Ferrari

2020 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

Part three of my review looks at the super competitive GTLM class. If you would like to read part two of my preview looking at the LMP2 class, you can find it here. You can also find part one, looking at the DPI class here.

The class is much changed for 2020, with the biggest news being Ford’s withdrawal after four successful years with their Ford GT. Their loss brings the class down to seven entries, however don’t be mistaken into thinking the class is struggling. Four different makes, all with factory line-up’s will be competing for the coveted Rolex watch. This class is arguably the most competitive in the series, and will be fought tooth and nail for 24 hours.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R: Nicky Catsburg/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor

Corvette Racing returns for it’s 21st year of IMSA competition, but it’s all change this year. The team are debuting their new Corvette C8.R, the first mid-engined Corvette. Gone is the distinctive thunderous noise, a by-product of needing to remain competitive.

There’s a new face on the driving front too, with former DPI star Jordan Taylor moving from dad Wayne Taylor’s team to join Corvette Racing. Spaniard Antonio Garcia returns for his seventh full year with the team, with former BMW factory driver Nicky Catsburg as the third driver.

The team understandably focused on reliability at the Roar, with the car running faultlessly across the three days. This #3 entry completed over 160 laps, as they learn about this new mid-engined Corvette. Garcia was last in the qualifying session, but was only 0.4s off the ultimate pace. This emphasises just how competitive this class is.

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#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R: Marcel Fassler/Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner

The #4 crew are looking to bounce back after a tough 2019 season. Eighth in the standings and no wins is something the team isn’t used to. The new C8.R is a bold step for the team, but something they felt they needed to do.

The team retain Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner for their ninth season as a duo. Marcel Fassler is the third driver, and has with plenty of experience with Corvette Racing. The Roar went perfectly for the #4 crew, completing 180 laps across the three days and Milner put the car third in the qualifying session, only one tenth off the pace.

Debuting a new car in a 24 hour race doesn’t usually go well, but Corvette Racing have done everything they can to make this car reliable straight out the box.

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#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: John Edwards/Augusto Farfus/Jesse Krohn/Chaz Mostert

BMW put an end to their WEC program, but they remain committed to IMSA. It’s a case of much the same with BMW, retaining the same car, team and full season drivers for this #24 entry. This team will want a chance to repeat their teammates Rolex 24 win last year.

American John Edwards and Finnish racer Jesse Krohn return, aiming to improve upon seventh in the standings last year. BMW factory racer Augusto Farfus joins, along with Australian V8 Supercars star Chaz Mostert.

Krohn put the car fourth in the qualifying session at the Roar, but only a tenth and a half off the ultimate pace. They completed 165 laps over the three days, although never troubled the top of the times.

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#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Connor De Phillippi/Philipp Eng/Colton Herta/Bruno Spengler

The #25 crew enter as defending champions, being in the right place at the time when torrential rain prematurely stopped the race. The team are entering their third year with this M8 GTE, and have shown the car is built to last 24 hours.

Connor De Phillippi returns for the season, with Canadian Bruno Spengler replacing the departed Tom Blomqvist. Spengler has waved goodbye to the German DTM series, and now takes up a sportscar role full time. Joining them at Daytona is Philipp Eng and Colton Herta. Eng is a superstar for BMW in GT3 racing, with Herta one of the rising stars of Indycar.

In Eng’s hands the car was sixth in qualifying, only 0.3s off the top of the times. The team showed early pace, topping both sessions two and three on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning respectively. Based off the Roar, this is the BMW showing itself to have the better chance of a repeat Rolex 24 win.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE Evo: James Calado/Alessandro Pier Guidi/Davide Rigon/Daniel Serra 

Renowned Ferrari team Risi Competitzione return for another chance of a Rolex watch. The single car team are the only non-factory team in GTLM, however they still have plenty of Ferrari support. This is the IMSA debut for the new Evo spec 488 GTE, with the previous spec winning last time out at Petit Le Mans last October.

The team have a full Ferrari factory line-up, consisting of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon and Daniel Serra. Calado, Pier Guidi and Serra all won at Petit Le Mans, meanwhile Rigon joined the team for their run to second here last year.

The team only competed in two races last year, however they scored a second and a win in those outings. Calado also set the fastest time in qualifying, and the team were able to complete 165 laps in the three days. Their pace and consistency across the Roar shows this team is a serious contender for GTLM victory at a Daytona circuit that suits the Ferrari.

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#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19: Matt Campbell/Frederic Makowiecki/Nick Tandy

CORE Autosport return to run the Porsche factory GT IMSA program this year, after a year of unrivaled success. The team finished 1-2 in the points, with six wins from the possible eleven rounds. Sadly for the #911 crew it was their team mates that won the title, but a Sebring 12 Hours class win is a very good consolation.

Nick Tandy returns for the season, and is joined by Frenchman Frederic Makowiecki. Makowiecki was previously the third driver for the endurance rounds but steps up after ditching his Super GT commitments with Nissan in Japan. Newly elevated factory ace Matt Campbell completes the trio.

This is the IMSA debut for the new spec Porsche 911 RSR, which has already won two of four races in the WEC. Tandy put the car second in qualifying, agonizingly only one thousandth of a second from Calado. The car ran faultlessly at the Roar, managing 171 laps along with consistently quick times.

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#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19: Earl Bamber/Mathieu Jaminet/Laurens Vanthoor

The #912 crew came out on top in 2019, and will be aiming to repeat this year. The best way to start a GTLM title defense will be with a Rolex 24 win. The new spec Porsche 911 RSR has looked quick both at the Roar and in the WEC, so all the signs point towards another good year for Porsche.

Close friends Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor return, with Mathieu Jaminet stepping up from GT3 racing into the third driver role. All three are prodigiously quick GT drivers who can set consistently quick lap times for multiple stints at a time.

The Roar went well for the team. They were consistently quick over the three days, most notably topping the night time session on Saturday. The car ran faultlessly through the test, which is a great sign for a new spec car. The only blemish for the team was their poor display in qualifying, with Vanthoor putting the car fifth. This session only decided pit box allocation for the race, but in a class as closely fought as GTLM, the small margins can decide the race.

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That wraps up my preview for the GTLM class with the Rolex 24 almost upon us. This class always provides scintillating battles for 24 hours, and this year will be no different. Expect this class to go right to the chequered flag. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you have any thoughts on this piece, and thank you for reading! A massive thanks must go to Motorsport.com for the great photos in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Initial Observations From F1 Pre-Season Testing Part 2

This is the second part of my initial look at the Formula One grid after the first test of the 2017 season. As I mentioned yesterday this year has seen a seismic change with the rules as the cars have been given bigger tyres and more aggressive aero, with the intention of increasing lap times significantly.  (more…)

Initial Observations From F1 Pre-Season Testing

This week Formula One 2017 fired into life with the first pre-season test at the Barcelona circuit, the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. After the initial launches of the new 2017 spec cars last week, many questioned whether the established order from years previous would be shaken by the new 2017 regulations?

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Spa 24 Hours Set To Be A Classic

This weekend the sportscar world will once again focus on the annual Spa 24 Hours, which in recent years has become the home of GT3 racing as the category has breathed new life into this classic sportscar endurance race. The entry list excels in both quantity and quality, with 58 cars on the current entry list, all filled with the finest GT works supported drivers in the world.

GT3 racing has provided brilliantly competitive racing since it’s inception in 2006, and this years Spa 24 Hours will likely be a highly competitive sprint race for 24 hours. Last years winners Laurens Vanthoor, Rene Rast and Markus Winkelhock return this year with their new 2015 spec Audi R8 LMS run by the works supported Team WRT. Team WRT and fellow Audi R8 LMS works supported Team Phoenix will provide stern opposition to the rest of the field, although GT3 racing in 2015 boasts a bevy of manufacters and works drivers aiming to topple Audi this year.

Not that Audi have not fully prepared to defend their Spa victory from last year, with a further four works supported Pro cup class entries, with the likes of Robin Frijns, Stephane Ortelli, Andre Lotterer and Mike Rockenfeller joining high quality driver line up’s across all six works supported entries.

Bentley and Lamborghini are the new kids on the GT3 block, although both have shown tremendous pace and have scored some good results, as both will look for a upset victory in this years race. Both have the manufacters full support behind them, along with a bevy of very fast and consistent drivers. The only knock on both manufacters might be their sheer number of entries, as Bentley have three Pro cup cars across M-Sport and Bentley Team HTP, whilst the Grasser Lamborghini team field only two of the new Huracan GT3 cars, compared to the five Audi’s in the Pro cup.

The BMW effort will once again this year be led by the Belgian Marc VDS team, who will field their usual two car effort filled with a line up of factory BMW drivers such as Maxime Martin. BMW have also taken some of the pre-race headlines thanks to the sole Pro cup ROAL Italian BMW entry which will be driven by factory drivers Timo Glock, Bruno Spengler and Alex Zanardi. The Italian will receive a lot of attention throughout the week, and the incredible Italian will be keen to show his pace as he gets up to speed with the Z4 GT3 car.

Once again Mercedes return with four Pro cup SLS GT3 entries, which marks a downfall for the usual hordes of Mercedes SLS entries in the premier class of the Blancpain series. With a new spec SLS due next year this may help explain the slight drop in numbers for this year, however this does not mean a lack of quality from the Mercedes entries, as they will hope to all achieve a good result from the usually bullet proof reliability of the SLS AMG GT3.

As for Nissan, their GT-R Nismo GT3 racer has two Pro cup entries, one of which is the famous GT academy entry. This car is also a very reliable entry, although the relative strength of their two entries compared to the rest may leave them struggling to produce a top three result without any misfortune for others. Do not however underestimate the Nissan entries, including in the Pro-Am class.

For Aston Martin, the majority of their entries come in the Pro-Am class, with only one Pro cup entry for the privateer Oman racing team. Aston Martin has given a lot of support with factory drivers and crew for the Pro-Am entries over the past few years. For the Oman racing team they may also struggle slightly in the highly competitive Pro cup, although a top five result is definitely possible including for the Pro-am factory assisted teams.

McLaren bring two new 650S factory supported entries run by VonRyan racing, with an all star cast driver line up, which should give McLaren a good chance of a good result if they can get the car working with the circuit. If so, a repeat of their dominant Silverstone win earlier this season could be possible, although the old MP4-12C seemed to struggle at Spa in the past. The ultimate potential of the car is currently unknown, therefore the team can only hope the 650S runs reliably, leaving the experienced drivers to show their pace throughout the race.

The only majorly represented manufacter who is not in the Pro cup is Ferrari with their 458 Italia. On the other hand, the manufacter has a good selection of factory supported privateer teams in the Pro-am class, and any Ferrari GT entry with Gianmaria Bruni behind the wheel deserves to be seen as a serious contender in it’s class. Whilst their are no Pro cup 458 entries the driver line up’s in the Pro-am class are good enough for this very quick car to be contending in the top five overall, and most certainly for Pro-am class honors come Sunday afternoon.

That wraps up my look at all of the major manufacters entered in this weekend’s Total Spa 24 Hours, and in terms of predicting a winner it’s almost impossible to guess correctly who will win. This is because the Blancpain endurance series is so highly competitive, with different contenders at each track.

If I ultimately had to pick a potential winner for me it’s very hard to look past the reigning champion #1 WRT Audi R8 LMS entry. The new car has looked quick this year, and with such a stellar driver line up and well organised team behind this entry they surely have to be car to beat going into the race weekend. What are your thoughts on contenders for this weekend’s Spa 24 Hours, or do you disagree with my prediction. Please comment and let me know your prediction for victory contenders come Sunday afternoon.

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE Pro Preview Part 2

After part 1 previewing the GTE Pro class at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, part 2 looks at the remaining contenders in this fiercely competitive GTE Pro class. With four manufactures and their hord of professional factory drivers set to compete flat out for 24 Hours, their battle for class victory will be scintillating to watch throughout the race.

#92 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 991 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Frederic Makowiecki/Wolf Henzler The second Porsche Team Manthey entry is much like every other GTE Pro car in that it has a great chance at a class victory, with a top line Porsche factory team and a full line up of factory drivers in this car.

This entry has been fighting with Aston Martin and Ferrari all season so far in the World Endurance Championship, and will be looking to continue this fight at Le Mans. On the driving front this entry has one of the best GT drivers in the world in Frenchman Frederic Makowiecki. Partnering him are long time Porsche factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Wolf Henzler, with all three highly professional drivers who will be delivering consistently quick stints throughout the race.

Amongst the very close GTE Pro field, separating a favourite is too hard to predict. Therefore the winner of this class will be the one who can keep out of trouble during the race, as every entry has the potential to be contending for class honours in the final hours of the race. #95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Marco Sorensen/Nicki Thiim/Christoffer Nygaard

The all-Danish “Dane train” Aston Martin which dominated the GTE Am class last year, has this year stepped up to the cut and thrust of the GTE Pro field. So far the team has shown it can handle the step up, with solid top six placings in the opening two WEC rounds.

Nicki Thiim is the only driver who remains from the Danish trio from last year, with new team mates Marco Sorensen and Christoffer Nygaard for this year. Nygaard has moved across from the sister #98 entry for this year, with the young Dane and GP2 racer Marco Sorensen completing the line up.

Thiim and Nygaard will provide good pace and experience behind the wheel, with the young charger Sorensen balancing his GP2 season with a switch to GT racing. All three will be looking to impress at Le Mans, although in this hugely competitive class, it may be difficult for this team to move up to GTE Pro and win Le Mans in their first year. A class podium would be a great result for the “Dane Train 2.0”. 

#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Rob Bell

This number 97 Aston Martin will be the one that stands out throughout the race week, as this car will have a very distinctive ‘art car’ livery by artists Tobias Rehberger. As well as standing out for it’s art car livery, it will also stand out as this car will likely be the one that leads the Aston Martin charge for class victory in the race.

The Aston Martin team are regulars now in the highest level of GT racing, and have come very close to winning the GTE Pro class the past two years. This year the team will be aiming for a class victory, and this car is the one most likely to deliver it.

Experience is the name of the game with this driver line up, with Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Rob Bell all being long term factory drivers for Aston Martin. Their speed and experience will be a potent combination in the race, and if the team can avoid misfortune this car will be fighting for victory going into the final hours of the race for sure.

#99 Aston Martin Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Fernando Rees/Alex MacDowall/Richie Stanaway

The third and final works Aston Martin racing entry at Le Mans is the Number 99 car, which goes into the 24 hours on great form after taking the class win at the most recent WEC round at Spa a month ago. This car is very much in the hunt for the WEC drivers title after two rounds, and with Le Mans being a double points round this weekend will have a big outcome on the championship.

Both Fernando Rees and Alex MacDowall will be hoping for much better luck this year, after a huge practice crash for Rees last year forced the team to withdraw from the race on the opening day of running. This year they both have a new team mate in young New Zealand hotshot Richie Stanaway. He has shown well in GP3 and especially GP2 this season, and his fresh injection of pace will only add further strength to this car’s chances of a class win.

If all three drivers have a close to perfect race, their talent and this Aston Martin Vantage will have more than enough pace to take an unexpected GTE Pro class win, although if the car suffers any misfortune in the race it will be difficult to see them being able recover enough to claim the victory. A podium will be a very good result for this team, although a class win is a definite possibility.

That wraps up my look at a very competitive GTE Pro class, hope you enjoy this article and any comments would be appreciate both good and bad. I have to add thanks to Motorsport.com for their amazing, high quality photos which you see in this article. I urge you to go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for all the latest news and photos from the motorsport world. Next up will be a preview of the LMP2 class.

Hamilton takes wet pole from Vettel

Lewis Hamilton mastered the wet but drying conditions in the final Q3 session to claim pole by the narrowest of margins over the resurgent Sebastien Vettel and Ferrari. Nico Rosberg will be slightly disappointed with third although this still leaves him in a good position for the race tomorrow.

Q1 began with increasingly darkening skies as everyone worried as to when the thunderstorm clouds surrounding the circuit would finally envelop it. Everyone was quick to get out on track once the session began, all hoping to get in a banker lap time in case the rain began to fall.

Lewis Hamilton was top of the times after everyone’s first laps, with a 1m39.269 enough to oust Rosberg by 0.105 of a second. From here things began to follow a more regular Q1 pattern, with the front runners returning to the pits whilst the rest fought it out to make it into Q2. Of those eliminated at the end of Q1 it was the two Manor-Marussia entries that ended the session at the back of the field.

Brit Will Stevens wasn’t able to get out on track with an electrical problem, whilst Spanish rookie team mate Roberto Merhi was 19th, with a time just outside the 107% rule. Despite both being outside the cut off time to race, it appears they may well be able to race with the ultimate decision coming from the race stewards. The team will be hoping they can make their 2015 debut this weekend after not being able to run in Australia.

Next up were the two McLaren’s, with Jenson Button out qualifying Fernando Alonso in 17th and 18th. Whilst this wasn’t the positions the team were hoping for, they are encouraged by their step up this weekend, the team seemingly finding 0.8 of a second since the opening Australian GP. The final driver eliminated in Q1 was Australian GP hero Felipe Nasr, who struggled on his final lap and starts 16th.

On to Q2 and once again the grid filed out very early on in the session, with the threat of rain becoming very real now. Everyone was able to set one banker lap before the light rain started at the back edge of the circuit. From here it was all downhill as the downpour started in earnest. It appears across the world that Malaysia has the strongest downpours, with the track instantly soaked by the onslaught of heavy rain. With this the drivers retreated to the pits, bringing an end to the track running in Q2.

Kimi Raikkonen was the highest profile casualty with his Ferrari held up on his hot lap by Marcus Ericsson on his own timed lap, leaving the Finn 11th. Pastor Maldonado was 12th for Lotus, whilst the two Sahara-Force India’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez 13th and 14th respectively. Completing the top 15 is rookie Carlos Sainz in his Scuderia Toro Rosso. He will likely be slightly disappointed with this as he looked confident in the dry Q1 session, and looked likely to make Q3 before the rainfall.

After a 30 minute delay whilst the Safety Car assessed the track conditions, the final twelve minute Q3 shootout for pole got underway, with the majority of the ten remaining cars heading out with intermediate tyres on. The field were all once again out early as they hoped to dry the track for optimal performance later on in the session. As with seemingly the rest of the qualifying session Hamilton was fastest after their first timed runs, with a scintillating 1m49.834 lap time a huge 1.232 seconds quicker than team mate Nico Rosberg in second.

From here they all returned to the pits, preparing themselves for the crucial final run to decide the grid. The end of the session was slightly anti-climatic as both Hamilton nor Rosberg were able to improve their times on their final laps. This opened the door for an inspired Sebastien Vettel to claim second on the grid, only 0.074 from snatching a very unlikely pole for the resurgent Ferrari team.

Rosberg will surely be disappointed with third on the grid, showing the level of dominance the team has enjoyed over the past year or so. Daniel Ricciardo will be pleased with fourth after a difficult opening race for the Red Bull team, with team mate Daniil Kvyat right behind him in fifth. Max Verstappen belied his lack of experience with a very impressive qualifying session, culminating with sixth in tricky conditions. Whilst other more experienced drivers struggled he delivered for the Scuderia Toro Rosso team.

Felipe Massa was seventh for Williams, a disappointing return from qualifying as the team were hampered by their decision to start the session on full wet tyres instead of intermediates. They always looked to be chasing time and will be hoping tomorrow’s race is dry so they can show their full potential in the race. Romain Grosjean will be happy to be eighth as the Lotus team still adjusts to their new Mercedes engine.

The final row of the top ten is completed by Valtteri Bottas, returning after missing the Australian GP with a back injury he aggravated in qualifying. Marcus Ericsson starts in the top ten for the first time with tenth, showing Sauber will be competing for points in tomorrow’s race.

This qualifying session has provided some interesting story lines going into tomorrow’s race in Malaysia, with an earlier starting time reducing the chance of rain returning during the Grand Prix tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if Sebastien Vettel will be able to seriously challenge the AMG Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg, although if Hamilton carries on his current momentum this weekend he looks almost unstoppable on track. There will be plenty to keep you tuned in tomorrow in the Malaysian GP.

2015 Sebring 12 Hours GTLM Preview

The latest installment of my series previewing this weekend’s iconic Sebring 12 Hours, the second round of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship, previews the highly competitive GT Le Mans class for GTE Le Mans spec race cars. This class is swarming with big budget factory teams and all star casts of drivers, something which makes this class arguably the most competitive on the TUSC grid. Predicting a winner is almost impossible but here’s my best shot at it!

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Ryan Briscoe

This Corvette Racing entry are coming into Sebring full of confidence after an impressive class win at the opening Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona. The Corvette crew won out against a plethora of fellow factory entries, eventually finishing an outstanding 4th overall, which just shows how high the quality is in this GTLM class.

Corvette Racing have been a powerhouse in American GT  racing for over a decade now and what their Pratt & Miller team doesn’t know about long distance sportscar racing, frankly isn’t worth knowing. This combination of experience and high quality is reflected in their driver line-up too.

Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia are the full season drivers, both highly experienced and very fast Corvette drivers. Indycar star Ryan Briscoe completes the line up, bringing again both speed and experience with the Corvette C7.R race car. Corvette racing can never be discounted in GT racing, and this time out the team and this #3 entry will be hoping for yet another class win for Corvette Racing this weekend.

#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Simon Pagenaud

The Corvette Racing team started the year meaning business with an impressive run to first and third on the GTLM podium at the opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, unfortunately for the #4 crew it was their Corvette C7.R that had to complete the podium in third. Whilst this is still an amazing result, for a team used to winning third just won’t quite cut it for them. Therefore watch out for this #4 entry this weekend as the team look to reclaim the top step on the GTLM class podium come the end of the 12 Hours.

The Sebring 12 Hours is renowned for being a very difficult race to master, with some calling it the toughest sportscar race in the world. The #4 crew will be feeling up for the challenge however with the might of Corvette Racing behind them and a stellar driving cast.

Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner are both seriously quick and experienced GT drivers for Corvette Racing, whilst the hiring of Indycar rising star Simon Pagenaud for the long distance races was an inspired move by the team. Whilst he lacks GT experience, Pagenaud is seriously quick and could spring a surprise this weekend. Whilst the team will be looking for a good result to collect a haul of points for the championship, they will also be sniffing for victory should they have a clean run in the race.

#17 Team Falken Tires Porsche 911 991 RSR: Bryan Sellers/Wolf Henzler/Patrick Long

This Falken Tires outfit suffered at the Rolex 24, with a cruel engine blowup on Sunday morning forcing them out of the battle for the class lead with only a few hours remaining. Whilst it was desperately cruel luck for this team, they can take solace from their strong showing until the blowup.

This team will therefore be looking to avenge their late retirement and get back into the title fight with a strong showing this weekend. The team have spent several seasons now gaining experience and developing their unique Falken Tires, which could prove to either be an advantage or disadvantage on the rest of their competitiors depending on how they set up their car and the quality of their tyre allocation.

The team has a very strong driver line up with Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler being joined by Porsche factory GT driver Patrick Long for the long distance events. Long adds crucial speed and experience with in-depth knowledge of the 911 GT race car, which alongside Sellers and Henzler make this entry one to watch out. Whilst this class is full of factory GT outfits, don’t be at all surprised if this independent Falken Tire team spoil the party and claim class honors for themselves come the end of 12 hours of frantic GT action.

#24 IHG Rewards Club BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE: John Edwards/Lucas Luhr/Jens Klingmann

The BMW Team RLL team were the closest challengers to Corvette Racing in the final hours of the Rolex 24, which was slightly surprising considering the strength of the BMW Z4 GTE has always been it’s higher downforce, nimble agility rather than the out and out straight line speed that is primarily needed to run quickly on the Daytona track. This #24 entry suffered some small issues during the race, although still finished a respectable 4th in class.

For the works BMW team however and this #24 entry 4th won’t be enough to satisfy them, as they will look to improve this weekend at a circuit that should suit the strengths of their Z4 more than Daytona did. On the driving front the team has a very quick line up with two young GT charges John Edwards and Jens Klingmann providing blistering pace for the team whilst the very experienced sportscar racer Lucas Luhr provides the calm experience needed to complete the 12 hours without any major dramas.

This BMW RLL Team will be looking for the couple of tenths they appear to need to beat Corvette Racing in a straight fight, although the twistier nature of the track may be all they need to snatch a class win this weekend, with this #24 crew hoping it’s them and not the sister #25 entry that leads the BMW challenge in GTLM this weekend.

#25 IHG Rewards Club BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE: Bill Auberlen/Dirk Werner/Augusto Farfus

The #25 entry from BMW Team RLL was tantalizingly close to claiming class honors at the Rolex 24, falling just 0.478 of a second behind the victorious #3 Chevrolet Corvette, after 24 hours of high octane racing. It’s impossible in a sportscar race 24 hours in length to get closer to a victory, with the team hoping to make the small improvement needed to claim class victory this weekend.

This BMW Team RLL has become a very professional and well drilled outfit, ran by Bobby Rahal, and their BMW Z4 GTE  should be on form again this weekend at Sebring. The driving talent in this #25 BMW entry is impressive with the vastly experienced and fast Bill Auberlen anchoring the line up, alongside team mate Dirk Werner and BMW factory DTM driver Augusto Farfus to complete the trio. With the team coming so close at Daytona, you can be sure they will be doing everything in their power to finish the job this weekend and claim class honors.

#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia: Pierre Kaffer/Giancarlo Fisichella/Andrea Bertolini

The #62 Risi Ferrari team were running strongly in the opening hours of the Rolex 24, before a serious engine problem ruined their race and forced the team into retirement. This was not the start to the 2015 Tudor United Sportscar Championship season this team was expecting, and they will be looking to bounce back to the rightful spot at the front of the GTLM class battle this weekend.

The Risi team is one of the strongest Ferrari GT teams in the world, with Ferrari factory assistance adding to the highly professional and long standing team. In terms of driving talent the team has three stars with factory Ferrari GT driver Giancarlo Fisichella leading the line up, with Pierre Kaffer and Andrea Bertolini providing a wealth of experience and consistent speed, which will be crucial in their fight for class victory. This team is looking to bounce back after Daytona, and don’t be surprised if they do so in resounding fashion with a class win this weekend at Sebring.

#98 Gulf Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE: Pedro Lamy/Paul Dalla Lana/Darren Turner/Mathias Lauda

The Aston Martin Racing factory team suffered a difficult start to their return to American GT racing at the Rolex 24, suffering several problems which left the team on the fringes of the top five in GTLM come the finish. The team will therefore be hoping to have unlocked some extra speed from their Vantage GTE car this weekend at Sebring, as it hopes for a much stronger showing this time out.

On the driving front the team also suffered slightly compared to the rest, with long time Aston Martin factory drivers Darren Turner and Pedro Lamy leading the line up, although the car’s overall pace dropped off slightly when new Aston Martin factory driver Mathias Lauda and the only amateur in the GTLM class in Paul Dalla Lana.

Whilst both Lauda and Dalla Lana were still quick, their pace couldn’t quite match the rest of the very fast professional GT drivers in their class, which is to expected considering the experience compared to the rest.This weekend the team will be hoping for an upturn in their fortunes, although they may struggle to fight for class honors a podium is a definite possibility for this very well run Aston Martin Racing team.

#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 991 RSR: Nick Tandy/Patrick Pilet/Richard Lietz

For the Porsche North America factory racing team it was not a happy return to the Rolex 24 after a class victory on their debut in 2014, this year the race dealt them some cruel luck and the team stumbled through the 24 hours, although the #911 entry did well in it’s recovery drive as they soldiered through the field to an eventual 4th in class. Embarrassingly both cars collided with each other during the late evening at Daytona, something the team will be hoping does not derail their run at Sebring.

Porsche are always professional and highly organised in their running of a team, and they always manage to find a bevy of drivers with both blinding pace and the consistency that make a great sportscar driver. On this front the team has a brilliant line up of their latest recruit Nick Tandy, alongside long standing Porsche factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz.

Whilst the Porsche factory team suffered a difficult opening Rolex 24, the fact this #911 entry still finished 4th in class despite it’s problems shows that when this team has a clean run, they will be right there with the contenders fighting for the victory, something they hope to achieve starting this weekend.

#912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 991 RSR: Jorg Bergmeister/Earl Bamber/Frederic Makowiecki

The #912 Porsche entry suffered even more bad luck than their sister #911 entry at Daytona, with the crew surely hoping that’s their lot in terms of bad luck for the next few races. The team struggled at the Rolex, although when the car was running healthy it showed a lot of pace and could well had challenged for the class win had they not suffered their issues.

The Porsche North America team is highly organised and they would have rectified any mistakes made at Daytona, with an all star driver line up adding to their professionalism.  Jorg Bergmeister is the experienced hand in this entry, although still has a wicked turn of pace in a Porsche 911, with the highly rated duo of Frederic Makowiecki and Earl Bamber alongside him. Both have established themselves as seriously quick GT drivers and this car has a great chance of class victory at Sebring if they can get the car dialed in with the tricky airfield circuit.

That wraps up my preview of the highly competitive GT Le Mans class of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship, as for predicting a winner that is simply too hard to predict. I will be tuning in this weekend for sure to see who comes out on top in this titanic GTLM class battle. A final word of thanks has to go to the amazing Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which one again feature in this article. Please go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for all the latest motorsport news and high quality photos from across the motorsport globe. Thank you and any comments would be appreciated both good and bad. Enjoy!

Giedo van der Garde affair leaves bitter taste

Today the news finally became official, the ongoing and high profile dispute between the Sauber team and Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde came to a close with a statement from van der Garde announcing a settlement had been reached with the team. If you don’t follow F1 and don’t know the backstory to this dispute let me give you the key details.

Giedo van der Garde was the Sauber teams reserve driver last year, and in the middle of last year the team signed him to a race deal for this year. Van der Garde confirmed the rumors in his statement today, that his personal sponsors paid their fees for this year up front on the signing of his deal last year, in an effort to help the financially struggling team through the season.

van der Garde in action for the Sauber team in a free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix last year. Photo credit goes to http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk and http://www.Sauberf1team.com

Therefore I expect van der Garde was suitably angry and confused when it was announced late last year in quick succession that the team had also signed Swede Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr. It doesn’t take a math expert to know three F1 drivers can’t drive two cars, with van der Garde becoming the fall man for the team. This is where things turned ugly as van der Garde brought his case before the courts, first in Switzerland and then in Australia last week.

In both courts he won the case, with both courts ordering Sauber to give him a race seat for this season. When understandably Sauber began to baulk at this order in the build up to last weekend’s opening Australian Grand Prix, van der Garde went back to court to get a contempt of court order, effectively forcing Sauber to give him a drive or the teams assets would be seized by bailiffs and key team members could be arrested.

This sorry saga was fast becoming a soap opera, although thankfully before qualifying last Saturday common sense prevailed, with van der Garde announcing that both he and the team entered talks on a settlement, with van der Garde giving up his right to drive last weekend. Talks between the two parties quickly developed to the stage were at today, with van der Garde announcing that a settlement had been reached.

Whilst he did not disclose the specific details today, it’s believed he has been paid 15 million Euro’s to cancel his contract and allow the team to continue with Ericsson and Nasr. For the cash strapped team this is a huge sum to pay out, although is only fair considering the sponsor money paid to the team last year and compensation for canceling his contract.

The tone of van der Garde’s statement this morning was understandably downcast, as he stated “As a passionate race driver, I feel sad and am very disappointed. I have worked very hard my entire career, ever since starting with go-karts at the age of eight, to live my dream and become a successful Formula 1 driver. I had hoped at last to be able to show what I am capable of, driving a car for a respected midfield team in the 2015 season. This dream has been taken away from me and I know that my future in Formula 1 is probably over.”

It was remarkably refreshing this morning to read his statement, where for once in modern day Formula One a driver was honest about the situation to the media, a far cry from many modern drivers PR driven stance which would have yielded a statement with plenty “no comment” mantra’s, and frankly would have been more useful to the specialist media as toilet paper.

Van der Garde went on to add “There has been a lot of speculation in the media over the past week, so I want to set out clearly that my sponsors paid the sponsorship fee related to the 2015 season in its entirety to Sauber in the first half of 2014.This was simply in good faith and to help the team deal with its cash problems at the time. Effectively, it was my sponsor’s advanced payments that helped the team survive in 2014.”

He also added his thoughts on Sauber’s decision making on the matter “Sauber’s financial decision-making in this case is bizarre and makes no sense to me.I am not at liberty to discuss details, but Sauber paid significant compensation to avoid honouring the contract they had with me. Only in that respect can I be satisfied that my rights have finally been recognised and that at least some justice has been done.”

Whilst the move clearly rankles with van der Garde, it appears a part of him is glad this ordeal is over. Van der Garde suggests his chances of rebuilding an F1 career is over for him, a shame if true considering he impressed during his rookie season with Caterham in 2013. Despite van der Garde appearing not to pursue any F1 opportunities now, he also named some series he would like to compete in the future.”I would love to take part in the WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours in an LMP1 car. Former Formula 1 drivers do very well in this series, We also have our eye on other series such as the DTM in 2016 and beyond.”

Whilst the future remains unclear for van der Garde in motorsport, he can at least take solace that he has gained a lot of respect amongst the motorsport community for his class and dignity throughout this whole sorry saga with Sauber. Van der Garde can hold his head high that he did nothing wrong in this matter, it’s Sauber who have come out of this matter with their reputation severely diminished. This also is a shame for what was previously one of F1’s highest teams in terms of class and dignity amongst the F1 paddock.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Please feel free to comment below all comments will be appreciated both good and bad.

Alonso saga finally coming to a close

Ever since Fernando Alonso publicly made disparaging comments about his Ferrari car after the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix, speculation has abounded as to his future with the fabled Ferrari team. Whilst Alonso had previously commented on his wish to remain at Ferrari for the rest of his career, and had signed a long term deal tying him to the team until the end of 2016, it appeared increasingly likely he could leave the team as their cars failed to provide with championship opportunities.

At age 33 and coming closer to the end of his career, Alonso was increasingly motivated to add more world titles to his two already from his years at Renault in 2005-2006. Alonso should have won the 2010 world title in his first season with Ferrari, although a strategic error in the final race in Abu Dhabi meant he was stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, and was forced to watch Sebastien Vettel steal his first world title from him.

From here 2011 was a lean year as Ferrari struggled and Red Bull dominated, although 2012 saw Alonso wring every last ounce of performance from his once again poor Ferrari car, to take the championship title fight into the final race in Brazil. Despite leading the title fight for a majority of the year, Alonso once again was beaten by Vettel at the final race for the title.

Alonso fighting for the world title at the 2012 Brazilian GP

In 2013 Ferrari once again struggled with a poor car as Red Bull and Sebastien Vettel once again dominated, something Alonso grew increasingly frustrated with. After his response from a reporter asking what he would like for his upcoming birthday in the aftermath of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso sarcastically responded with “someone else’s car.” These were ill timed comments from Alonso as there were persistent rumours at this time that Alonso and his manager were talking to Red Bull about potentially him joining the team to replace his great friend Mark Webber for 2014.

From here Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo warned Alonso about his F1 conduct with regards to his comments, with a statement from this time stating “There is a need to close ranks, without giving in to rash outbursts that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone. That was a reference to the latest comments from Fernando Alonso, which did not go down well with Montezemolo, nor with anyone in the team.All the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own.”

Fernando Alonso in action during the fateful 2013 Hungarian GP

After the prospect of an unlikely Red Bull move was quashed after Daniel Ricciardo was announced as their new driver, it seemed Alonso was stuck with Ferrari until the foreseeable future. This was not entirely a bad thing however, as many tipped Ferrari to benefit most from new 2014 regulation which saw a switch to turbo V6 power. The fact Ferrari would be the only team other than AMG Mercedes producing both their own cars and engines, which suggested they would have an advantage with the design of their 2014 car and engine.

After a mixed testing period, once the season started it quickly became apparent AMG Mercedes would be dominant as the Mercedes engine was clearly the most powerful, with some even suggesting an 60-80bhp advantage over the Ferrari powerplant. It was also apparent the AMG Mercedes and Red Bull chassis were much better than the Ferrari F14T. Alonso once again performed heroics to drag the car onto the podium with a 3rd at the Chinese Grand Prix, it was clear however Alonso would once again miss out on the world title in 2014 as the two AMG Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated the season.

Heads began to roll at Ferrari as team principal Stefano Domenicalli resigned after the Bahrain Grand Prix, to be replaced by the CEO of Ferrari North America, Marco Mattiacci. Despite having very little racing experience Di Montezemolo felt his success with Ferrari North America could help provide a fresh impetus to Ferrari. It was clear now that the relationship between Alonso and Di Montezemolo was strained. As the season wore on and Alonso struggled it also became clear Mattiacci felt Alonso could be deemed expendable as his frustrations and lack of commitment to Ferrari increased.

This therefore provided a very unlikely initial rumour which quickly grew much larger. Honda were to join F1 in 2015 with McLaren, and it soon became clear Honda would provide an open chequebook to sign a top line driver. Whilst Sebastien Vettel laughed off the rumours, it soon became clear Alonso was seriously considering the offer. The news that long term Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo was to leave the team at the Italian GP did little to persuade Alonso to stay.

Alonso and Di Montezemolo embracing at the 2014 Italian GP

This ongoing saga reached critical mass at the 2014 Japanese GP, where it became apparent in the build up to the weekend that Alonso and Ferrari had reached an agreement to terminate his contract after the 2014 season. In the next few days the bombshell was announced that Sebastien Vettel was to leave Red Bull, with their team principal Christian Horner letting the cat out the bag by announcing he was to join Ferrari. This development left Alonso in a weakened position as it now became obvious his only options for 2015 were to either join McLaren or take a sabbatical.

After brief talk of Alonso potentially taking a year off and desperately trying to get himself into an AMG Mercedes seat for 2016 was shot down by the team, it became clear Alonso would likely sign for McLaren. Whilst the team has struggled in the past two years, and also Alonso’s turbulent season with the team in 2007, it appears fresh impetus from Honda will give Alonso a greater chance to be competitive and add the world titles his craves to his resume. McLaren with Honda will likely by Grand Prix winners within two years, whilst Ferrari are talking of several years of re-building before becoming dominant again.

This is why Alonso was so keen to leave the team, as sticking around for several years of re-building will not leave him enough time to win any more world titles. This optimism is something McLaren can provide with their’s and Honda’s winning pedigree. An official announcement on Alonso’s move to McLaren is likely to come later this month, with the next big decision for the team being whether to retain either experienced Brit and key ally of Honda Jenson Button or the team’s young rookie Kevin Magnussen. Plenty of people in the paddock with be relieved when all the confirmations are revealed, as Alonso looks forward to developing the McLaren-Honda package in 2015.

Photo credits go to :

Alonso 2013 Hungarian GP – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2013/07/28/alonso-faces-investigation-over-drs-breach/

Alonso 2012 Brazilian GP – http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1080651_vettel-picks-up-third-f1-world-champion-after-brazilian-gp

Alonso Di Montezemolo photo – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/09/06/hamilton-ends-pole-position-wait-monza/gp-italia-f12014-23/

F1 financial crisis long time coming

Last week’s build up to the United States Grand Prix was dominated by the devastating news within the space of a few days that the lowly Caterham and Marussia teams had both entered administration, and were going to miss at least the next two races if not more. The reaction amongst the F1 paddock is exactly why these two teams went into administration in the first place.

Whilst the top teams and personnel such as Bernie Ecclestone believed it was unfortunate that both went into administration, they also felt there was little they could do to change the spending culture of F1. On the other hand, midfield teams such as Sahara-Force India and Sauber have used both teams as an example of why the revenue streams within F1 need to be changed to make it more sustainable for the lower teams. The only exception at the top calling for change in F1 is FIA president Jean Todt, someone who made known his frequent frustration with failed attempts at a cost cap, something which he feels F1 needs to reduce it’s budgets by roughly 30-40% to make F1 sustainable.

After brief talk of a potential protest from some teams to further highlight the need for fairer revenue streams for the teams, Sahara-Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley had strong words for the media in the run up to yesterday’s Grand Prix. He was quoted as saying by BBC Sport that ” F1 is at a crossroads. There is clearly an agenda, Two teams have been forced out. How many need to be forced out before they achieve the goal they are looking for? We have missed an opportunity in F1 to be able to get it sustainable, That is passed us and there is no point looking back.”

The strong words show the frustration of the midfield teams as they have been working tirelessly for a long time hoping to achieve some agreement from all the teams for a significant cost reduction in F1. In the last few days however some high ranking F1 personnel have slightly changed their tune and appear now willing to help ensure a cost reduction in F1. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has recently favoured a move to third cars from the top team being loaned out to midfield teams for them to run, yet now appears to show some remorse for the way F1 has gone recently. He is quoted as saying “There is too much money being distributed badly – probably my fault. Like lots of agreements people make, they seemed a good idea at the time. I know what’s wrong, but don’t know how to fix it. ”

This statement from Ecclestone does seem a slight understatement, as it’s believe last year Ferrari earnt $200 million, $90 million of which was fully guaranteed before they even turned a wheel, yet Marussia received only $14 million for completing the whole season as Caterham earned nearly $28 million dollars. For there to remain a steady stream of teams in F1 this clearly needs to be rectified, especially as F1 keeps pushing this green initive starting with vastly more expensive engines for this year.

The uneven revenue structure for the teams currently in F1 only enhances the vicious circle of F1 whereby the best teams get the highest money from FOM, therefore they usually produce a faster car because of their larger budget, which then ensures they further enhance their prize money awarded by FOM. This is only making the performance gap from the top to the midfield teams even bigger, with the likes of Sahara-Force India and Sauber struggling to keep racing competitively this year.

This vicious circle goes back to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, when manufacters such as Mercedes, Ferrari,BMW, Peugeot, Honda, Renault and Toyota all invested heavily in Formula One. This constant drive for success led to a spending war to which F1 is only just reeling from. Despite most of these manufacters leaving the sport by 2010 the biggest teams such as Ferrari, McLaren,Red Bull and AMG Mercedes have regularly spend over £185 million pounds a year to retain their competitive advantage. With teams like Sauber operating on a budget of £90 million, it’s easy to see why they struggle so much to match the top teams.

This financial model has been in place for several years now, however it’s only this year that it’s rearing it’s ugly head on a large scale. Whilst the demise of the Hispania team after the 2012 season was soon as no more than a backmarker team running out of money, the sudden demise of both Marussia and Caterham has finally showed F1 has a huge financial problem on it’s hands in the next few years. The introduction of highly expensive new turbo engines for this year has ramped out costs, which alongside a constant struggle to find sponsorship in F1 after the financial crisis in 2008, has led to the current situation where half the grid are struggling to pay the bills as the other half refuse to take any significant steps to stop this.

If F1 continues to use it’s current revenue model, we could very soon be seeing a grid of 14-18 cars of which Ferrari,AMG Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull all supply the rest of the grid with third of even fourth cars. All the while the likes of Sauber, Sahara-Force India and Williams will be consigned to the history books as teams who simply ran out of money. As a passionate fan of F1 this would be a huge shame for the sport if we were simply to have three or four manufacters supplying the whole grid, which somehow doesn’t carry the same appeal of a grid containing 9-10 teams such as Sauber. Still, it would make a lot of money for the teams in extra sponsorship and give them a better portion of the teams prize money so their main priority would be boosted. That’s a crying shame for what is described as a sport, if it’s eventually money which strangles the sport, leaving hundreds of millions of fans and thousands of employees feeling lost.