Felix Rosenqvist

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 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.

FIA Formula 3 European Championship, round 1, Silverstone (GBR)

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.

 

Starworks Motorsport Preview

The build up to the Rolex 24 at Daytona is always a stressful time for both the teams and the drivers competing. The opening round of the revamped WeatherTech Sportscar Championship always brings questions for the longest race of the year, and this year will be no different.

With this in mind, the Florida based Starworks Motorsport team were kind enough to give me an insight into their thoughts and preparations for the race. The team have two entries in the Prototype Challenge class and have a good chance of winning the class this year. They let me ask their drivers Renger Van Der Zande of the #8 car and newcomer Felix Rosenqvist of the #88 about their preparations for this race and their future plans. Here are there responses, starting with Van Der Zande first.

Q1)First of all, how have your and the team’s preparations for this race been going so far?

Its better than the other two years before. I am at the track now and the car is ready, the plan is sorted and we can start thinking about the details already now. It’s good.

Q2)What do you think are your chances of claiming the class victory going into the race?

The line up on our car is great–actually the best in the field. Jack and I have both been very fast in this class compared to the other pro’s and for the silver rated drivers Alex and Chris are literally the fastest guys. This gives confidence but we still need quite a bit of luck too, as a 24h race is very very long.

Q3)Now, you’ve made the American sportscar racing scene your home for the last few years, how was the transition from the European single seater/racing scene to the American sportscar scene and are their any similarities/differences between them?

Endurance racing is much different than formula cars. Here we can damage the car and start repairing and get out again. As the races are long you can still grab valuable points or good end results. There is a lot of strategy to think about. I like that part a lot more over sprint racing where the short races can be over because of very small details.

Q4)Your signed up for the full WeatherTech Sportscar season, but who do you think are your closest rivals for the class championship?

Core is always fast and their car is always reliable. Speed-wise we are on top, and we now have to raise the reliability to win the championship.

Q5)Your going to be competing in the Dubai 24 Hours, Rolex 24 hours and Bathurst 12 Hours within the same month, what are the challenges of competing in three very tough races within the space of a month?

It’s just an awesome preparation for the rest of the season. And very nice to kill the cold wintertime is Florida, the emirates and Oz.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-8-starworks-motorsports-oreca-flm09-jack-hawskworth-chris-cumming-renThe #8 Starworks Motorsport entry of Renger Van Der Zande in action during practice. 

And here are Rosenqvist’s responses also.

Q1)How have both your and the team’s preparations been going for the race this weekend?

It’s all quite busy and you have to use every minute you can to jump in the car and get comfortable with all the buttons and tools etc. I think you’re always abit nervous going into something new like this, but I’m sure once you get your first stint out of the way it will be much more clear!

Q2)Now, how has your transition been coming from European F3 to the Prototype challenge class, especially learning the Daytona circuit also?

It’s a very different car, but I think I benefit from having formula experience since the car has a fair bit of downforce. In the end it’s just another car with 4 wheels, and you get used to it after you get some laps in.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-88-starworks-motorsport-oreca-flm09-mark-kvamme-sean-johnston-maro-enThe Florida’s team second entry is Prototype Challenge is this #88 car. Both have a good chance of class victory come Sunday afternoon.

Q3)With your next career move unclear at this present time, would a move into sportscar racing be something that is appealing to you?

It’s for sure something I’m looking at. There are many good options out there, I just have to sort of find out what would be the best move for me!

Q4)What do you think your car’s chances are of claiming a good result this weekend?

I think we have a very good shot at the win and it’s just all about keeping cool until the last hour, if you can be on the lead lap then with an undamaged car – there you go!

Q5)At the moment, is this a one-off race for you or could we see you returning to the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship later in the season?

There’s definitely a possibility. The Petit Le Mans has always been one race I wanted to get off the list.

Both drivers appear to be quietly confident going into the race, but are also respectful of this long distance race where anything can happen. We will have to see this weekend if the Rolex 24 hours is going to be cruel or kind to the two drivers and their respective cars.

I would like to thank everyone at Starworks Motorsport for their co-operation and their drivers Renger Van Der Zande and Felix Rosenqvist for taking the time to answer these questions. Finally I would like to thank first of all Kelly Brouillet at KBru Communications for her help in setting up these interviews and to motorsport.com for the high quality photos you see in this article.

What are your thoughts on the chances for the Starworks Motorsport team going into the 2016 edition of the Rolex 24 hours? Please feel free to comment below and thank you for reading.