Sportscar racing

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.

 

 

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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ciaran Haggerty Interview

This year see’s a sea change for the young Scotsman Ciaran Haggerty. He makes the switch from BRDC F4 to the vibrant British GT series with the iconic name Ecurie Ecosse. The Scottish team are switching to become a customer McLaren team this year in the premier GT3 class, and will now also compete in the rejuvenated GT4 class.

The new McLaren 570S GT4 car  debuts in Britain this year. Partnering Haggery is fellow Ecurie Ecosse young driver Sandy Mitchell. Both have seemingly turned their back on the single seater ladder for now, preferring to make the switch into competitive GT racing.

Over the past few days I was able to send some questions to Ciaran on his new career move, and here are his responses. Enjoy.

Congratulations on the new McLaren GT4 deal, how did it come about?

I tested the GT3 car end of last year and they said they had a GT4 in the works so just tried to find the budget for this season.

Making the transition from single seaters to GT racing, have you had much time to test the car?

GT’s are very different. A lot more forgiving than a single seater. Only had one day so far in the car at Rockingham. Went well but we still have to develop a few things on the car.

sandyciaran-1024x683Haggerty and Mitchell posing with their new McLaren 570S GT4 racer. Photo copyright Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse racing.

Realistically, what are your hopes for this season in the GT4 class of British GT?

I hope we can fight at the front. We’ll just need to see where we are at the first race.

Are single seater cars still on your career radar, or are you switching to endurance racing full time now?

I think sportscars is a much more sensible option these days. Single seaters is out of control budget wise.

Formula 4 - 79 - Ciaran HaggertyHaggerty in action with Ecurie Ecosse support in BRDC F4 last season. Photo copyright retro-motoring.com . 

What is your ultimate ambition for your career?

I hope to make it to the pinnacle of whatever discipline I’m doing.

And finally, if there was one race you could compete in with any car,what would it be and why?

One race and car? I’d have to say a Mazda 787B at Le Mans just for the sound and atmosphere.

I would like to send a huge thank you to Ciaran for this interview and I would like to wish him and his Ecurie Ecosse team the best of luck with their GT4 campaign in British GT this season. You can keep up to date with Ciaran on Twitter @CiaranHaggerty.

2016 Sebring 12 Hours GTLM Preview

After looking at the two prototype classes in the past few days, now it’s the turn of the GT classes to be previewed with the iconic Sebring 12 Hours coming up very soon on Saturday. This GTLM class is arguably the most competitive class in the field, filled with factory run efforts piloted by some of the best GT drivers in the world.  But can anyone distance themselves from the pack? Let’s look at the contenders in this class.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Antonio Garcia/Mike Rockenfeller/Jan Magnussen

The #3 Corvette racing were merely inches away from being the winners of their intra-Corvette battle at the Rolex 24. After 24 hours of flat out racing this must of been heart breaking for the #3 team, but than can be confident that the Chevrolet Corvette is the stand out car in this class, based on their showing at Daytona.

This weekend however, is a very different prospect as the Sebring circuit is very different from Daytona. This airfield circuit favors aerodynamic grip over outright straight line speed, although this is unlikely to serious worry the Corvette racing team.

They have over a decade’s worth of experience of racing here, and will know every secret and tip which are needed to win. Predicting a winner is this class is impossible, but if you had to choose you would be hard pressed to find a better contender than the Corvette racing team.

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#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Marcel Fassler/Tommy Milner

The #4 car ended it’s previous barren spell with the closest possible victory after 24 hours of racing at Daytona, and will be hoping to continue their good form this weekend.

No one in this class has more experience than this Corvette racing team, and both cars have the highest quality drivers in both cars. The team pulled off a huge fillip with the loaning of Audi factory drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler for these opening two long distance races. The #4 team has a slight advantage going into the weekend thanks to their victory last time out, although it’s unlikely that advantage will last long.

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#25 IHG Rewards Club BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: Bill Auberlen/Bruno Spengler/Dirk Werner

The BMW team had a solid if not spectacular debut with their new M6 GTLM contender, with this #25 having the better of the reliability issues within the team.  The car was a contender for most of the race but ultimately slipped away in the final hours.

For this weekend the team may be slightly concerned with the usual reliability issues associated with this hugely demanding race. They have plenty of testing miles with the much larger M6 however, and also have everything gained from racing at Daytona to help them. The M6 will likely suit Sebring better than Daytona, therefore this team may well spring a surprise and end up standing on the top step of the podium come Saturday evening.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: Giancarlo Fisichella/Davide Rigon/Toni Vilander

Ferrari are another manufacture with a new car for this year, and the new 488 GTE showed plenty of potential at Daytona. The car lacked significant testing but was battling at the front of the class when reliability issues struck around halfway through and derailed their race.

The car was still able to finish however, and this amazing result is one they will look to improve on this weekend. With some more testing of the car the factory backed Risi team will be understanding this car better with every passing day, and this will bring them to the front of the class on a consistent basis this year.

With a driver line up of all Ferrari factory drivers, this team is a formidable proposition and it appears only reliability issues can hinder this team from being right in the mix for the class victory throughout the 12 Hours.

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#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais/Dirk Muller

The new factory Ford GT race programmed suffered a baptism of fire in Daytona, where both cars struggled with reliability issues at various points across the 24 hours. After extensive pre-race testing this was something the team hoped to avoid.

When running the car showed it has the pace to match their competitors. This is encouraging for everyone connected with the Chip Ganassi racing effort, and with further testing the team can feel more confident going into this weekend. The rough nature of the track will be a stern test for the new GT, and if this car can survive Sebring it can survive any race.

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#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ryan Briscoe/Scott Dixon/Richard Westbrook

The #67 car was similarly afflicted with reliability issues at Daytona, although this was no great surprise considering it was the cars debut. The ferocious GTLM pace would have also played a factor.

Everyone on this programme will have been working hard since Daytona to improve the car for this weekend’s race. It will be a very tough test for both cars, but with the experience and talent around this team don’t expect this team to be struggling for long. Once this car is fully sorted expect this team to be fighting right at the front of this highly competitive class.

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#68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Alessandro Pier Guidi/Andrea Bertolini/Daniel Serra

The only non-factory effort in this class is this #68 Scuderia Corsa entry. The team ordered the new 488 GTE and stepped up from the GTD class for this year, and were impressive on their debut at Daytona.

The team were fighting for the class victory almost until the end, and put everyone in no doubt they can hold their own against the multitude of works entries. They have assembled a very good driver line up with two very experienced GT racers in Pier Guidi and Bertolini, who will looking to mix it at the front of the class once again this weekend.

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#100 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM: John Edwards/Kuno Wittmer/Lucas Luhr

The #100 suffered from a spectacular exit at the Rolex 24, when brake failure heading into turn one plunged the car into the wall and out of the race during the night. Until this moment the new M6 GTLM was in contention for victory, and this is potential is something the team will be hoping to fully realise this weekend.

On the driving front the team have assembled a factory line up mixed with youth and experience, and who will be very eager to make up for their Daytona retirement and earn some decent points towards their championship campaign. This team will be hoping for at least a class podium this weekend.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-100-bmw-team-rll-bmw-m6-gtlm-lucas-luhr-john-edwards-kuno-wittmer-gra

#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Kevin Estre/Nick Tandy

The US  factory Porsche effort is their only works GT programme this year, ensuring they will be 100% focused on this GT effort. The team have quickly established a enviable record in the series, and for this team anything less than a class podium will be considered a disappointment.

Whilst a solid haul of points towards the championship will be a good result, in reality if the team are not fighting for the class victory there will be cause for concern for this team. The driver line up is top notch as always and with the experience Porsche has in sportscar racing they have everything needed to win this class this weekend.

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#912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Earl Bamber/Michael Christensen/Frederic Makowiecki 

The #912 car is in a similar position to the #911 entry, in that the team has everything at it’s disposable to succeed in this GTLM class. The team have stand out factory driver Earl Bamber to support his two fellow factory racers.

The team were at the pre-race test and will feel confident with the reliability of their 911 on the notorious bumps of Sebring. Choosing which Porsche is most likely to be fighting for the win is impossible, either one or both could very well find themselves fighting for the class lead in the final hours come Saturday evening. Never discount a factory Porsche effort in sportscar racing.

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That wraps up my preview of this GTLM class. The competition between the different manufactures is ferocious, and will provide an entertaining battle for the lead throughout the entire 12 Hours.  Every car in this class has a realistic chance of victory, the winner will likely only be decided by good strategy and a dose of good luck in this race. It should be thrilling to watch.

As a final comment I would like to give thanks to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their information and high quality photos which grace this article. For any information regarding the race I urge everyone to visit both sites. I would like to say a final thank you for reading this preview and any comments would be hugely appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

 

 

 

2016 Sebring 12 Hours Prototype Challenge Preview

After looking at the main Prototype class yesterday Here , now it’s time to turn our attentions to the Prototype Challenge class. The opening Rolex 24 produced a surprise winner in the #85 JDC/Miller entry, after problems with the favourite #54 and #52 entries. This time around, will the normal order be restored or will Sebring spring another surprise winner?

#8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Alex Popow/David Heinemeier Hansson/Renger Van Der Zande

The two Starworks entries suffered with costly accidents at the Rolex 24, although the progress this #8 car made in the second half of the race showed that if they had not got involved in various scrapes they would of been a strong contender for victory.

This time out at Sebring the team will be looking to translate their pace and skill as a team into a podium placing.  They have one of the best driver line up’s in this class and the Starworks team are stalwarts at this top level of US Sportscar racing. This entry has to go into the race as one of the favourites for class victory.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-8-starworks-motorsports-oreca-flm09-jack-hawskworth-chri

#20 BAR1 Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Johnny Mowlem/Marc Drumwright/Tomy Drissi/Don Yount

The #20 BAR1 entry was another PC tale of disappointment, as the class pole sitters hoped for victory in the centre piece race, but had to be content with a distant third. Whilst this would have initially seemed frustrating, it was still a decent points haul for this team as their rivals struggled.

The team will be hoping to achieve another podium placing this weekend in the sunshine state, and they have a solid experienced line up of drivers who can get the job done for this BAR1 team. Another points haul for their championship would be a good result, and they will be slight outsiders for a class victory.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-20-bar1-motorsports-oreca-flm09-johnny-mowlem-brian-adle

#38 Performance Tech Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: James French/Josh Norman/Kyle Marcelli

The #38 team were yet another PC team who struggled on the high banks of Daytona, as they eventually were forced out of the Rolex 24 thanks to reliability issues. The team will not let that dampen their progress however as they look to bounce back for round two this weekend.

The team is one of the smaller outfits in the class, but they have proved in the past they can mix it with the bigger and more prestigious teams within this class. The driver line up is a another solid one at this level, and this team may well sneak a podium place if the attrition rate matches what we say in Daytona. Do not discount this entry as an afterthought in this class.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-38-performance-tech-motorsports-oreca-flm09-james-french

#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Tom Kimber-Smith/Robert Alon/Jose Gutierrez

The #52 PR1/Mathiasen entry was one that recovered from adversity to eventually finish second, only four laps down on the class winner at the Rolex 24. The team have a knack of attaining victories in the key long distance races and this team actually won the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup last year. This is a mini-series made up of the four longer distance races on the calendar.

Second gave the team a great points haul, especially as their primary rivals such as the #54 entry retired early on. The team will be hoping they can repeat their victory at this race last year, as this would put the team in a very good championship position after the early rounds of the WeatherTech series.  This PR1/Mathiasen entry has the perfect blend of youth and experience behind the wheel, so watch out for this car to fly with all three drivers at the wheel.

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#54 CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Colin Braun/Mark Wilkins/Jon Bennett

The Rolex 24 at Daytona was a disaster for this usually dominant CORE Autosport team. The class champions from the past few years suffered an early engine failure which put them out. Now have some ground to make up on their rivals in the championship also, something they will look to do with a class victory this weekend.

The team and driver line up is the best in this PC class, and will be looking to reassert their dominance at the bumpy airfield of a Sebring circuit. The #54 will be one of if not the ultimate favourite for the PC class victory come Saturday night.

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#85 JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca FLMO9-Chevrolet: Misha Goikhberg/Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Kenton Koch

The Rolex 24 was an almost perfect race for the JDC/Miller Motorsport race as they claimed the class victory by four laps over the #52 PR1 entry. Whilst the team had some scrapes in the race, they were the most reliable car which gave them the victory.

This team is another of the smaller outfits in the class, and their class win was a great story in Daytona, but can they do it again this weekend? All four drivers demonstrated their talents in Daytona, especially Stephen Simpson, so can they reproduce this at another sportscar classic run in Florida. This team showed on pace they can match anyone else in this class, so can they topple the bigger teams once again? It’s difficult to see but after Daytona anything is possible for this JDC/Miller team.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-85-jdc-miller-motorsports-oreca-flm09-chris-miller-mikha

#88 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Sean Johnston/Michael Lyons/Maro Engel 

The second of the Starworks entries is another high quality addition to this class for this years Sebring 12 Hours. The team are locally based in Florida therefore will feel confident going into this race. Whilst this car was out early on in Daytona, they will be another team hoping to bounce right back with a great result at Sebring.

The driver line up is yet another very strong one, and the team will have more than enough talent to grab the class victory, although a class podium and a good haul of points of the championship would also be a success for this team. This #88 car is a strong contender for class honours this weekend.

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That wraps up my look at the seven car Prototype Challenge Class for this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours, soon I will be posting my preview of the ultra competitive GTLM class. I would like to say a huge thank you once again to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their information and high quality pictures that grace this article. I would also like to say a final thank you for reading this and any comments below would be greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.