Bruno Junqueira

2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 1

The GTD class, based around GT3 spec cars, has proved a great addition to the IMSA WeatherTech championship in recent years. It returns in 2018 stronger than ever, with 21 cars entered for the season opening Rolex 24. There is an increased international presence this year, and this only enhances the class battle that is likely to take place across the entire 24 hours. If you have missed any of my previous prototype and GTLM previews, they can be found here. Prototype Preview Part 1 Prototype Preview Part 2 GTLM Preview

Let’s take a look at the first half of the entry list.

#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Mirko Bortolotti/Rik Breukers/Rolf Ineichen/Frank Perera

The Austrian team have established themselves as the leading Lamborghini GT3 racing team on the planet, having been front runners in ADAC GT Masters and Blancpain GT champions in 2017. The team return to the Rolex 24 after making their debut last year, and have brought with them two very strong entries.

In this #11 car is Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen and Frank Perera. Bortolotti has developed into one of the fastest GT3 racers in the world with this team, with young Dutchman proving very quick in the one-make Lamborghini Super Trofeo category. Rolf Ineichen is a developing talent and Frank Perera was often one of the biggest thorns for this squad in the ultra competitive Blancpain GT series for Mercedes. Fastest time at the Roar test highlights how strong this team will be in the race.

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#14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Dominik Baumann/Phillipp Frommenwiler/Bruno Junqueira/Kyle Marcelli

It’s all change for the Paul Gentilozzi 3GT Racing team this year, after a difficult first year as a factory Lexus team. IMSA rules have forced the team to become independent of Lexus for this year, although the team have retained a strong driver line-up.

Dominik Baumann is a promising young Mercedes factory GT driver who joins the team for the full season. He will be partnered by Kyle Marcelli, a quick driver who has raced in various American GT series over the past few years.

Joining them for Daytona will be Bruno Junqueira and Philipp Frommenwiler. Junqueira is a quick and experienced sportscar racer and Frommenwiler proved quick in the International GT Open series with this car last year.

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#15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Dominik Farnbacher/Jack Hawksworth/David Heinemeier Hansson/Scott Pruett

This #15 has a similarly strong line-up to it’s sister #14 entry, and now have a years experience with the car to help them move up the grid. Expect to see an improvement from this team this year, with a possible top six result achievable for the team.

On the driving front the team retain former Indycar racer Jack Hawksworth, but he will be partnered for this year by Dane David Heinemeier Hansson. He has established himself as one of the quickest amateur sportscar racers in the world, and moves across from the Rebellion WEC LMP2 team.

Dominik Farnbacher rejoins the team after racing for them at this race last year, with Scott Pruett completing the line-up. Joint record winner of the Rolex 24, Pruett recently announced that this will be his final race before retirement. The team will be doing everything it can for him to go out on a good result.

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#19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Christian Engelhart/Christoph Lenz/Louis Machiels/Ezequiel Perez Companc/Max van Splunteren

The Lamborghini entries have looked the class of the field in pre-race testing, which bodes well for this #19 GRT Grasser entry. The team are Lamborghini experts and return with experience of this race from last year. Whilst this driver line-up may not contain the overall quality of the #11 entry, this is still a contender for class victory.

Christian Engelhart heads the driving crew, look for the car to be very quick in his hands. Ezequiel Perez Companc showed flashes of promise last year in Blancpain for the team, with Max van Splunteren an ever improving silver rated driver. These have become increasingly crucial in pro-am classes such as GTD. Christoph Lenz and Louis Machiels are two gentlemen drivers who bring plenty of GT racing experience.

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#29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS: Kelvin van der Linde/Sheldon van der Linde/Christopher Mies/Jeffrey Schmidt 

The German Land Motorsport team have risen massively in the past few years to become one of the premier Audi customer GT teams on the planet. After success in Europe the team make their full season debut in the IMSA series after several one-off entries last year that culminated in a class win at the season finale Petit Le Mans race.

South African brothers Sheldon van der Linde and Audi factory driver Kelvin will team up for the full season, and are ably supported by Christopher Mies and Jeffrey Schmidt. Mies won the Nurburgring 24 Hours with the team last year and is a very quick factory GT racer, with Schmidt well known to the team after a top ten ADAC GT Masters season with them last year. This team came within 0.3s of winning last year, so will hope they can be in the hunt again this time around.

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#33 Team Riley Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen/Adam Christodolou/Luca Stolz

The Riley motorsport team are a recent mainstay of American GT racing, returning for another year of IMSA racing with their Mercedes AMG GT3 car. The long term pairing of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen are coming off a standout year, with class victory at the Sebring 12 Hours and a close 2nd place finish in the championship.

They are joined for the Rolex 24 by Mercedes factory driver Adam Christodolou and his Blancpain GT team mate Luca Stolz. Christodolou was key to their third overall result last year with developing young driver Stolz the team can hope to achieve another class podium this year.

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#44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS: Andy Lally/John Potter/Andrew Davis/Markus Winkelhock

The John Potter run Magnus racing team have proven very popular since their inception in 2010. After a year away from IMSA racing in the Pirelli World Challenge, the team return this year for another full season effort.

Long term team mates John Potter and Andy Lally are very experience and with the support of Lally Potter is improving as a driver every year. Joining them for the endurance rounds is another experienced Audi racer, Andrew Davis. Factory Audi GT driver Markus Winkelhock adds some star power to this team, watch out for him at the wheel. A win on their debut would be the dream storyline for the team, but a top six result would be a great result in their first race back at this level.

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#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Andrea Caldarelli/Bryce Miller/Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow

The Paul Miller racing team return this year as the only team running a full season programme with the Lamborghini Huracan. The Italian car has struggled to match its success in Europe in the IMSA series but the team are sticking with what they have this year.

This also applies to their regular season pairing of Bryan Sellers and Madison for the third consecutive year. The team finished ninth last year with one podium but the Rolex 24 is always an anomaly at the start of the year, so the team could spring a surprise with a class podium if they can keep out of trouble. The team are bolstered for Daytona by Lamborghini factory driver Andrea Caldarelli and Bryce Miller. In Caldarelli’s hands the car will fly and Miller provides speed and experience at this level.

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#51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3: Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda/Daniel Serra/Paul Dalla Lana

The Spirit of Race, factory AF Corse supported team have filed a very strong single-car entry for this years Rolex 24. The team have vast experience from racing in Europe and in the WEC, with the Ferrari 488 proving a very competitive package last year also.

In terms of driving talent, with team have signed a bevy of drivers who are usually associated with Aston Martin’s. All four drivers have strong connections to the British marque, with Lamy, Lauda and Dalla Lana all WEC GTE Am champions last year. Brazilian Serra won the GTE Pro class at the Le Mans 24 Hours as a factory Aston Martin driver. All four are very quick with Dalla Lana a very competent am, which is a crucial part of this pro-am class.

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#58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: Mathieu Jaminet/Patrick Long/Christina Nielsen/Robert Renauer

Porsche racers Wright Motorsports return to the IMSA series this year after winning the Pirelli World Challenge title last year. Porsche factory driver Patrick Long returns to the team this year, and the team have partnered him with two-time reigning class champion Christina Nielsen.

The signing of Nielsen is a real coup for the team and gives them one of the strongest pairing for the season. For the Rolex 24 the team have drafted in Porsche factory driver Mathieu Jaminet and experienced Porsche customer GT exponent Robert Renauer. This team has a very strong driver line-up, ensuring that if they run cleanly they almost certainly be fighting for the win come Sunday afternoon.

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#59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R: Matteo Cairoli/Sven Muller/Harald Proczyk/Steve Smith/Randy Walls

Porsche’s WEC GTE factory team Manthey Racing have put together this customer programme for this years Rolex 24. The team are one of the leading Porsche motorsport teams on the planet, and the team have some very talented factory drivers heading this line-up.

Both Matteo Cairoli and Sven Muller are very quick young professional drivers who consistently shine at the wheel of Porsche GT cars. These two will be as quick as anyone in the class, but the other three gentlemen drivers will struggle to match their ultimate pace. Harald Proczyk makes the step up to this level after being a consistent top five runner in the burgeoning TCR Germany touring car series. Steve Smith has primarily raced in the German VLN Endurance series along with Randy Walls, all with the Manthey team.

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That wraps up the first half of my look at the very strong GTD class of this years Rolex 24, I want to say a massive thank you for anyone who has read this and don’t forget to comment, like or subscribe if you enjoyed this article. I have to say also a massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their incredible high quality photos which form part of this article. For all the latest motorsport news visit their website here. Motorsport.com . Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and stay tuned for part two of my GTD class preview, which is coming very soon!

 

 

 

 

The glory years of F3000

With next month being the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Formula 3000, the junior racing category that between the years 1985 and 2004 catapaulted many young drivers into Formula One, now seems to be an appropriate time to look back on the popular final step to F1. I’m going to focus on the late 1990’s period of the series, when the series was as exciting as F1. At it’s peak there were forty full season entries battling for twenty six spots on the grid. Despite have a spec Lola chassis and Zytek engine package, the series provided great racing during the late 1990’s, before rising costs ruined the championship by the early 2000’s.

The series seemed to take on a new step during the 1996 season, where a new for 1996 spec Lola chassis and Zytek engine package produced a titanic title battle between the RSM Marko driver Jorg Muller and Super Nova racer Kenny Brack. A contentious collision at the final race of the year at Hockenheim settled the title in Muller’s favor, with the series showing itself to be a series on the up going into 1997.


Kenny Brack in action during the 1996 F3000 season at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to unknown from Flickr.com

1997 once again provided a title battle that went on until the business end of the season. Once again it was RSM Marko and Super Nova drivers who were fighting it out for the title, the only difference being the drivers involved as the Brazilian Ricardo Zonta turned the tables on RSM Marko to claim the title by 1.5 points from the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya for RSM Marko. The series featured a talented crop of drivers as the likes of Jason Watt,Jamie Davies and Max Wilson established themselves as men to watch in their rookie years. 1997 would see the profile of the championship rise as the series gained mainstream television coverage from ITV,further enhancing the profile of the series for the future.


1997 champion Ricardo Zonta in action during the opening race of the year at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to unknown sourced from Flickr.com

For anyone also interested in this period of F3000 racing, EdwinTV9 has kindly posted the 1997 ITV season review on Youtube. The link is below, feel free to view it.

1998 was a stellar season for F3000, the last year of the Lola T96/50 chassis produced a thrilling title battle between Super Nova driver Juan Pablo Montoya and the young German Nick Heidfeld. The profile of the series continued upwards in 1998 as established F3000 teams such as Super Nova, DAMS and Astromega were joined by the likes of West Competition team and the RTL Team Oreca. These were big for the series as the West Competition team was a McLaren junior team to help Nick Heidfeld progress, with the RTL Team Oreca being a BMW junior team also. This showed the growing manufacture influence with the F3000 series.

On the track Juan Pablo Montoya prevailed over Nick Heidfeld after a final round showdown, with the Williams test driver Montoya taking his talents to the highly competitive CART series in America, a title he duly won in 1999 before winning the prestigious Indy 500 in 2000 and returning to the F1 paddock with Williams in 2001. Of the rest Gonzalo Rodriguez impressed in his second year with two wins in the final three races, with Jason Watt once again showing his talents in 1998 for the Den Bla Avis team.

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Juan Pablo Montoya in action during his title winning year in 1998. Photo credit goes to unknown sourced from Flickr.com

Also individual videos reviewing the 1998 F3000 season can be found on Youtube. The coverage come from ITV highlights and the first round link can be found below. Feel free to watch.

1999 was arguably the most successful year for the F3000 series during it’s existence as the new Lola B99/50 chassis produced grids of close to forty cars fighting over twenty six grid spots. The 45 minute qualifying sessions suddenly became like races themselves as everyone fought to get into the main race. By now the series was supporting the F1 races the entire year with every race supporting a European F1 grand prix weekend.

This link to the F1 paddock was now becoming far more obvious in F3000, with the West Competition team fielding Nick Heidfeld again as his dominated the year to comfortably win the title, with Gonzalo Rodriguez finishing third posthumenously in his Benetton backed Team Astromega entry, whilst Stephane Sarrazin impressed in his second year in the category for the Gauloises Formula Prost junior entry. Other teams dipping from F1 into F3000 included Williams with their all Brazilian Petrobras junior team, Sauber with their Red Bull junior/RSM Marko team and the short lived Portman-Arrows team, which only survived three races despite Arrows F1 support.

1999 would prove to be a year of both tragedy and transition for the category, with firstly the tragic death of paddock favourite Gonzalo Rodriguez whilst qualifying for his second CART race for Team Penske at Laguna Seca. Soon after this second place driver Jason Watt was involved in a motorcycle accident during a magazine photo shoot, leaving him paralyzed and therefore ending his single seater racing ambitions. Along with Nick Heidfeld moving up to F1 for 2000, the series was looking for a new crop of talent to come to the fore in the upcoming 2000 season.


Nick Heidfeld celebrating victory in Hungry during his dominant title victory in 1999. photo credit goes to Formula1.com

2000 was largely similar to 1999, the only major difference being a rule implemented before the start of the season to limit the grid to fifteen teams of two entries, meaning several of the smaller team were forced out of the series after poor 1999 seasons. This made the grid a lot more stable throughout the year, which was another classic season of F3000 as third year drivers Bruno Junqueira for the Williams affiliated Petrobras junior team and Benetton backed D2 Playlife Super Nova drivers Nicolas Minassian. Junqueira was the second half of the Williams shootout for a race drive in 2000, infamously losing out to Jenson Button before claiming the F3000 title. The series struggled to produce a crop of incoming talent to F1, as both Junqueira and Minassian taking their talents to Chip Ganassi Racing in the CART series for 2001.

This seemed strange as the series F1 links grew stronger in 2000 with the European Arrows team being set up as a junior squad for the F1 team, with eight F1 test drivers racing in the category in 2000. Behind Junqueira and Minassian rookie’s Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso impressed, with Alonso joining Minardi for the 2001 F1 season, before Webber replaced him for the 2002 season. In retrospect it appears the 2000 season was a watershed moment for the F3000 series, with sadly the series having it’s final days in the sun in 2000 before the series began to implode as rising costs ruined the series.


Bruno Junqueira on his way to winning the 2000 F3000 title in his brightly coloured Petrobras junior racing entry. Photo credit unknown sourced from Paul11f1.wordpress.com

The series lost more back marker teams with the grid reducing from 30 to 26 cars for the 2001 season. The series incorporated a inaugural fly-away round to open the season, supporting the Brazilian Grand Prix. The F1 only grew even stronger this year with Minardi sponsoring the Coloni team to become European Minardi for 2001, although the grid did lose the McLaren junior team after a difficult 2000 season for the team. Coca-Cola also came on board sponsoring the Nordic racing team, showing the prestige the series held at this time.

The Coca-Cola support of Nordic racing was timely as their driver Justin Wilson dominated the series to claim a comfortable title, beating Benetton backed Super Nova driver Mark Webber, team mate Tomas Enge and DAMS driver Sebastien Bourdais. The standard at the top of the grid was as good as ever, although the overall quality of the grid was slipping slightly from the landmark years of the series in the late 1990’s.


Justin Wilson in action during his F3000 title year in 2001. He went on to impress when he could during a short F1 career after this.
Photo credit goes to LAT.com sourced from AtlasF1.autosport.com .

From here the series dwindled in both popularity and relevance to F1 during the next few years, with the only champion between 2002 and the series end in 2004 to get an F1 drive the following year was Tonio Luizzi, and he shared a half season drive with Red Bull Racing in 2005. 2002 champion Sebastien Bourdais took his talents to America, winning the Champ Car series four years in a row between 2004 and 2007, before impressing in flashes with Scuderia Toro Rosso in one and a half years of F1, before being dropped halfway through the 2009 season. 2003 champion Bjorn Wirdheim has never started a F1 grand prix, becoming a third driver for Jaguar racing in 2004, before switching to Champ Car and subsequently establishing himself in the Japanese Super Formula single seater and Super GT series over the last several years.

F3000 was sadly replaced by GP2 for the 2005 season, something which was a shame but ultimately necessary as the F3000 series had simply run out of steam. The series was fantastic whilst it lasted, with it’s glory years surely making the series the most high profile junior category ever. We will likely never see again a grid full of forty cars competing to even qualify for an F1 supporting event, which simply shows the strength the F3000 series once had. It is a sorely missed final step on the ladder to F1.

Any thoughts on this article feel free to post a comment good or bad on the F3000 series.