Antonio Felix Da Costa

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 2

Here is a look at the second half of what is an ultra competitive Prototype class entry for this year’s Rolex 24 Hours, the opening round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Championship season. If you missed my preview of the first half of the class, you can find it here Part 1.

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota Oreca-Gibson: Robin Frijns/Dani Juncadella/Felix Rosenqvist/Lance Stroll

Jackie Chan DC Racing have been very competitive in the WEC last season, and now make the trip Stateside for the Rolex 24. The team have mastered the LMP2 class in the WEC, but now come up against the favoured Daytona Prototypes for the first time. The LMP2 cars struggled last year to match the DPI entries on overall pace, something the series was keen to rectify for this season.

On the driving front the team arrive with a very strong line-up. Williams F1 racer Lance Stroll returns to the race after an up-and down rookie season in F1. Partnering him is Blancpain GT champion Robin Frijns, Former FIA European F3 champion Dani Juncadella and Swedish jack of all trades Felix Rosenqvist. Whilst this line-up does not possess much prototype experience, all four are seriously quick drivers who are contenders for the most formidable line-up on the grid. Stroll set the cars fastest time at the test, but was a massive 1.7 seconds down on the overall pace. The team will need to close this gap if they want a shot at victory in such a competitive entry.

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#38 Performance Tech Oreca-Gibson: James French/Kyle Masson/Pato O’Ward/Joel Miller

Performance Tech were the IMSA PC class champions in the final year of the class in 2017, and have now stepped up to the prototype ranks with a new Oreca-Gibson. The team were dominant last year but will face a much tougher test this year in such a strong and competitive field.

The team have retained both James French and Kyle Masson from last year, with both impressing with their overall speed. Pato O’Ward joins them for the endurance rounds and the young Indy Lights racer is very quick.  Youth is the theme with this line-up, as all three are all under 26 and despite having an all silver line-up they could spring a surprise come the end of the race. Former Mazda factory driver Joel Miller was a late addition to the team, and provides added experience to a very promising line-up.

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#52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Ligier-Gibson: Sebastien Saavedra/Gustavo Yacaman/Roberto Gonzalez/Nic Boulle

This #52 AFS/PR1 entry will be the most recognisable on track thanks to it fluorescent red and yellow livery, in the debut race for this team with former PC front runners PR1 Mathiasen motorsport joining forces with Indy Lights team AFS racing. The PR1 crew found the step up to the prototype class last year tough initially, although showed flashes of potential on which we should see more regularly this season.

The team have signed promising young Indycar racer Sebastien Saavedra and fellow Colombian Gustavo Yacaman for the full season. Yacaman is an experience prototype racer who is joined by Nic Boulle and Rodolfo Gonzalez. Boulle drove for the team last year and brings some experience to line-up, with Gonzalez a quick and underrated driver who gets a big chance to impress with this drive. The team struggled for ultimate pace in the Roar test, finishing 19th overall with a quickest lap two seconds off the top end pace. The team may struggle to match the front running entries, but they could spring a surprise if they get some luck along the way.

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#54 CORE Autosport Oreca-Gibson: Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Romain Dumas/Loic Duval

CORE Autosport make their debut in the prototype class after a year racing a GTD Porsche. The former dominant PC class champions have made the jump with a Oreca-Gibson package, which has proved the dominant of the LMP2 chassis across the globe. The LMP2 spec cars appear to have a slight deficiency in overall space compared to the DPI entries, but anything can and most likely will happen at the Rolex 24.

The long-term driving duo of Jon Bennett and Colin Braun stay on for another year, with the pair working very well together. Joining them for this race are two stud racers in factory Porsche and Audi drivers Romain Dumas and Loic Duval. Both are very quick drivers who will fly at the wheel of the car. In the pre-race test Braun took the plaudits for setting the cars quickest time, quick enough for tenth overall. Whilst the team may struggle to match the ultimate pace with gentlemen driver Bennett in the team, they will likely surprise many with how strong they are in their debut prototype race.

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#55 Mazda Team Joest Riley-Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell/Spencer Pigot

Along with Penske and Acura, the improving quality of the IMSA series is shown with this factory Mazda entry. After parting ways with long-term partners SpeedSource the Japanese manufacturer joined forced with former Audi factory team partners Team Joest. After an intensive test programme over the second half of last year the team will be as prepared as they can be going into the Rolex 24.

At the test it was Brit Harry Tincknell who set the cars quickest lap, 1.4 seconds off the fastest overall lap. Tincknell is the new signing for this #55 entry, and has plenty of success including a LMP2 class win at the Le Mans 24 Hours on his debut. Joining him for the season is Jonathan Bomarito, whose experience and pace is being carried over from the old regime. Completing the trio for Daytona is Indycar racer Spencer Pigot, who drove for the team in this race last year. In such a competitive field the team may struggle to trouble the podium unless they can improve their overall speed quickly.

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#77 Mazda Team Joest Riley-Mazda: Oliver Jarvis/Tristan Nunez/Rene Rast

The second factory Mazda Joest entry is this #77 car, another that will have been bolstered by both updates to its Riley chassis and the input of the highly successful Joest team. The team bring with them a winning mentality from their highly successful sting masterminding 13 Le Mans 24 Hours victories for Audi, and have now turned their attention to the Mazda DPI programme.

The team have switched things slightly for this year on the driving front, drafting in former Audi factory driver Oliver Jarvis for the full season to partner the young American racer Tristan Nunez, who has been nurtured and developed over several years at this level by Mazda. Completing the line-up for the endurance rounds is current DTM champion Rene Rast, who is a very quick sportscar driver who finished third overall last year in an unfancied VisitFlorida.com racing Riley. Much like their sister entry the overall pace is unknown from this Mazda package, therefore it’s hard to predict what this factory outfit can do in the race. They may need some luck to challenge at the sharp end, but discount them at your peril.

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#78 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota Oreca-Gibson: Alex Brundle/Antonio Felix da Costa/Ho-Pin Tung/Ferdinand Habsburg

Jackie Chan DC Racing have proved to be class leaders in the WEC and Asian Le Mans Series, so have now set their sights on cracking America. The team have brought two entries for this Rolex 24, but will face stiff competition from not just the LMP2 field but the DPI entries also. The team enjoyed a good pre-race test at Daytona, gaining valuable data and Alex Brundle showed the cars potential with the ninth fastest lap.

Brundle has been a mainstay of LMP2 racing and massively impressed with the team last year. Joining him for the race is another regular driver in Chinese talent Ho-Ping Tung, a front runner in the teams ALMS entries. New to the team are two very talented young racers in Antonio Felix da Costa and Ferdinand Habsburg. Felix da Costa is a quick single seater convert who has been picked up by BMW as a factory driver and Habsburg came of age with a very impressive display at the Macau Grand Prix last year. The teams lack of experience in this series may hamper them in the race, but the team have brought a very high-quality line-up and add an extra element of competitiveness to this prototype entry.

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#85 JDC-Miller Oreca-Gibson: Robert Alon/Simon Trummer/Austin Cindric/Devlin DeFrancesco

The #85, affectionately dubbed the yellow boat, returns for another year at this level after a very impressive debut campaign last year. The team stick with their trusted Oreca-Gibson package, although have made some slight changes on the driving front for this year.

The team have retained Robert Alon after his impressive displays last year, but with the team expanding to two entries this year he’s been split up from his team mates of last year. Partnering him is former GP2 front runner Simon Trummer. He is a very quick young driver who makes the switch across to sportscar racing. He immediately set the cars fastest lap at the test, 1.5 seconds down on the #31 Whelen entry. Completing the line-up is talented young Nascar racer Austin Cindric and FIA European F3 racer Devlin DeFrancesco. The team are prime candidates for a giant-killing act this year, so keep an eye on their progress in the race.

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#90 Spirit of Daytona Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Matt McMurry/Tristan Vautier/Eddie Cheever III

Long term IMSA entrants Spirit of Daytona are much changed this year, after a difficult 2017 season for the Daytona based team. The team ditched their Riley LMP2 chassis halfway through last year, and have now switched to the dominant Cadillac DPI package. The team have also lost title sponsor VisitFlorida.com so return this year under the Spirit of Daytona banner.

On the driving front it’s also all change for the team, with 2017 drivers Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande replaced by Tristan Vautier and Matt McMurry. Vautier moves across from Blancpain GT in Europe and has plenty of American racing experience. He is joined by young American Matt McMurry in what is a very strong line-up for this team. A late addition to the team is young racer Eddie Cheever III. He impressed at the Roar test with the second fastest lap time, just 0.2 seconds off top spot. The team took third last year in an uncompetitive package so with the Cadillac DPI package the team have all the necessary ingredients for success this year.

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#99 Gainsco JDC-Miller Oreca-Gibson: Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Misha Goikhberg/Gustavo Menezes

A fans favourite returns in 2018, with the iconic red Gainsco red dragon appearing with this expanded JDC-Miller team. The most surprising team of last year have expanded to two entries this year, and will look to build on a very good year for the team in 2017.

The team have retained their drivers from last year, namely Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller. All three-impressed many with their consistently fast driving last year although Simpson is the stand-out in this entry. He set the fastest lap at the test and has consistently been a tenth or two ahead of the rest in this car. Completing the driving talent is young WEC LMP2 racer Gustavo Menezes, and the addition of such a highly regarded and very quick prototype racer only enhances their chances of a good result. If the team can run cleanly expect a surprise from this team.

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That wraps up my prototype class preview for the Rolex 24, who are your favourites for victory? Let me know in the comments section below and a very big thank you for reading this article. A final massive thank you must go to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website here Motorsport.com . You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and if you liked this article then stay tuned for my preview of GTLM class coming very soon.

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Antonio Felix Da Costa: Proof F1 isn’t Always Right

Recent events have further reminded anyone who has carelessly forgotten that Antonio Felix Da Costa is a seriously quick young racing driver, and is living proof Formula One is not always right. The paddock deemed him not worthy of a seat at the top table of motorsport, he’s now proving them fatally wrong.

In the two years of 2012 and 2013 he set the junior single seater categories alight, with a very close third in the GP3 series being topped by an incredible partial campaign in the Renault World Series. On a grid that arguably bettered that years GP2 series, Da Costa finished an incredible fourth in the series, after missing the opening three rounds.

Replacing fellow Red Bull driver Lewis Williamson, he won four of the twelve races he competed in, he finished only 23 points behind eventual champion Robin Frijns. With a full campaign he surely would have won the championship at a canter. Completing a year unlike almost any other junior categories racing driver, Da Costa then went and won the highly prestigious Macau Grand Prix, a race graced with a winners list that reads like a who’s who of the F1 grid.

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Antonio Felix Da Costa in action for the dominant Red Bull team at the end of year young driver test in Abu Dhabi, sadly this would prove a fleeting outing just as the Portuguese driver was on the cusp of a full time F1 seat. Photo copyright Red Bull Racing/Getty Images. 

Alas, after being tipped by Red Bull for promotion to their junior Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 team for 2014, the wheels fell off in 2013. Much was expected of Da Costa but he underwhelmed as he was over matched by Kevin Magnussen and rookie Stoffel Vandoorne. Third in the standings and three wins were not enough to save him, with GP3 champion Kvyat being promoted in place of him, an offer to join BMW in the DTM his best option for 2014.

From this point onwards F1 began to leave him behind, focused on hyping the next wave of young drivers rising the ranks. Da Costa has made the transition to becoming a fully paid professional racing driver, but for some they would have foresaw him F1 this year, not the DTM.

The highly competitive German Touring Car Championship is a very tough series to master, therefore it should not be shocking Da Costa has struggled to adapt to the series and his BMW M4. He shows flashes of potential but has yet to string it together for an entire year, with one win in three years of the series and a best final finishing place of 11th in 2015.

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Da Costa accepted a factory BMW drive in the highly competitive German DTM touring car series, something he struggled to adjust too so far. Flashes of potential show he’s still the same driver who should have found a place in F1. Here he is in action in 2014. Photo copyright BMW AG.

Rising through the ranks it was clear Da Costa was a special driver. A karting series world championship runner up in 2006 first brought him to the attention of the motorsport world, before a move into cars for the 2008 season. Stepping right into the competitive Formula Renault categories, he focused on the Northern European Cup whilst team mate Valtteri Bottas fought it out for the Eurocup.

Best of the rest behind the more experienced Bottas was no disgrace for Da Costa in his first year, with flashes of good form carrying over into the partial Eurocup campaign for him. 2009 would be the year to go for it and emulate Bottas by claiming both the Eurocup and NEC Formula Renault titles, the two most prestigious of the formula itself.

A close third in the Eurocup was deemed slightly disappointing but not a career breaker, with a disqualification from the Nurburgring round for a technical issue in qualifying reining in a campaign just as he was closing in on the title. A dominant win in the NEC series was a good consolation prize and cemented his reputation as an up and coming young talent.

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Before F1 testing and the DTM was Formula Renault, where it all started for Da Costa. Victory in the NEC series and third in the Eurocup cemented his reputation as a rising star of the future. Photo copyright Renault Sport.

F3 was the next rung in the ladder, Da Costa acquitting himself well with the Motopark team. Three reverse grid wins and a solid rest of year put him seventh in the final standings, also claiming the prize for being the highest placed rookie in the series. A switch to the British Carlin team for the unofficial F3 World Cup in Macau also proved fruitful, a sixth place finish a great sign of things to come in the former Portuguese colony.

2011 proved tough as he adjusted to a switch into the GP3 category, with only one win and 13th in the final standings to show for it. A partial campaign in British F3 prepared him well for Macau, but sadly a retirement put paid to any chance of resurrecting his career on the world’s fastest street track.

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In case needed reminding of his talents in a single seater, Da Costa made a one-off return to F3 for the prestigious Macau Grand Prix. The F3 World Cup proved a commanding and popular victory in the former Portuguese colony.  This was a master class in how to win on the demanding streets of one of the worlds premier junior events, but by now the F1 paddock ad stopped watching. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

Victory on his return to the Macau Grand Prix proved a welcome fillip for him after a difficult year in the DTM, but he was quick to pour cold water on the idea this would re-ignite any F1 ambitions. He seems very comfortable and happy with his roles at BMW and in the emerging Formula E championship.

Whilst at one stage he seemed destined for Formula One, Antonio Felix Da Costa is by no means a failure because he didn’t reach his goals. He can be very proud of his achievements in his career, and whilst some in the F1 paddock may have forgotten about him, victories such as his latest at Macau are reminders to the motorsport world of his talent, and that he is entirely worthy of a place in Formula One.

By Jordan Wilkins

Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to comment below and share your views, find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and a huge final thank you for reading!