Mercedes

2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 2

Here is the second part of my preview looking at the 21-car GTD class at this years Rolex 24, the opening round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Championship. With eight different car makers competing for the class win, with last years winners Alegra Motorsport not returning the race is anyone’s to win. Here’s the second half of the high quality entry list. For a look at my previous prototype and GT class previews, click these links. 2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 1 2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 2  2018 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview  2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 1

#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3: Alessandro Balzan/Cooper MacNeil/Jeff Segal/Gunnar Jeanette 

Reigning double champions Scuderia Corsa return this year, but with some changes to their line-up. The team have secured championship title sponsors WeatherTech support for this season, and this has precipitated a change to their driving crew.

Alessandro Balzan is retained, but now will be joined by Cooper MacNeil for the full season. Both are very quick and experienced racers at this level, but they may find it tough to replicate their recent championship success with the class improving year on year. Joining them for the Rolex 24 is Jeff Segal and Gunnar Jeanette. Both are quick drivers and with this teams experience and speed they have a very strong line-up for the race.

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#64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3: Townsend Bell/Sam Bird/Frankie Montecalvo/Bill Sweedler 

The Scuderia Corsa team expanded to include a second entry for the Rolex 24 this year, with another strong line-up. The team signed 2014 Rolex 24 class winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, and have bolstered the driving talent with Frankie Montecalvo and Sam Bird.

Bell and Montecalvo are quick GT racers who will prove consistent pace across their stints. Sweedler is the am in this crew but is experienced enough to stay out of trouble. The star turn in this entry is Ferrari factory GT driver Bird, who came close to class victory last year on his debut before a late race engine blow-up.

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#69 HART Acura NSX GT3: Ryan Eversley/John Falb/Chad Gilsinger/Sean Rayhall

After providing factory support to the Michael Shank Racing Acura programme last year, the Honda American Racing Team branch out on their own for a partial season this year.  The team hopes to compete in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds, and with an Acura that showed promise last year they may shock people with a top five result in the class.

The team have signed Pirelli World Challenge Acura driver Ryan Eversley, along with recent LMP3 ELMS champion Sean Rayhall. Both are quick drivers who will be quickest of the four drivers for this car. John Falb is a very competent amateur racer who partnered Rayhall in Europe last year, and has plenty of IMSA experience. Completing the line-up is Chad Gilsinger, who works for Honda and has been a long time driver for this Honda internal race team.

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#71 P1 Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Robby Foley/Kenton Koch/JC Perez/Loris Spinelli 

P1 Motorsport make the step up to IMSA from the feeder Lamborghini Super Trofeo and IMSA Prototype Challenge series, taking on an Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

Kenton Koch raced for the team last year in IMSA PC and is a fast young driver who is a great signing for this team. Loris Spinelli has proved one of the fastest Lamborghini Super Trofeo drivers in the world and now steps up to IMSA, with team owner JC Perez and Robby Foley completing the driving crew.

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#73 Park Place Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Jorg Bergmeister/Patrick Lindsey/Tim Pappas/Norbert Seidler

Long term IMSA entrants Park Place Motorsport have scaled back to a North American Endurance Cup only entry this year, but retain the same driving talent from previous years.

Porsche factory racer Jorg Bergmeister heads the line-up, with GT racing ace Norbert Seidler joining the team. Both are very quick GT racers and will likely be the stand-out drivers in this car. Patrick Lindsey and Tim Pappas are both very good amateur driver and this is crucial to have in a pro-am class such as GTD.

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#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes AMG GT3: Maro Engel/Kenny Habul/Thomas Jager/Mikhael Grenier

SunEnergy1 racing made their debut in the IMSA series last year, and for this years have teamed up with Riley Motorsport to help assist them during the season. The team came about thanks to Australian businessman and amateur racer Kenny Habul, a driving who has developed into a quick am driver.

He is joined for the Rolex 24 by two Mercedes factory GT drivers in Maro Engel and Thomas Jager. Both are seriously quick in the AMG GT3 and will anchor any chances this car has of a class podium. Completing the line-up is young French-Canadian Mikhael Grenier, who is the reigning European Lamborghini Super Trofeo champion and looking to impress on his IMSA debut.

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#82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3: Santiago Creel/Martin Fuentes/Ricardo Perez de Lara/Miguel Molina/Matt Griffin

Leading Ferrari GT team Risi make their debut in the GTD class for the Rolex 24 this year, running a customer programme for a trio of Mexican racing drivers, who are hoping that with a leading team behind them they can achieve a good class result in the race.

Drivers Santiago Creel and Martin Fuentes are leading one-make Porsche and Ferrari racers and are ably supported by am driver Ricardo Perez de Lara. All three have plenty of GT racing experience and will likely run consistently throughout the race. The leading driver in this will be Ferrari factory racer Miguel Molina, who bolsters the team significantly and will drag this car into class leading contention. Irishman Matt Griffin was a very good late addition to this entry, and provides a wealth of experience and pace to what could be a surprise contender for a good result in class.

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#86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: A.J. Allmendinger/Trent Hindman/Katherine Legge/Alvaro Parente

Michael Shank Racing are forced to adjust to running a customer programme this year after enjoying factory Honda support last year. This has forced the team to scale back to one-full season entry, with this #86 entry currently scheduled to only contest the Endurance Cup rounds, although the team are hoping to add further rounds to their schedule.

The team have secured a very strong line-up for the race, with both A.J. Allmendinger and Katherine Legge returning to the team this year. Legge secured two wins for the car last year and Allmendinger has been a regular endurance driver over a number of years. Alvaro Parente is a seriously quick GT racer and McLaren factory driver, along with Trent Hindman who is a young GT driver showing a lot of potential. Watch out for this entry as a outside contender for class victory.

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#93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: Lawson Aschenbach/Mario Farnbacher/Come Ledogar/Justin Marks

This second MSR entry is the teams full-season IMSA programme, with the team looking to build on a strong debut season for the Acura GTD programme. The team have signed former Stevenson Motorsport driver Lawson Aschenbach and Justin Marks for the full-season, with Mario Farnbacher and Come Ledogar joining them for the endurance rounds.

Aschenbach is a quick GT racer with over a decade’s worth of experience at this level. Marks moves across from Nascar but has some sportscar experience so will surprise many in the race. Farnbacher joins brother Dominik in the race and has proven his speed in various GT machinery across the world. Ledogar is another McLaren factory GT driver who will excel at this level despite a lack of experience with this car. Both MSR entries are contenders for victory but they will have to stay out of trouble.

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#96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3: Don Yount/Mark Kwamme/Jens Klingmann/Martin Tomczyk/Cameron Lawrence

Long time BMW entrants Turner Motorsport return for another crack at the Rolex 24, although the team currently do not have firm plans for a full season entry. The team used the pre-race Roar to test potential drivers for the race.

Former LMPC runners Don Yount and Mark Kwamme got behind the wheel, and will provide some experience for the team over the race along with late addition Cameron Lawrence. BMW factory drivers Jens Klingmann and Martin Tomczyk will be the pace setters in this entry although any hopes of a podium finish may prove doubtful with two amateur drivers. A clean run and faultless driving from all five may yield a top six finish for the team which would be a great result for the privateer team.

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That wraps up both part two of my GTD preview and my series of previews for the upcoming Rolex 24. I want to say a massive thank you to anyone who has read this page I hope you have liked it and if you have please feel free to comment, like or follow my blog. I also need to say a massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their incredible photos which grace these previews. For all the latest motorsport news check out their website Motorsport.com . Stay tuned for more sports blogs coming soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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.

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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.