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Ravens Trade For Calais Campbell

The Baltimore Ravens stole the sports headlines by announcing a trade for defensive end Calais Campbell. The 33 year-old Pro Bowler was sent to the Ravens from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fifth-round pick (170th overall).

Campbell has been a premier pass rusher for years now, with Pro Bowl appearances in five of the past six years, along with an All-Pro designation in 2017. The move makes a ton of sense for both parties, with the Ravens massively improving a position of need. The Jaguars also clear $15 million in cap space, as it increasingly looks like their rebuilding.

Campbell was in the final year of his four-year $60 million deal, with the Ravens quickly agreeing to a two-year $27 million extension. The move gives Campbell another two years with a premium salary, whilst it helps lower the $15 million cap hit for the Ravens. According to @RavensSalaryCap on Twitter, this now leaves the team with $17.8 million in cap space heading into free agency on Wednesday.

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Calais Campbell (left) scooped the MVP prize at the 2019 Pro Bowl. Both him and Lamar Jackson (right) are premium players at their positions for the Baltimore Ravens. Photo: SI

Baltimore now have a formidable front seven, with Campbell teaming up with defensive tackle Brandon Williams to provide a big interior presence. The Ravens like to add big defensive tackles, to help with stopping the run. The Ravens recently franchise-tagged linebacker Matt Judon, but he could be traded to improve the salary cap position.

The Ravens will look for a boost from recent draft picks at linebacker, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser. The team had already inked veteran linebacker L.J Fort to a two-year $5.5 million extension back in November.

The Ravens defense improved massively throughout the 2019 season, but they have notable free agents this year. They include run-stuffing defensive tackles Michael Pierce, Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis along with linebackers Patrick Onwuasor, Josh Bynes and Pernell McPhee. The front seven position group could experience high turnover in 2020, so signing Campbell eases their concerns massively.

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With the Campbell trade news, does this mean Michael Pierce will be leaving the Ravens this free agency? Photo: USA Today Sports

It’s likely the Ravens will add to this group with a high draft pick this year, as they don’t have massive cap space to sign premier free agents. It’s an excellent move from GM Eric DeCosta, who has now traded two fifth round picks for Pro Bowl talent. Trading for cornerback Marcus Peters made a massive difference to the Ravens defense last season, and now acquiring fellow Pro Bowler Calais Campbell shows the Ravens are in a SuperBowl window and looking to win now.

What do you think of this trade? Let me know in the comment section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

What to do With A Problem Like Manchester City?

The football world was shaken to it’s core on Friday evening with the announcement that UEFA had banned Manchester City from European competition for two years. The governing body of European football took this momentous step because of financial fair play (FFP) breaches along with misleading information provided by the club.

This is a talking point that rumbles on almost a week later. This appears a solitary case, but the ramifications of this could spread far beyond Europe. For now the dispute rumbles on, but what could this mean for the future of football? Let’s examine the events that led to this moment.

Manchester City are accused by UEFA of overstating sponsorship revenue they received to circumvent FFP rules. The estimated £200m allowed the club greater financial flexibility to sign top players like Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and John Stones. It also helped to pay their £300m wage bill, the third most in world football behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

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De Bruyne has been key to City’s success since signing in 2016, the last year of which City are alleged to have breached FFP rules. Photo: Manchester City

This extra money via alleged financial doping unquestionably helped lay the foundations for the juggernaut team that won the Premier League and League Cup in 2018 as well as an F.A Cup in 2019. Some have now questioned the validity of these successes, knowing the club could have cheated to attain them.

This UEFA investigation opened in November 2018 after leaked internal emails from the club surfaced at German publication Der Spiegel as part of their Football Leaks platform. The whistleblower Rui Pinto now sits in a Portuguese prison awaiting trial for hacking charges. UEFA had previously punished City and PSG in 2014 for rules breaches, reaching a financial settlement with the two clubs.

This previous punishment helps explains the ongoing rift between Manchester City and UEFA. The club responded immediately on Friday night, releasing a statement protesting their innocence as well as besmirching the investigation as one of bias with a pre-determined guilt. The club have now employed an army of lawyers to help with their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

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This is what City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak is reported to have told FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the past. Could this antagonistic attitude cost the club? Photo: City Extra/Twitter.

A large bone of contention between the two entities is the level of dialogue. UEFA believe that City were either non-cooperative or misled the investigation, which factored into their much larger punishment. UEFA has given similar punishments in recent years to the likes of A.C Milan, who were banned from Europe for one season.

The fact City didn’t cooperate with the investigation will have factored into their two year ban. City themselves have refuted this, believing that they provided all necessary information and cooperation in this investigation, despite consistent leaks to the media.

This decision from UEFA will now be played out at CAS, and could last for several years. This is a landmark case for both parties, with the loser sure to come out of this bloodied. If Manchester City lose, they could lose star manager Pep Guardiola along with a host of players. If UEFA lose, the FFP system will lose all authority as clubs ride roughshod over it.

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City fans made their feelings towards UEFA known at their Premier League game against West Ham. Photo: EMPICS Sport

Whatever happens, UEFA could lose in the long run. City could use their two-year suspension to build their global brand playing lucrative friendlies in attractive markets such as Asia and North America. If UEFA lose this ruling, it will be a humiliating defeat that will only embolden prestige clubs to create their own breakaway European Super League.

Since taking over the club in 2008, owner Sheikh Mansour has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to elevate City to a competitive level. Since Guardiola took over in 2016 the club have a net spend of £340m. The club have the fifth highest income in football, however this drops to eighth if you discount the troublesome Etihad deal.

The club have been in the shadow of city rivals Manchester United for almost their entire history. United are a truly global club and have become a hugely successful brand across the world, in part thanks to their historic successes. This is something City have been trying to build in just over a decade.

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City rivals Manchester United have a global supporter base thanks to sustained success. This is something City are playing catch up to. Photo: China Group via Getty Images.

FFP restrictions limit the Man City model of a wealthy owner pouring money into the club until they are successful a la Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. City haven’t had enough time to build their global brand, so to compete with the best in England and Europe they will have felt under pressure to use the owners money to even the playing field.

Some pundits have already hypothesized a very small positive to come out of this for City. With looming sanctions, will they turn this into a motivational boost to win the Champions League this year. For the club, it would no doubt give them great satisfaction to be handed the biggest prize in club football by the people they are going up against in court.

This legal dispute feels like a landmark moment for European football that could have far reaching consequences in the near future. Will UEFA be able to stamp its authority, or will City show that big clubs now have the power in football? The legal battle will no doubt be ugly, however it seems this will be difficult for City to overcome.

They have never said the leaked documents were fake, so it seems clear cut that they broke the FFP rules they agreed to every season when they play in the Champions League. The emails and their reactionary statement show a level of arrogance at the top levels of the club that only sways neutrals to UEFA’s side. Maybe City can force UEFA into a reduced punishment, but for now it seems City are bang to rights and need to take their punishment.

Do you have any thoughts on this piece? Let me know on Twitter @JWjournalism. Thank you for reading this article, I really appreciate it! 

 

 

Will Juventus Finally be Toppled?

Serie A has been a procession for one club the past eight years, but could this season be season Juventus are toppled? The Turin club have dominated Italian football since 2011, along with as becoming a force in European football.

The most supported club in Italy have reached two Champions League finals, in 2015 and 2017, and have swept aside their nations best for almost a decade. Their dominance has brought them world recognition, along with a host of trophies and money. This money has only increased their advantage, as they have been able to buy the best world talent.

Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was brought in with an Italian record transfer worth £99.2m last summer, along with Mathias de Ligt this summer for £67.5m. The club also likes to do its scouting closer to home, frequently buying the best talent in Serie A.

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Ronaldo was a marquee signing for Juventus, but with FFP could this move backfire if they have to sell players to balance the books? Photo: Juventus FC

The club have in recent years signed the likes of top scorer Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli, Paulo Dybala from Palermo and Miralem Pjanic from Roma. Their massive financial advantage over the other club has meant they can effectively use the rest of Serie A as a farm system.

Despite the massive advantage they hold, this season things seem to be changing slightly. Juventus have faced challenges in recent seasons, notably from Napoli and Roma, but have always done enough to win the Scudetto. A number of factors happening in one season could see a new title winner in Italy this season.

Juventus themselves have transitioned from long-time manager Max Allegri to new man Maurizio Sarri. Sarri challenged Juventus with his Napoli side in 2017-18, yet for the first time in a long while Juventus seem fallible this season. After 23 games they sit second with 54 points, their worst total at this stage since the 2015-16 season.

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Maurizio Sarri was an icon at Napoli, taking them to within four points of a Serie A title in 2017-18. How well suited is he to Juventus long term? Photo: Reuters

Even in their victories they have often relied on coming back from behind, showing they have not been able to assert their dominance as easily this season despite having the best squad.

Along with a drop from Juventus, has been the rise of a new challenger. Inter Milan have made great strides to become title contenders again. They brought in former Juventus manager Antonio Conte and have spent lavishly this season.

They have brought in the likes of Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, Christian Eriksen from Tottenham and Diego Godin from Athletico Madrid. They have also brought in promising young Italian talent such as Matteo Politano and Stefano Sensi from Sassuolo and Nicolo Barella from Cagliari. All three have become regular contributors this season.

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Lukaku celebrating his Milan derby goal with coach Antonio Conte. Both have been instrumental in Inter’s revival and title challenge this season. Photo: AFP

Inter have only lost one game all season, although have drawn more than Juventus. The club have all the right people in place to take advantage of a down year for Juventus, with the club impressing with their performances in the Champions League also. Now they have dropped into the Europa League, the focus will likely shift back to Serie A.

The outside contender that nobody predicted this season was Lazio. The Rome club have always been in the top six in recent years, but have never broken through into the top four. The club didn’t spend big in the summer, but manager Simone Inzaghi has made them into the most in-form team in Italy.

They are unbeaten in 18 games, including an eleven match winning streak. This incredible form has propelled them to third, only a point behind Inter and Juventus. They welcome Inter to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, a match with massive title implications.

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Ciro Immobile has been crucial to Lazio’s unlikely title challenge. He’s on pace to be the leagues top scorer ahead of illustrious names like Ronaldo and Lukaku. Photo: MB Media/Getty Images

They do still face tough fixtures away to Atalanta, Juventus and Napoli, but are scary to every opponent they face. Striker Ciro Immobile is on fire this season, as top scorer with 25 goals in 23 games so far. Attacking midfielder Luis Alberto also tops the assists charts with eleven, showing the attacking prowess of Lazio.

The title race will come down to these three, but could there be more in the future? Atalanta have taken Italy and Europe by storm with their giant killing acts, and could continue their progress if they can sustain this in coming seasons. Regular Champions League qualification will bring in the money to take this team to the next level.

City rivals A.C Milan may be languishing in tenth, but they have the infrastructure to compete in Serie A. It’s been a tough half-decade for this once dominant side, but they could compete in future seasons if they can find the right building blocks. The same goes for Napoli, who are undergoing a transition as talismanic figures like Sarri have left the club in recent seasons.

Roma have performed similarly to Lazio in recent seasons, could they perform similar miracles in the coming years? Serie A has always been a giant of European football, but with such dominance in other leagues like the Premier League and Ligue 1 to have a genuine title race that could down to the last game will entice new fans. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Serie A this season!

Thank you for reading this article I really appreciate it! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you have any comments at all. 

The Wilder Revival at Sheffield United

20th August 2016. Former giant Sheffield United sit bottom of the League One table with one point from their opening four games. The club are facing financial difficulties, and new manager Chris Wilder struggling the future looked bleak. Even the most optimistic Blades fan would have suggested three years later they would be back in Premier League for the first time in 12 years.

Wilder is a lifelong fan and had two separate spells there, before taking charge in May 2016. Wilder has developed in the lower ranks, with a Conference final win with Oxford United in 2010 and a League Two title with Northampton Town in 2015-16. At the time of his arrival Wilder was a rising star in the Football League, but was walking into a tough job.

Despite investment from Saudi Prince Abdullah Al Saud in 2013 the club was in a difficult financial position. Wilder relied mostly on free transfers, and balanced the books by selling Aaron Ramsdale to Bournemouth, Dominic Calvert-Lewin to Everton and Che Adams to Birmingham for a combined £4.5m.

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Wilder being presented in May 2016, along side chairman Kevin McCabe and assistant Alan Knill. Photo: Sport Image/Sheffield Star.

A new manager and a large squad overhaul helps explain the poor start, but from here the team went on a tear. With club captain and boyhood fan Billy Sharp banging in 30 goals, enough to be the leagues top scorer, the team lost only three of their remaining 42 games. They romped to the title with 100 points, 14 more than second placed Bolton.

Wilder won plaudits for his teams playing style, and a testament to his coaching is that the spine of his League One team remains in the Premier League. Defender Jack O’Connell, midfielders John Fleck and Chris Basham along with target man Sharp were all regulars in the third tier.

The following season saw Wilder add full backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens, both of whom were signed from lower league clubs and have earned plaudits in the Premier League this season. The full backs are a vital part of Wilder’s attacking style of play, something other Premier League opponents have struggled to handle.

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Wilder celebrating League One promotion with star striker Billy Sharp. Both are life long fans of the club and both have already cemented legend status. Photo: Press Association.

Tenth in the Championship in their debut season is very tough to do, especially as their biggest listed transfer was midfielder Lee Evans from Wolves for £750 000 pounds in January. The team was on the right track, with the majority of its current team already in place.

The club boosted its transfer funds with the sale of midfielder David Brooks to Bournemouth for £11.5m. This allowed them to break their transfer record to sign defender John Egan from Brentford for £4.05m, along with Oliver Norwood in January from Brighton for £2.4m. Along with David McGoldrick on a free, all three of which are now Premier League regulars.

Two losses wasn’t the start they wanted, but they were consistently brilliant from here on out. From early September they were never outside the play-off places, with a late surge to overcome a faltering Leeds to secure the second automatic promotion place. Just three short years after joining them, Wilder had led them back to the Premier League.

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Sheffield United players celebrating Lys Mousset’s goal in a 1-0 win over Arsenal. The club are the antithesis of the North London club and have earned plenty of plaudits this season. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images. 

Many fans and pundits questioned whether Sheffield United’s style of play would translate to the Premier League, as they tipped them for relegation. This is despite enhancing the squad with the signings of striker Lys Mousset for £10m and midfielder Oli McBurnie for £20m from Bournemouth and Swansea respectively.

In what has been so far an unusual Premier League season, absolutely nobody would have predicted Sheffield United to shock the world and be sitting in fifth after 26 games, only two points away from the Champions League. The team have by far the smallest wage budget, but they play with a desire and resilience unlike many other teams.

They have rescued points from losing positions ten times already this season, showing the fight that fans love from their team. The club have just smashed their transfer record to sign Sander Berge from Genk for £22m, as the club continues to progress. It cannot be stressed enough how impressive their achievements have been this season, with the stats showing that the team with the smallest wage budget has been relegated 15 times from 24 in the Premier League.

The team have earned plaudits for their attacking style, and were it not for a historic Liverpool season Wilder would be the favourite for manager of the year. Nobody saw the rise of this historic club, so future expectations are hard to predict. With Wilder in charge this club has all of the right ingredients to create their own fairy tale, much like Bournemouth have over the past decade. The future looks very bright for the red half of Sheffield.

Zacharie Robichon Interview

2019 was the year that Zacharie Robichon emerged on the GT racing scene. The young Canadian was 3rd in the GTD standings with the Pfaff Porsche, in his first year in the IMSA WeatherTech series. He was previously the 2018 Porsche GT3 Cup Canada champion.

It’s tough to improve upon third with two wins in your rookie campaign, but Robichon has a great chance to in 2020. He is partnered with Porsche supported driver Dennis Olsen, and is joined by fellow factory drivers Lars Kern and Patrick Pilet for the Rolex.

Just before race week got underway I asked Robichon some quick questions about the upcoming season.

Can you reflect on what a good 2019 season it was?

The beginning of the 2019 season was a big eye opener for myself and the team. We learnt quickly that to be successful in endurance racing it was as much about being smart as it was about being fast.

Once we settled in, we had a great run to end the year which ultimately finished in the sprint cup championship for myself. Looking back it, I don’t think I ever imagined we would be able to perform at that level by the end of the season but it certainly gives us confidence moving forward.

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Robichon was a revelation for Pfaff in 2019, and is now one of the hottest young talents in the IMSA GTD class. Photo: Motorsport.com

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Porsche at Daytona?

The Porsche has always been strong on the brakes and in the infield, I think that trend will continue this year. There are so many questions marks regarding which setup you decide to run so it is hard to say exactly where the car will be at its strongest / weakest compared to the other competitors.

The one thing we do know is that Porsche always provides us with a car capable of winning and I don’t expect anything different this time around.

What is it like being joined by Porsche factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Lars Kern for Daytona?

Anytime you get the opportunity to share the car with drivers of that caliber its very special. Obviously Patrick’s success and experience from this race in the past is something that we will lean on heavily throughout the race to make the best decisions as a team to put us in the best situation throughout the race.

I’m very happy to have Lars joining us once again not only for Daytona but for the four long races this year. He was a great addition to our team last year and I expect him to keep learning and improving as he gets to know the North American tracks better.

Who are your main rivals at the Rolex 24 this year?

It’s so hard to pick any one team. This year in GTD I believe the level has stepped up to another level over last year and just about any car on the grid could win the race with the right decisions and luck!

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Despite this small off at the Roar, the Pfaff team can feel confident going into 2020, starting at the Rolex 24. Photo: Motorsport.com

What are the biggest things the team can improve upon in 2020?

The team has stepped up immensely and grown since this time last year. We are much calmer as a group then we were this time last year and if we can keep that mentality and focus that we finished the year off with last year I believe we have a great chance at success not only at Daytona but for the entire season.

Would you be interested in racing international GT3 events in the future?

I would love the opportunity to do some international races, the beauty of the GT3 platform is that the cars and rules are extremely similar around the world which gives drivers the opportunity to move around in familiar equipment if the opportunity were to present itself.

My thanks go to Zacharie for these great answers. I wish him and his #9 team the best of luck this season! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article!

Dennis Olsen Interview

The off-season has been one of mixed emotions for Dennis Olsen. The 23-year old Norwegian ended the year as Intercontinental GT Challenge champion in November, but lost his Porsche Young Professional driver status in December. Olsen remains contracted to Porsche, and still hopes to become an official Porsche factory driver.

The decision seems strange from Porsche, as Olsen is a very promising talent. A burgeoning single-seater career ended at Formula Renault Eurocup, before switching to Porsche Carrera Cup in 2016. He has since won that title in 2017, along with second in Porsche Supercup that same year.

For now not much has changed for Olsen, as I asked him about his preparations for the upcoming season.

How happy are you to be back with Pfaff Motorsport for the Rolex 24?

I’m very excited to be back with Pfaff for the Rolex 24 – after a strong first season where they gained a lot of experience I’m very confident in the whole crew and also in the car we are bringing to the 24.

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Dennis Olsen celebrating his Intercontinental GT title last year. Photo: Porsche AG.

How tough was it to recover from losing your Porsche young professional status despite a good 2019 season?

It was for sure not the best time of my career, but I do still feel strong and prepared to show them that I am worth keeping as their driver – I had a great season last year and I’m looking to have a even stronger one this year using all the tools I learnt last year.

How was the Roar test for the #9 team?

The Roar was very positive for us, we managed to find a good balance for the long runs and the crew did good after having a winter break.

Who are your main class rivals at the Rolex 24 this year?

I think we will see after the first few hours who is our Main rivals, but looking at the Roar the Lambo, Lexus and Acura seems strong.

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Olsen is back with Zacharie Robichon for the season with Pfaff, and will be looking to impress Porsche this year. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Are you likely to do more endurance rounds with Pfaff this year?

Yes, I will do the whole championship for Pfaff together with Zach Robichon.

How confident are you that you can become a Porsche factory driver in the coming years and what would that mean for you?

I hope that they can see my qualities and hopefully I will become a factory driver soon – with the performance I had last year, and also the consistency to win championships means that I know whats needed to win the titles. I love to race, and I want to keep doing this for a long time on the highest level possible. I’m a racer.

What are your racing plans for 2020?

Until now it’s just IMSA confirmed, but I’m confident that there will be more coming soon.

I would like to extend my thanks to Dennis for taking the time to answer these questions, and wish the #9 team the best of luck this weekend. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article.

Lars Kern Interview

It’s been an interesting path for Lars Kern to reach this point. The 32-year old German has been associated with Porsche for almost ten years now, but is only beginning to emerge in motorsport.

He holds a number of production car lap records thanks to his role as a development and test driver for the German marque. Only in the past three years has he been incorporated in GT3 racing. He has primarily raced in VLN and the 24 Hour series, before making his IMSA debut with Pfaff Motorsport last year.

He returns to Pfaff this year, joining Dennis Olsen, Zacharie Robichon and Patrick Pilet for the Rolex 24. Before the race I asked him some quick questions surrounding his plans for Daytona and the 2020 season.

How happy are you to be back with Pfaff Motorsport for the Rolex 24?

24h Daytona is such a special race. But even if you’re fully prepared it’s a huge gamble. You have to get every little detail right to go for the win. Pfaff is an amazing team and it’s a honor for me to be with them for another year.

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Kern’s role with Porsche has expanded in recent years, including this Intercontinental GT drive in Kyalami late last year. Photo: Porsche AG.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Porsche at Daytona?

I think we have a super reliable and good handling car. We don’t have the best pace i guess but we have a great package.

How was the Roar test for the #9 team?

The Roar Test went super smooth. We just did our program, checked all set-up directions and found a good rhythm.

Who are your main class rivals at the Rolex 24 this year?

Basically every car can win GTD. If you go through the drivers and teams, the quality is incredible.

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Kern and the Pfaff Porsche return in 2020, and will be hard to miss with their plaid livery. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Are you likely to do more endurance rounds with Pfaff this year?

Yes, I’ll do all four endurance Races with Pfaff and my mates Zach and Dennis. And I’m really looking forward to it.

Describe your role as a Porsche test/racing driver?

The role is pretty spread up between racing and testing. Racing is the side job, Testing and engineering is my daily job. It’s important to constantly work on the performance, driveability and Quality of our cars. This sums it up!

What are your racing plans for 2020?

In 2020 I’ll compete in IMSA Endurance and Nuerburgring Endurance Championship incl. 24h Nuerburgring. Let’s see if there are more races but this is already a great program so far.

I would like to thank Lars for giving us these great answers. I also wish him and his #9 team the best of luck this weekend! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you liked this article!