to race hard to remain in the top five, Munoz has put himself in a perfect position to claim a great result this Sunday.

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#27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda: Marco Andretti

The most famous name in the race is likely to be considered Marco Andretti. The latest in the Andretti has shared his father and grandfather’s bad luck at the Brickyard. While similarly talented names have multiple wins, Marco has yet to win the 500.

Whilst he seemingly always manages to run well at Indianapolis, he has struggled to convert this into a good result here. So far it’s been a tough start to the season for him, with no top ten finishes and a 14th qualifying spot for the 500. Whilst a big result at the 500 can easily turn a season around, on current form and considering his bad luck here simply a top ten finish would be an improvement for Marco Andretti.

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#28 DHL Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter Reay has been a mainstay both at Andretti Autosport and at the front of the grid in Indycar for the past five years. He has proven his talent with both the Indycar title in 2012 and Indy 500 victory in 2014.

This year has plateaued slightly in the last few rounds, something Hunter-Reay will want to rectify in the biggest race of the year. He’s qualified on the outside of the front row in third, showing just how well he can run around here.

With his Andretti team seemingly on top of the circuit, Hunter-Reay will surely go into the race as one of the select few of serious contenders. Whilst a good haul of points would be good for Hunter-Reay, based on his practice speed surely anything other than a win will be met with a tinge of disappointment.

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#29 Robert Graham Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda: Townsend Bell

American sportscar and open wheel racer Townsend Bell returns for another crack at the Indy 500, after switching his full season focus to sportscars several years ago. Bell always seems to perform well at Indianapolis, and this year a one-off deal with Andretti Autosport it a great fit for him.

With little running before the event Bell has shown how strong the Andretti team is by placing his car fourth on the grid in qualifying. For a one-off entry, this is a remarkable result and should it be repeated in the race would surely be one of the main talking points. Bell is capable of causing an upset and from fourth on the grid anything is possible for the experienced American.

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#35 Alfe A.J Foyt Enterprises Dallara DW12-Honda: Alex Tagliani

Alex Tagliani is a mainstay of Indycar and the Indy 500, returning with another one-off entry with the A.J Foyt Enterprises team. The experienced Canadian is capable of a good result here, despite spending the majority of the season racing GT’s in Europe.

Whilst it’s always difficult to jump into the series for one race, especially the blue riband event, but that’s not been an issue for Tagliani in the past. This year things have been difficult however, with a crash in his qualifying run relegating Tagliani to the back of the grid, having not completed a run.

His hopes for the 500 are unknown, but if he’s at this best then a top ten result is still attainable for Tagliani. With the pressure of running a full season off, he can charge from the back without thinking about the championship.

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#41 ABC Supply Co A.J Foyt Enterprises Dallara DW12-Honda: Jack Hawksworth

For Brit Jack Hawksworth this is his second season with the A.J Foyt team, and so far it’s been a tough season for him. He has yet to record a top ten finish in the first five races, and things have not improved so far at Indy.

He qualified on the final row in 31st position, and in the race this is only going to make getting to the front that bit harder for him. He can still salvage a result in such a long race, but he has not made things easy for himself. The Honda engine appears to be running well here, therefore it will be up to Hawksworth and his talent to drag the car into the top ten, of course dependent on if he can keep out of trouble as he rises through the field.

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#42 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball is one of those drivers who appears to be underrated amongst the Indycar community, and he’s proved himself whilst at Chip Ganassi racing for the past few years. This year has been mixed for Kimball, with a top five in the last round showing what he can do when he get’s the opportunity.

It appears here at Indianapolis that the Chip Ganassi team are struggling slightly for pace, with none of their four cars in the top twelve. For a team that won the title last year this is a tough pill to take, and something they will no doubt be working on flat out until the race start on Sunday afternoon. If they can improve the car during the race Kimball has a chance of a top ten result, if not he may struggle to move through the field from his 16th starting spot.

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#61 Pirtek Team Murray Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Matthew Brabham

The world famous Brabham name returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Matthew the third generation of Brabham to race in the 500. It’s an ambitious effort from the rookie, as he is being run by Team Murray, who are also making their step up to Indycar in the biggest race of the year.

The team is receiving support from KVSH racing, and this will prove invaluable to their preparations for the race. So far Brabham has settled in well, qualifying a respectable 26th on the grid for his debut race. For his first ever Indycar race simply finishing it would be a good result for Brabham, although with so many unknowns surrounding the team anything is possible for them.

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#63 Susan G. Komen Dale Coyne Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Pippa Mann

British racer Pippa Mann has once again found a one-off entry for the Indy 500, with support from Susan G. Komen and Dale Coyne Racing. She has shown pace in previous Indy Lights and Indycar races, and this is something she will want to show once again this Sunday.

So far it’s been a under the radar month, as she’s qualified 25th for the race. This is a respectable effort considering she has had little time to get back up to speed in these cars. For one-off entries it’s always difficult to achieve a good result, although for Pippa if things run smoothly she can easily score a top seven result in the 500, and potentially earning the opportunity to run further races later in the year.

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#77 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Dallara DW12-Honda: Oriol Servia

Oriol Servia has seemingly emerged as a specialist in the one-off Indianapolis 500 entry. He is a proven talent at this level and his results surely warrant a full season ride in the series, despite his lack of funds.

This year he has teamed up with Schmidt Peterson motorsports, as he looks to have a good result in the 500, which could help him earn more races in the series in the future. After running in the season opener, he has acquitted himself with the very different oval aero kit on these spec Dallara chassis, as he qualified a very good tenth on the grid. This puts him in a great position to maintain his place in the top ten come the finish, which would surely be considered a good result by the team considering his entry is a one-off.

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#88 Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Bryan Clauson

After several attempts at the Indy 500, American sprint and midget car racer Bryan Clauson is back once again this year with the one car Jonathan Byrd racing team. His two previous attempts at the 500 have not ended well, so this year Clauson will be hoping to improve upon his current best result of 30th in 2012.

In qualifying Clauson produced a good result to secure 28th on the grid. In the race he will have plenty of time to improve on 28th, although with a one car team their data is limited, therefore making it difficult to make in race adjustments to the changing track conditions. For Clauson the Indy 500 is part of a plan to take part in 200 races this year, and this is definitely the most high profile. A good result would be a top 15 result, although this may be just out of reach for the team.

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NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda: Alex Rossi

American Alex Rossi returns to the American racing scene this year, for the first time since his Formula BMW Americas title victory in 2008. After reaching F1 at the tail end of last season, Rossi has chose to move into the Indycar series this year.

The promise he showed in F1 has translated into Indycar so far, as he currently is the highest placed rookie in the standings after the first five races. After spending the majority of his career racing in Europe, his adjustment to ovals will prove crucial to how he fares in the centre piece Indy 500.

Taking advantage of a strong Andretti Autosport car he’s qualified a very respectable 11th for the 500, and from here he could easily push on and score a top five or top eight finish come the end. Watch out for Rossi as one of the surprises of the race.

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That not only wraps up part three, but is the finale for my preview of this Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. The race will be one not to miss, and anyone can watch it in the UK on BT Sport I believe. I would like to thank Motorsport.com again for their incredible quality photos which you see in this article, I really urge everyone to visit their site for the latest in motorsport news.

I would also like to thank you for reading these previews, and any comments at all would be greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

 

2016 Indianapolis 500 Preview Part 2

This is part two of my preview for this Sunday’s blue riband Indianapolis 500, one of the three triple crown races which carry the most prestige in motorsport. If you missed the first part of my preview, you can view it here. Part 1 preview . For now let’s move onto the second part of my preview, enjoy.

#12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Will Power

Will Power has proved himself one of the fastest and most consistent drivers in Indycar over the past five years. The Australian’s season has been up and down so far, with podiums teamed with missing the first race because of a practice crash, which caused concussion.

He is now back to his best and starts sixth for the 500. With other rivals further down the field, Power is in a great position to fight for the victory all through the race. He has never won in the Indy 500, but with his skills and great pit work from Team Penske he may well find his 2016 turns around with a momentous victory in the centre piece 500. A win or even a top five finish would also really help kick start his potential title challenge after missing the first round.

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#14 ABC Supply Co A.J Foyt Enterprises Dallara DW12-Honda: Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato has become a staple of the legendary A.J Foyt’s team, and this familiarity may breed a good result for the popular Japanese racer. Despite making a name for himself in F1, Sato has adjusted well to oval racing.

He came very close to winning the 2012 Indy 500, and he may become a surprise contender once again come race day. So far his season has been uneventful, with two top six results his best after five rounds. He qualified twelfth for the 500, well ahead of his team mate. It seems Sato is most likely to lead the A.J Foyt team, and he can easily achieve a top ten or even top five result. Sato can be considered in the second group of contenders, ready to capitalize on any mistakes to ensure a good result.

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#15 Steak & Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal surprised everyone in Indycar with his stellar 2015 season. Both Rahal and his team were underrated, and they proved everyone wrong with a title challenge which came very close to succeeding.

This year it seems this combination was initially struggling to find it’s feet, although with two podiums in the past two races Rahal is seemingly hitting the right form going into the 500. It appears the team have been usurped as one of the top running Honda teams, with Rahal really struggling in qualifying. He will start from 26th and this leaves him a lot of work to do in the race. It also means he’s more likely to be caught up in accidents which could prematurely end his day.

If Rahal can keep his nose clean expect him to rise up the field throughout the race, with a top five result surely a huge result for Rahal considering his lack of qualifying pace. Clearly the team have some work to do with the car, with time running out before the race.

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#16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Dallara DW12-Honda: Spencer Pigot

Rahal Letterman Lanigan have taken on reigning Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot for a partial campaign this year, as he makes his debut in the Indy 500. So far Pigot has done his best to adjust to Indycar, with only two races experience going into the 500.

With a rookie running a partial schedule it’s very difficult to come in and do well from the start, with so much to learn and not enough track time to do it. So far Pigot has stayed under the radar and got on with his programme, which is the perfect thing for a rookie to do. He starts 29th on the grid for the race, but he’s a talented young racer so will make up places. Finishing the race with a top 10 or 15 finish would be a good result for Pigot, as he continues to gain experience in Indycar.

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#18 Shirts for America Dale Coyne Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Conor Daly

Conor Daly is another rookie looking to gain experience in Indycar, after a few years trying to climb the European single seater racing ladder. In his first full season Daly is another racer who is flying under the radar, although a sixth in the most recent round suggests Daly is improving with every race. The fact he is currently the second best rookie shows also his impressive switch to Indycar.

He struggled slightly in qualifying, as he starts 24th for the 500. In the race gaining as much track time as possible will be important to Daly, with a top 15 finish surely a good result for Daly in his first Indy 500, against such a high quality field also. Don’t be at all surprised if Daly finishes as the best rookie in the race.

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#19 Boy Scout’s of America Dale Coyne Racing DallaraDW12-Honda: Gabby Chaves

Colombian Gabby Chaves is looking to maintain his Indycar career after an impressive rookie season last year. The 2014 Indy Lights champion showed plenty of pace and won the rookie of the year honour, but despite this he has not found a full season ride this year.

After missing the opening rounds he’s been handed this lifeline by the Dale Coyne racing team, something he will surely want to turn into a good result. Coming into the biggest Indycar race of the year with a small team, having missed races is always a very difficult task.

He starts 21st in the race and will be looking to turn this into a top ten finish. A big result could put him in the shop window for next year, but this will be very tough for Chaves. Should he pull it off he will surely be deserving of a full time Indycar drive next year.

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#20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Ed Carpenter

Ed Carpenter returns once again for another crack at the 500 with his own team, as he aims to finally turn the promise he’s shown into a good result. Carpenter always runs well on ovals, and this year should be no different.

He’s only competed in one race so far this year, and this appeared to show as he qualified 20th for the 500. Carpenter always manages to be a thorn in the side of the much bigger teams, and watch for him to rise up the field into victory contention by the end of the race. A top five finish would be a good result for this small team, and would finally ensure a reward for Carpenter after years of near misses.

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#21 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden has emerged as one of the best young racers in Indycar, having already secured a podium this year for the relatively small Ed Carpenter Racing team. The team have always performed well on ovals, especially Indianapolis. This is usually shown by team owner Ed Carpenter, but this year it appears Newgarden has usurped him for this honour.

After a good start to the season Newgarden has carried this on by qualifying a very close second for this Sunday’s race, missing out on pole by only 0.060mph. Both car and driver are clearly performing well, and barring any dramas watch out for him as one of the outside contenders for victory. A win in the Indy 500 would be a surprise by well deserved honour for this young American.

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#22 Menard’s Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Simon Pagenaud

After a difficult first season with Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud is now taking Indycar by storm in his second year with the team. He has emerged as the dominant driver this year with three wins for five races, and will be aiming to make it four from six this Sunday.

He has never been primarily known for his oval prowess, but with a solid eighth qualifying spot showing his car has pace here. Watch out for Pagenaud to rise to the front, with form from this season suggesting he is the man to beat going into the biggest race of the year.

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#24 Gas Monkey Garage Energy Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Sage Karam

Sage Karam is a young driver looking to rebuild his reputation, after a difficult 2015 season. The young American clearly has pace, having won the Indy Lights title as a rookie in 2013. Since then he’s shown flashes of pace in Indycar, but has garnered a reputation as a reckless and sometimes dangerous driver.

Despite having previous Chip Ganassi Racing support, this year he’s entering the 500 in a one off Dreyer & Reinbold entry. For a young driver in a one car, one off entry this is a very hard situation to produce a good result. He qualified 23rd and therefore will have the opportunity to rise through the field if he and the car are running well. He performs well on ovals so may be an outside bet for a top ten maybe top twelve finish, but for this entry gaining attention and support for further outings this year is the primary goal.

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That wraps up the second part of my preview for this weekend’s Indianapolis 500. I would like to say a huge thank you to Motorsport.com for the high quality photos which adorn this article, everyone should check out their website for the latest motorsport news. I would also like to thank you for reading this article, with any comments being greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

2016 Indianapolis 500 Preview Part 1

The last weekend of May is always a special weekend for motorsport fans. The most prestigious grand prix on the calendar takes place, the Monaco Grand Prix. Famous the world over it always provides excitement and celebrities flock to watch the on track action. Fans from across the world will be tuning in this weekend, eagerly anticipating the next stage of the Nico Rosberg vs Lewis Hamilton battle.

After the champagne has been sprayed on Sunday, many motorsport fans will be switching their attentions stateside, as another of the motorsport triple crown takes place only hours after the action in Monte Carlo. The 100th Indianapolis 500 is something any self respecting motorsport fan will not want to miss, with furious high speed on track action guaranteed.

The Indycar series has no where near the profile of F1, but in America the Indy 500 is still a major sporting event and will garner a further international audience. With speeds topping 225mph the action could not be more different to that in Monte Carlo. Both are equally considered races that form the triple crown of motorsport, the other being the Le Mans 24 Hours in several weeks time. Let’s take a look at the contenders in this years Indy 500.

#2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Juan Pablo Montoya

The reigning champion will want to add a third Indy 500 victory resume, and with Penske he has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. The most high profile name in the series has shown himself to be the front runner in the series for the past season and a half, despite narrowly missing out on the title at the final round last year.

At 40 years old Montoya has lost none of his speed or hunger, which explains why he is such a formidable competitor for his rivals. Despite a good start to the season,  Montoya suffered from a plastic bag getting stuck in his radiator on his qualifying run. After this bizarre problem ruined his qualifying he only managed to qualify 17th.

The good thing for Montoya is that the race is 500 miles long, giving him plenty of time to move up the field and back into leading contention. With the knous of Team Penske behind him he will have a great chance to win a second consecutive and third overall Indy 500, ensuring he will be added to the list of Indycar greats. Despite qualifying Montoya is still arguably the favourite.

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#3 Pennzoil Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Helio Castroneves

The experienced Brazilian prepares for his 16th Indy 500, and is every bit as much a contender for victory as in his previous fifteen. The 41 year old knows the track arguably better than anyone else on the grid, and is in good form going into this Sunday centre piece race.

With two podiums in the first five races he sits third in the points standings, and a win here from ninth on the grid  would really give his title challenge serious momentum. Castroneves is another member of the four car Team Penske fleet, something that only enhances his bid for victory. He is a three winner of this event, although his last victory in the 500 came in 2009.

With Castroneves in good form and the might of Team Penske behind him a fourth victory is very much possible for him. His competition will likely come from his team mates and rivals at Chip Ganassi and Andretti Autosport, but Castroneves could overcome them all if things fall his way on Sunday. Don’t be surprised if Castroneves is drinking the milk in winners circle come Sunday evening.

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#4 Lazier Burns Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Buddy Lazier

Buddy Lazier returns this year with his annual effort with his family run Lazier Burns racing team. Whilst this is a small one car team with limited resources compared to the bigger teams, this team could spring a surprise come race day.

The team struggled in qualifying with Lazier set to start 32nd, with a speed over 1mph down on anyone else. Whilst it doesn’t seem much, at Indianapolis this is a large difference. It also cannot be discounted the fact Lazier is one of six former winners in this race.

Lazier was one of the original drivers in the Indycar series, winning the 1996 Indy 500 and 2000 Indycar series title. For the past ten years Lazier has focused on one-off entries in the Indy 500, and this will surely hamper him going into the race. Without the experience of the regular series drivers, this will only hamper his preparations for the race. For Lazier a top ten or top fifteen result will be a good effort for this small one car team.

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#5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara DW12-Honda: James Hinchcliffe

Canadian James Hinchcliffe provided a great pre-race story by claiming pole position, only a year after a huge accident here ended his season prematurely.  Hinchcliffe has lost none of his speed and overcame the traditional big teams with his Schmidt Peterson motorsport entry.

Sitting on pole position puts Hinchcliffe in the best possible position to secure a remarkable victory come Sunday. He definitely has the talent to do it and is coming into the race after scoring his first podium of the season in the Indianapolis road course race only a few weeks ago.

To secure a Canadian victory in America’s premier motor race Hinchcliffe will have to put in a great drive, alongside fast pit work by his team. Both team and driver have the potential to win, they just need to execute under pressure, which is a lot easier said then done.

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#6 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand returns yet again to Indianapolis with a one-off entry with Ed Carpenter racing, after racing with CFH Racing last year. Both Hildebrand and Carpenter perform well on ovals and the team have shown the potential to score a great result in the 500.

Whilst he’s likely known for his last corner crash in his debut Indy 500 five years ago, the fact he was a few hundred meters away from winning his debut 500 shows how well he can run here.

Despite being inexperienced compared to his full season rivals, Hildebrand has two top ten finishes from the past two years. This is a huge achievement for a one-off entry with a smaller team. He lines up fifteenth on the grid, but during the race Hildebrand could very well improve from a top ten to top five finish.

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#7 DOOM Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Dallara DW12-Honda: Mikhail Aleshin

Mikhail Aleshin has returned to Indycar this year, after switching to sportscar racing last year with SMP Racing. The talented Russian’s season has been solid so far, with a top five finish in the opening round showing his potential once again.

Whilst he’s a European convert Indycar racing, qualifying seventh for the 500 shows Aleshin can become a good oval racer. The Schmidt Peterson team have produced good cars for Aleshin and team mate James Hinchcliffe, with both capable of shocking the major teams with a podium or victory this Sunday.

Whilst Aleshin does not have a wealth of experience in Indycar, he has enough to produce a great result in the 500 with his talent. Watch out for Aleshin as an outside bet for a top five, although even a top ten would be a good result for the Russian and his team.

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#8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Max Chilton

Max Chilton prepares for his debut Indy 500, as he still adjusts to the Indycar series and it’s ovals in his rookie season. Despite some limited experience in the Indy Lights series last year, the former F1 racer is doing well adjusting to the series.

With his F1 experience a lot of people may expect him to immediately come in and be competitive, but that’s not realistic. Whilst his results so far have not been spectacular, he is improving with every race and the Indy 500 will only accelerate this.

He’s qualified a respectable 22nd on the grid, and he will likely improve as the race goes on. With the collective might of Chip Ganassi Racing supporting him, he could not be in a better place to become a very good Indycar driver with the likes of Dario Franchitti helping him. For Chilton a top fifteen finish would be a very good result for him, although simply finishing the race will only further his experience with the car and ovals in general.

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#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Scott Dixon

The mild mannered Kiwi Scott Dixon arguably rivals Juan Pablo Montoya as the current series benchmark, with Dixon being the reigning series champion only enhancing this viewpoint.

He won on the series only oval round so far in Phoenix, and sits pretty in second as he looks to win back to back titles. He’s a four time champion and the winningest driver in the field, although he has only managed one Indy 500 win in 2008.

He starts out of position in thirteenth, but expect him to quickly rise through the field like the driver his livery emulates, legend Alex Zanardi. Discount Dixon at your peril, as he always manages to produce good results from nowhere, and this Sunday may be the latest example of this.

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#10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Tony Kanaan

Another former winner amongst the Ganassi stable of entries is Brazilian Tony Kanaan, who has so far had an average start to his season. He was always the hard luck story before he won the 2013 Indy 500, with his old luck returning since.

With two successive 26th finishes in 2014 and 2015, it will be hard for Kanaan to do any worse this year. The 41 year old qualified eighteenth this year, and will surely move up the grid once the green flag is dropped.

Whilst he’s always suffered from bad luck at this circuit, he always runs well here and teamed with Ganassi he has the perfect package to win or even finish in the top five. Either would be a great result for Kanaan and would really kick start his season.

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#11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais is well versed in the American Indycar scene, having made a name for himself stateside over the past decade. The Frenchman’s best finish in the Indy 500 is seventh in 2014, although he has plenty of Champ Car titles and wins to cement his reputation as a very quick Indycar driver.

It’s been a tough start to the year for Bourdais and his KVSH team, with a best finish so far of eighth in the opening five rounds. Qualifying for the 500 didn’t change his luck, as he posted the nineteenth fastest average speed.

Despite a bad start to the season Bourdais is the kind of driver you can never discount, as he could spring a surprise and produce a great result from nowhere. He will need his KVSH team to produce slick pitstops if he wants a good result, but certainly don’t discount the experienced Frenchman.

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That wraps up part one of my Indy 500 preview. I would urge everyone to visit  Motorsport.com for the latest news and high quality photos, some of which have been used in this article.  Part 2 will be coming in the next few days and finally, thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

Strange Timing for Verstappen Promotion

This morning Red Bull Racing finally dropped the news many within the F1 paddock had been predicted over the past few weeks. The decision to swap Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat at this moment seems a strange one, especially at this early stage of this season.

Four races into the 2016 season and the career of Kvyat has taken a significant turn, after only just over a season with the main Red Bull Racing team. Many have lamented the fact that Kvyat secured a podium only two races ago in China, yet after a poor Russian Grand Prix last weekend he is being replaced for the rest of the season by Max Verstappen.

Ever since his incredible debut year in cars, where he challenged for the highly competitive FIA European F3 title, Verstappen has carried the tag of a future F1 world champion. He made headlines for being the youngest ever driver to enter F1 at age 17, after a single year racing cars.

He has been in demand since he started his career, with both AMG Mercedes and Red Bull competing to sign him in his debut F3 season in 2014. He has so far impressed in his short F1 career with Scuderia Toro Rosso, and will now have a great opportunity to compete against Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo, arguably the best of the current crop of younger drivers some may say.

For Daniil Kvyat this must be the hardest point of his career so far, as he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team, and it will be very hard for him to reclaim his Red Bull seat now. He knows the Toro Rosso team well from his previous stint there in his rookie F1 season in 2014.

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Verstappen in action for Toro Rosso during pre-season. He will return to Barcelona next weekend having swapped his Toro Rosso for a Red Bull. Photo copyright XPB Images.

Much like Verstappen he impressed that year and earned a promotion to the main Red Bull Racing team after quadruple world champion Sebastien Vettel left for Ferrari. At age 22 being so publicly demoted must be very difficult to deal with, and will surely be something that lingers in his mind for a long time.

He will now have to seriously impress starting with next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, if he wants a return to the Red Bull team. At this moment it’s difficult not to think of previous Red Bull young drivers who were discarded such as Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Jean Eric Vergne and wonder if this is their plan for Kvyat too.

From the early news surrounding this story it appears this move has been discussed for the past few weeks even longer perhaps, suggesting this is not a decision the Red Bull management have taken lightly. Only two races ago team principal Christian Horner was publicly supportive of Kvyat and his podium place, however it seems a lot can change very quickly in Formula One. Some have suggested that Red Bull motorsport programme chief Helmut Marko has been looking for an opportunity to promote Verstappen this season, and Kvyat gave him the perfect chance after his poor Russian GP.

It may seem harsh to demote a driver after only one poor race, but clearly for Red Bull management they have had concerns on Kvyat in terms of long term potential. This move would appear to be thinking towards the future, as they would appear to feel Verstappen is the better, longer term option for the team.

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Daniil Kvyat celebrating his podium in the Chinese GP. How quickly things can change in F1 as two races later he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

For now the future is unclear for Kvyat. He remains in F1 and is a very talented driver, but he will likely not be given too long with the Toro Rosso team. The team is primarily a junior Red Bull team, therefore their drivers are usually not given a lot of time before they are either promoted to dropped from the team. With the likes of Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, the future of Daniil Kvyat may not feature F1 in three-five years time.

The future is also unclear for Verstappen. Whilst his career trajectory continues to skyrocket, we must remember he is still only 18 years old, and now finds himself in the media spotlight and competing at the front of the Formula One grid. He finds himself in a car that is capable of podiums, although the team finds itself behind both AMG Mercedes and Ferrari in the overall pecking order.

His team mate Ricciardo is in top form and is one of the best drivers in F1 right now, providing a stern test for Verstappen. He will receive plenty of advice and support, and he will need to learn from the mistakes of his father Jos Verstappen. He was promoted to F1 in 1994 at a young age, and found himself unable to meet expectation as he carved out an average F1 career.

Red Bull have now put a lot of expectation and pressure on the shoulders of Max Verstappen, but will be able to cope with it and still upstage his team mate. If he can do this, then he will have lived up to his hype as a future world champion. Only time will tell whether he can produce results whilst under major attention and scrutiny.

 

 

Ben Keating Interview

Ben Keating has become a prominent name in American sportscar racing over the past five years. The businessman has formed a great partnership with the Dutch professional Jeroen Bleekemolen, as they have claimed several wins in both the American Le Mans Series and the more recent WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.

His most notable victory is a class win at the 2015 Rolex 24 blue riband race at Daytona. In the highly competitive GTD class this year, the same have suffered with some problems with their GT3 spec Dodge Viper.

This is something everyone in his ViperExchange team will be hoping they can put behind them going into this weekend’s race around the streets of Long Beach. After sending over a few questions for Ben, here are his responses on everything from how he got started in motorsport to this 2016 season. Enjoy and a huge thank you to Ben for taking the time to answer these questions.

First of all, how did you get into racing?

Literally, my wife bought me a driver education weekend at Texas World Speedway for Christmas 2005. I went in 2006 and fell in love. Started racing in 2007 in the Viper Racing League, which was great club racing.

How has the season gone so far with the new GT3 spec Viper?

So far, not as well as we had hoped.   #93 had a great 3rd place finish at Daytona.   But I was behind the wheel and made a mistake in the #33, which put us behind.    A 9th place was a great finish giving the situation.

Then we had an axle break at Sebring, which put us behind.    We finished 12th.

Luckily there is a lot of racing still to go.

Keating’s Gas Monkey sponsored Viper struggled during last month’s Sebring 12 Hours. He will be hoping for better next time out in Long Beach. Photo copyright Getty Images/Brian Cleary.

You recently announced your plans for Le Mans with the Murphy Prototypes team, how did this come about? 

The ACO chose put  the Viper GTSR as the 7th reserve.    We did not believe that 7 reserves would get in.Therefore, we went looking for an opportunity and there was a great fit between our team and Murphy  Prototypes.

Will you have much time to test the LMP2 car before the race?

I will do several days of testing before the race.   I expect to be up to speed by race time.

Have you ever considered a switch into the ELMS or WEC?

Yes, for sure. However it is more expensive for me. And, my businesses are all US based.    ViperExchange is the #1 volume Viper retailer in the world, and it makes sense to run a Viper in the US.

If I had a sponsor willing to help with a WEC program, then I would definitely consider it.

What has been the most memorable race of your career so far?

Cota(Circuit of the Americas, ed) 2013 was my first win in ALMS and in my home State.

Mosport 2014 – first win for GT3R Viper and  I really felt like my driving contributed a lot to the win.

Daytona 2015 – biggest win for sure

Le Mans 2015 – biggest single race event

Keating and his team celebrate their momentous GTD class victory in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. This was a huge win for everyone associated with the ViperExchange team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com .

Is there much of a difference between the GTD and GT3 spec Viper?

Not huge changes for the Viper. Mostly it meant we had to go back to all of the parts that the car was homologated with, instead of everything we had developed over the previous 2 years. The Viper is really awesome to drive. Easiest race car I’ve ever driven to be fast in.

You’ve been partnered with Jeroen Bleekemolen for a while now, what is it that makes your partnership so successful as team mates?  

Jeroen makes me look good. He is an unbelievable driver. We have a great friendship and a great team.

And finally, what are your hopes for the rest of the WeatherTech season and Le Mans?

To win. Period, end of story.