Motorsport

Ben Keating Interview

Ben Keating has become a prominent name in American sportscar racing over the past five years. The businessman has formed a great partnership with the Dutch professional Jeroen Bleekemolen, as they have claimed several wins in both the American Le Mans Series and the more recent WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.

His most notable victory is a class win at the 2015 Rolex 24 blue riband race at Daytona. In the highly competitive GTD class this year, the same have suffered with some problems with their GT3 spec Dodge Viper.

This is something everyone in his ViperExchange team will be hoping they can put behind them going into this weekend’s race around the streets of Long Beach. After sending over a few questions for Ben, here are his responses on everything from how he got started in motorsport to this 2016 season. Enjoy and a huge thank you to Ben for taking the time to answer these questions.

First of all, how did you get into racing?

Literally, my wife bought me a driver education weekend at Texas World Speedway for Christmas 2005. I went in 2006 and fell in love. Started racing in 2007 in the Viper Racing League, which was great club racing.

How has the season gone so far with the new GT3 spec Viper?

So far, not as well as we had hoped.   #93 had a great 3rd place finish at Daytona.   But I was behind the wheel and made a mistake in the #33, which put us behind.    A 9th place was a great finish giving the situation.

Then we had an axle break at Sebring, which put us behind.    We finished 12th.

Luckily there is a lot of racing still to go.

Keating’s Gas Monkey sponsored Viper struggled during last month’s Sebring 12 Hours. He will be hoping for better next time out in Long Beach. Photo copyright Getty Images/Brian Cleary.

You recently announced your plans for Le Mans with the Murphy Prototypes team, how did this come about? 

The ACO chose put  the Viper GTSR as the 7th reserve.    We did not believe that 7 reserves would get in.Therefore, we went looking for an opportunity and there was a great fit between our team and Murphy  Prototypes.

Will you have much time to test the LMP2 car before the race?

I will do several days of testing before the race.   I expect to be up to speed by race time.

Have you ever considered a switch into the ELMS or WEC?

Yes, for sure. However it is more expensive for me. And, my businesses are all US based.    ViperExchange is the #1 volume Viper retailer in the world, and it makes sense to run a Viper in the US.

If I had a sponsor willing to help with a WEC program, then I would definitely consider it.

What has been the most memorable race of your career so far?

Cota(Circuit of the Americas, ed) 2013 was my first win in ALMS and in my home State.

Mosport 2014 – first win for GT3R Viper and  I really felt like my driving contributed a lot to the win.

Daytona 2015 – biggest win for sure

Le Mans 2015 – biggest single race event

Keating and his team celebrate their momentous GTD class victory in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. This was a huge win for everyone associated with the ViperExchange team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com .

Is there much of a difference between the GTD and GT3 spec Viper?

Not huge changes for the Viper. Mostly it meant we had to go back to all of the parts that the car was homologated with, instead of everything we had developed over the previous 2 years. The Viper is really awesome to drive. Easiest race car I’ve ever driven to be fast in.

You’ve been partnered with Jeroen Bleekemolen for a while now, what is it that makes your partnership so successful as team mates?  

Jeroen makes me look good. He is an unbelievable driver. We have a great friendship and a great team.

And finally, what are your hopes for the rest of the WeatherTech season and Le Mans?

To win. Period, end of story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sebring 12 Hours Prototype Preview

After the scintillating opening Rolex 24 in late January, now this week see’s the WeatherTech Sportscar championship roar back into life with another premiere event, the Mobil 1 Sebring 12 Hours from Florida. The event is one of the historic sportscar classics and this year promises to be a stunning race.

If Daytona is anything to go by the 12 hours will be filled with intense and close fought racing that should keep the fans on the edge of their seats for the entire race. In the first of my previews of the event I’ll take a look at the Prototype class entry list, which features 12 cars filled with some of the biggest sportscar drivers in the world. Let’s take a look at the contenders.

#0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13: Katherine Legge/Andy Meyrick/Sean Rayhall

The DeltaWing team will be looking for a return on the tremendous promise they showed in the early running of the Rolex 24 in January. The car led the race for a period on genuine pace alone and was running highly when it tripped over a Prototype Challenge car in the middle of the evening.

If the team can replicate it’s pace at Sebring this week and stay out of trouble they could very well challenge for the podium at least if not win the race. The Panoz team are highly experienced and their driver line up of Katherine Legge, Andy Meyrick and Sean Rayhall are more than quick enough to keep this car at the front of the race throughout the 12 hours.

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#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier JSP2-Honda: Scott Sharp/Johannes van Overbeek/Ed Brown/Luis ‘Pipo’ Derani

The Tequila Patron ESM team will be still on a high from their momentous victory in the Rolex 24 six weeks ago. The team drove the perfect race and the Ligier LMP2 prototype proved itself to be the fastest car on the grid for the majority of the race.

Now at Sebring they will be looking for a repeat result, but the notoriously bumpy Sebring circuit is vastly different from Daytona. Overall downforce is more important here and that should favour the LMP2 cars, such as the ESM Ligier.

On the driving front Pipo Derani announced himself as one of the best young prototype racers in the world with his performance at Daytona. He will once again be ably supported by experienced team mates Ed Brown, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek. This car will be considered one of the favourites for victory in this weeks build up to the race.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque

The Action Express team will be hoping to bounce back with their #5 entry after a disappointing Rolex 24 by their standards. The #5 Mustang Sampling car finished fourth after some late car issues in the final portion of the race.

This time around the team will be hoping they can return to winning ways, as they look to get themselves off to the best possible start in the championship. The teams driver line up of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque is one of the best line up’s in the class, something the team will look to exploit as they go in search of at least a podium place this weekend.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP: Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli/Rubens Barrichello 

For the Wayne Taylor team, the Rolex 24 was once again a case of close, but no cigar as they took up their almost customary position now of a close second at Daytona.  The team were the fastest Daytona Prototype entry and were one of the few DP teams who looked to be able to take the fight to the ESM team.

This weekend they will be looking to go one better, although another podium place would set them up perfectly for a good championship run in 2016. On the driving front the team have retained Rubens Barrichello after his late call up in Daytona, as Jordan Taylor still looks to recover fully from a nasty illness that has plagued his off-season preparation. Anything is possible for this team, as they look to avenge their Rolex defeat here at Sebring.

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#24 Insync Alegra Motorsport Riley-BMW DP: Dominik Farnbacher/Daniel Morad/Carlos de Quesada/Cameron Lawrence

The Alegra motorsport team make their WeatherTech debut this weekend at Sebring, with their older style Riley-BMW DP. They are an ambitious team and have been testing at the circuit to build their knowledge, although the team lacks significant experience compared to their competition.

The team have employed Dominik Farnbacher, Daniel Morad, Carlos de Quesada and Cameron Lawrence to pilot the car, although the biggest knock on them is their lack of prototype racing experience.

All four have extensive GT racing experience and have showed pace at that level, but with so many unknowns surrounding the team and the drivers lack of prototype experience predicting a result for this team is impossible. Anything more than a finish in the top ten would be a bonus and if the car and team can show potential that will be surely considered a good result for this team.

imsa-sebring-february-testing-2016-24-alegra-motorsports-riley-bmw-carlos-de-quesada-danie

#31 Whelen Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Scott Pruett

The second Action Express racing entry was, much like it’s sister #5 entry, similarly affected by reliability issues late on in the Rolex 24.  For the second round the #31 car will be looking to deliver on the pace they showed in Daytona. The team have their Corvette DP’s well sorted and will be hoping to show this in the end result.

A podium would be a good result for the car championship wise, although at any chance of a win this car will be giving it everything. The huge experienced winner Scott Pruett joins this #31 car after racing for the #5 car at the Rolex 24, and this addition will only enhance their chance of victory come Saturday evening.

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#50 Highway to Help Fifty Plus Racing Riley-BMW DP: Jim Pace/David Hinton/Byron DeFoor/Dorsey Schroeder

The popular fifty plus racing team return after good showing at the opening Rolex 24. The team are never challenging for race victories, but that isn’t the main objective for this team. Their primary initive is to raise money for the Highway to Help charity, and once again they were able to raise awareness and money.

The drivers will all be looking forward to running on the iconic Sebring circuit,as they focus more on enjoying themselves and raising money rather than focusing on going for an all out victory. If the attrition rate is high they have a chance of a good result, although they struggle to match the ultimate pace up front with the age of their Riley DP and their driver line up.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-50-highway-to-help-riley-dp-bmw-byron-defoor-dorsey-schroeder-david-h

#55 SpeedSource Mazda Motorsport Lola-Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito/Spencer Pigot/Tristan Nunez

The SpeedSource Mazda factory team struggled mightily in Daytona with engine reliability issues, attributed to their switch from Skyactiv diesel to a petrol engine. Both their two cars were retirements by the the halfway point.

After this disappointing display the team will be hoping they can really test themselves at Sebring, a renowned car breaker of a circuit. The team and driver line up showed glimpses of potential when they ran at Daytona, and if they can stay reliable this entry has the real potential for a shock result. Once the reliability issues have been sorted, this team and their drivers have the top level quality to a win a prestigious race such as the Sebring 12 Hours.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-55-mazda-motorsports-mazda-prototype-spencer-pigot-jonathan-bomarito

#60 Tire Kingdom/CURB Agajanian Michael Shank Racing Ligier JSP2-Honda: John Pew/Ozz Negri Jr/Olivier Pla

For Mike Shank, the Rolex 24 was a huge disappointment as they looked to be a serious challenger for victory when the engine failed on Saturday night. This time around at Sebring they will be hoping they can retain their pace from Daytona, and iron out the reliability issue with the new 3.5 litre Honda HPD engine.

The Ligier-Honda combination will likely remain to be the fastest combination at Sebring, therefore Mike Shank racing will be looking to even up the honours after the ESM team won out at Daytona. Retaining Olivier Pla for Sebring is a huge step by the team and they have secured one of the fastest Ligier drivers on the planet to help their regular drivers John Pew and Ozz Negri Jr. This team will likely join the ESM team as being co-favourites before the start of the race.

imsa-sebring-february-testing-2016-60-michael-shank-racing-with-curb-agajanian-ligier-js-p

#70 SpeedSource Mazda Motorsport Lola-Mazda: Tom Long/Ben Devlin/Joel Miller/Keiko Ihara

Much like with the #55 car, the #70 Lola-Mazda struggled mightily with reliability issues in Daytona. With six week to further test and develop the car the team will head into this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours feeling more confident about the overall reliability of their package.

This driver line up is high on experience and has a solid base with the majority of the drivers having a lot of experience with this Lola-Mazda. Completing the line up is the Japanese lady racer Keiko Ihara, who will bring some good sportscar experience to the SpeedSource team. She may need some time to adjust to both Sebring and the Lola-Mazda prototype, and this will ultimately be what decides if this entry can match it’s sister #55 car in terms of pace come race day.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-70-mazda-motorsports-mazda-prototype-joel-miller-tom-lon

#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 05-Nissan:Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Minassian/Nicolas Lapierre

DragonSpeed make their debut in the WeatherTech series this weekend after missing the opening Rolex 24. The team has previous experience from racing in European GT categories such as the Blancpain Endurance Series.

The team run by former racer Elton Julian have built a formidable line up with the very quick Frenchmen Nicolas Minassian and Nicolas Lapierre joining Henrik Hedman. The also have the only Oreca-Nissan package in the class, one which has proved very competitive both in the World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series.

Although the team have tested at the circuit in the build up to the race, a lot is unknown surrounding this car as they have not run competitively in the series yet and it’s not known how the Oreca-Nissan package will compare with the benchmark Ligier-Honda teams.

imsa-sebring-february-testing-2016-81-dragonspeed-oreca-05-nissan-henrik-hedman-nicolas-la

#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP: Marc Goossens/Ryan Hunter-Reay/Ryan Dalziel

The VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona racing team were another of the front running Daytona Prototype teams at the Rolex 24, finishing third and on the same lap as the winning ESM Ligier. They had a trouble free run at Daytona, they just lacked the last little edge in pace compared to the winning car.

The team will be hoping they can at least get close to the leading Ligier entries this weekend, but if they can retain their reliability from the Rolex 24 they will be in with a chance of victory as they have enough quality with this driver line up and will have years of experience of how to perfectly set up their Corvette DP to absorb the bumps of Sebring. If any DP can topple the seeming Ligier dominance, this is one of the most likely teams to achieve this.

imsa-sebring-february-testing-2016-90-visitflorida-com-racing-corvette-dp-marc-goossens-ry

 

That wraps up my Prototype class preview of this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours, next up will be a look at the Prototype Challenge class. I would also like to say a huge thanks to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their invaluable help with the information and photographs that grace this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this preview and any comments would be greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95

 

 

 

Blancpain Sprint Cup Preview Part 1

It’s less than a month until the 2016 Blancpain GT season roars into life with the opening round of the Sprint Cup series at Misano. Most of the teams and drivers have been competing in the Blancpain pre-season test that at Paul Richard in France last week, as the teams and drivers get used to the equipment they will be using in 2016.

There has been plenty of change in the series for 2016, so the established order from 2015  will be shaken up this year. This preview of the Sprint Cup is first part of three looking at the grid for the Sprint cup, before switching focus to the Endurance series that runs concurrently to form the Blancpain GT series.

#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Laurens Vanthoor/Frederic Vervisch

The Audi factory supported Team WRT of Vincent Vosse return to the Blancpain GT series this year, hoping they can resume their regular place at the front of the grid in both series. In the sprint cup the team returns with a colossal six car entry, and the #1 entry is one of the ultimate favourites for victory this year.

The driver line up of Laurens Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch is arguably one of the best in the series. Vanthoor is a world renowned Audi GT expert who is as safe a pair of hands as you could put in the Audi R8 LMS, whatever the circuit he will get the best out of the Audi. Frederic Vervisch is a good partner to Vanthoor as he combines prodigious single seater experience from the likes of Superleague Formula and Formula Renault 3.5 series with GT racing experience from the past few years in Blancpain.

The combination of the highly professional Team WRT with the line up of Vanthoor and Vervisch surely makes them serious contenders for the title, although with the series being so competitive choosing an ultimate favourite is nigh on impossible.

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#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Dries Vanthoor/Robin Frijns

The #2 Team WRT Audi entry is similarly strong to it’s sister #1 entry, and the similarities don’t end there. Not content with having one Vanthoor on the team they have now recruited Laurens younger brother Dries into the team. The 17 year old showed well with 6th in his debut car racing season in the Formula Renault 2.0L NEC series, but has now joining brother Laurens in GT racing with WRT.

Whilst Dries will need some time to learn and get comfortable with the Audi and the Blancpain series, he has the perfect team mate to help accelerate his learning curve. Dutchman Robin Frijns is someone who acquitted himself well in his debut season with WRT, and his talent should arguably be gracing the F1 grid and not this series. He is proving himself one of the best up and coming sportscar drivers in the world, and will be looking to continue the form that saw him claim the overall Blancpain GT title in his rookie year.

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#3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Sergio Jimenez/Rodrigo Baptista

The #3 Team WRT Audi has an all Latin American line up this year, with Sergio Jimenez linking up with the young Brazilian Rodrigo Baptista for a crack at the Sprint Cup title. Jimenez has plenty of experience since switching across to sportscars, and has switched to Team WRT and the Audi R8 LMS this year after spending last year with the BMW Team Brazil outfit.

He’s a proven commodity at this level and this will help the team greatly as he helps the young Baptista acquaint himself with European racing and the series itself. He has so far shown well in series such as Brazilian F3, although it will be a big step up for him to the cut and thrust of the world’s most competitive GT series. If Baptista can get up to speed quickly this car has every chance of being an outside contender for race victories, although currently there are a lot of unknown’s surrounding this entry.

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#4 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Stuart Leonard/Michael Meadows

The #4 entry is another one of the massive Team WRT Audi entries in the Sprint Cup this year, and will be piloted by two Brits who have shown their talents in other GT3 machinery. Stuart Leonard has progressed into GT3 racing with Aston Martin, but this year has ditched running his own team and jumped across to the Belgian team.

Leonard a very quick am driver last year in the Pro-Am class of the Blancpain Endurance Series, and took was victorious in one of his first races with Team WRT at last December’s Sepang 12 Hours. Joining Leonard is the very quick Michael Meadows, his team mate from last year. Meadows made a name for himself in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB as a multiple champion, and has translated this form into the Blancpain series.

Both of them work well together as team mates and with the pace and experience they both possess the #4 entry should be one of the favourites to win the Silver Cup for Pro-Am drivers.

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#5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS: Markus Winkelhock/Niki Mayr-Melnhof

Another factory Audi supported team is the German Phoenix racing outfit, as they return to the Blancpain series for another crack at the overall Blancpain GT title. This #5 entry is led by former F1 racer Markus Winkelhock, who is a factory Audi driver and stunningly quick in an R8 LMS. His results speak for themselves and will always be someone to watch this year.

Joining Winkelhock is the Austrian Niki Mayr-Melnhof. He has progressed from GT4 into the GT3 ranks and has proven he can cut it at this level for the past few seasons. He finished third in the 2013 FIA GT series and was in the top ten of the Pro Cup last year in the Blancpain Endurance Series. Both of these drivers have extensive experience with the Audi R8 LMS, and as such expect this team to be taking the fight to Team WRT and the rest this year.

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#6 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS: Markus Pommer/Nicolaj Moller Madsen

The second Phoenix Audi entry is piloted by two sportscar rookies this year, so how quickly they can adjust to the car will be a huge factor in how well this car does. Markus Pommer will likely be the quicker of the two drivers, as he has extensive experience in junior single seater racing. Having jumped from the European F3 series to Blancpain he will be looking to show his pace as he looks to build a career as a professional in sportscar racing.

Partnering Pommer will be the similarly young Danish racer Nicolaj Moller Madsen. He has carried over his impressive karting success into cars, and finished second in the inaugural year of the Audi TT Cup last year. He now progresses into GT racing as he builds towards his goal of competing at Le Mans in 2017. How quickly both Pommer and Madsen can develop across the year will be an indication of their competitiveness, although maybe by the end of the year they could spring a surprise or two.

#7 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continential GT3: TBC/TBC

#8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3: TBC/TBC

The factory M-Sport Bentley GT3 operation returns again this year with an updated Continental GT3. As of yet the team have not announced their driver line up’s for their two entries in the Sprint Cup, although the team have a bevy of factory drivers to choose from.

Bentley and M-Sport quickly adjusted to GT3 racing, and the Continental is now a very quick as well as proven reliable car. The manufacture has six works drivers to choose from. They consist of German GT specialist Maxi Buhk, Spanish former GP2 racer now sportscar ace Andy Soucek.

They also have young Frenchman Vincent Abril, the talented Belgian Maxime Soulet along with the two experienced Brits Steven Kane and former Le Mans 24 Hours winner Guy Smith. Whichever pairing they choose both Bentley’s will be serious contenders for both the Sprint series and overall Blancpain GT title. Now is the perfect time for this factory effort to bring home a title.

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#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3: Michael Broniszewski/Giacomo Piccini

Long time Ferrari customer team Kessel racing return with the latest Ferrari 488 GT3. Very few Blancpain team have more experience with Ferrari GT machinery than Kessel, therefore they will have plenty of experience to get to the bottom of the new 488 contender and what is needed to get it running at the front of the Pro-Am class.

On the driving front they have signed the pairing of experienced am rated racer Michael Broniszewski with the similarly experienced Giacomo Piccini. Broniszewski is one of several am rated drivers who has plenty of experience from the last few years, and will do everything that is asked of a silver or bronze rated driver. His stints across the year will be important to how they finish.

Piccini has been and done almost everything in sportscars, with two Italian GT titles and top five placings in everything from the Le Mans Series LMP2 class to International GT Open. The Italian will bring even more experienced to this team along with a fast pace that they hope will seperate this #11 entry from the rest in the Pro-Am class.

08This is the Kessel racing 458 Italia GT3 as the 488 is not yet ready for public on track action.

#12 Boutsen Ginion Racing BMW M6 GT3: TBC/TBC

Boutsen Ginion are yet another team who return to the Blancpain GT series this year but with a new car. The team have traded in their Z4 GT3 for a new M6 GT3, as they look to improve on what was an understated 2015 for the team.

In the Endurance series the team have resigned long time team mates Karim Ojjeh and Oliver Grotz along with Julian Darras. It’s likely that for this Sprint entry the team will partner am rated driver Karim Ojjeh and Oliver Grotz. They have proven themselves to a very solid driver pairing in Blancpain and will be yet another good contender for the Pro-Am honours.

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That’s it for part one of my Blancpain Sprint series preview, I would like to thank Dailysportscar.com for their help with the high quality information and pictures that grace this page. I would finally like to say a huge thank you for reading and any comments would be greatly appreciated!

 

 

 

 

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.

Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean Hold Key to F1 Driver Market

So far, the 2015 F1 driver merry-go round has been largely a non-affair. It seems as if the moment speculation mounts over a driver potentially moving teams, they are swiftly re-signed by their current one’s.

Kimi Raikkonen was the man on everyone’s lips during the Summer break, although Ferrari exercised their option to keep him during the Belgian GP weekend. The man expected to replace him, Valtteri Bottas, was subsequently re-signed by Williams as they retained their current line up of Bottas and the experienced Felipe Massa.

The ripple effect caused by Raikkonen being retained has trickled down the grid, with the highly touted German Nico Hulkenberg shunning a potential move to the new Haas F1 team to re-sign with Sahara-Force India. Whilst the very close links Haas has with Ferrari was a huge potential plus, the re-signing of Raikkonen has left him little option but to re-sign with his current team, much like Bottas.

Hulkenberg in action for Sahara-Force India earlier this season. Photo credit goes to Autosport.com and latphoto.co.uk .

Now with a lot of potential moves on ice at least for another year, the attention is now focused on two drivers at very different stages of their career’s. The man sparking most of the F1 headlines this week is the experienced and popular Brit Jenson Button. Whilst he has an contract in place with McLaren for next season, it appears increasingly likely the 35 year old will prematurely end his stand out career.

Rumors are growing this week that Button will announce his retirement from the sport at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. Button commented this week, stating that he had already made a decision regarding whether he will continue in F1 next year. He stated “it’s always nice to make an announcement when you are at your home grand prix”.

He later added “There are a lot of meeting’s in Japan, Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier will be there. I’m sure there will be a lot of meeting’s at the headquarters.” Rather more ominously Button has also been giving cryptic suggestions as to his lack of desire to remain in his current position. He said “The joy of being in the car is only there if you’re fighting at the front, because you feel like you’re achieving something, if you’re fighting near the back, you’re driving and F1 car, but you can easily get joy driving something else.”

Button leaping the kerbs in a character building year for the new McLaren-Honda partnership. Photo credit courtesy of SkySportsF1.com .

These comments suggest Button has began to feel fed up with the hugely trying season both he and team mate Fernando Alonso have enjoyed with the new McLaren-Honda package. Should Jenson Button retire from the sport at the end of the season, McLaren have a big decision on their hands as to who they will choose to replace him. They have two very quick young development drivers in Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Magnussen partnered Button last year and showed promise, along with the typical rookie mistakes also. This year he has been the team’s reserve driver, though the Dane has recently stated he can’t do another year without racing. Magnussen has been linked with the Haas team for next year, although that seems increasingly unlikely. Stoffel Vandoorne is rapidly stating his claim as the most dominant GP2 champion since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009. He is ready for F1 yet he may struggle to find a seat available unless he’s promoted by McLaren.

Stoffel Vandoorne in his customary position, leading at the front. Photo credit thanks to Motorsport.com .

The other key driver to this year’s market appears to be Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman is reaching the peak period in his F1 career at age 29, and has spent his entire career with the current Lotus team. Whilst he’s comfortable with the midfield team, it appears the team’s ongoing financial issues may be the final straw.

Grosjean is eager to show he is a better version of the driver that regularly put the dominant Sebastien Vettel under pressure in the second half of the 2013 season. Since then the Lotus team have struggled mightily, and it appears Grosjean has had enough. Despite the carrot of the team’s seemingly imminent takeover by Renault, this may not be enough to keep Grosjean.

Whilst the move to Haas may seem a backwards one considering their a new team and will likely struggle next year, the long term incentives may prove enough to tempt Grosjean. The team’s close links with Ferrari will put him in a great position to replace Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn leaves the team in the next few years.

Romain Grosjean driving for Lotus earlier this year. Photo credit goes to Autosport.com and latphoto.co.uk .

This is where the move makes sense, as it’s likely he will stagnate at Lotus or Renault potentially, although things may well improve should Renault complete their takeover of their team. For Grosjean this is a huge decision he will make, as it affect his potentially whole F1 career as legacy. Should he make the right decision he will likely end up in a race winning car, however should he make the wrong decision and he may regret it for the rest of his F1 career.

Fletcher and Gent Share Racing Thunder Victories

The opening race of the Bank Holiday Monday MotorsTV live race day meeting was for the Hammerite Racing Thunder Championship, with the VTEC Direct Pre-2003 championship and CBT Business Travel VW Challenge also joining them on this grid for the two races at Castle Combe.

The cars glistened in the spring sunshine as they rolled out onto the grid for their 15 minute race, the first of two races before the lunch break in an unusual move here at Castle Combe. After a slightly damp qualifying it was circuit favorite and long term Combe racer Ilsa Cox who lined up on pole for the rolling start, her ex-Seat Leon cup car ahead of Vaughan Fletcher in second with his Subaru Impreza. Darren Bly and his monstrous Nissan Skyline lined up alongside Bradley Gelman in his rare Ford Sierra Cosworth to complete row two.

There was little drama at the rolling start, although after a bad start it was Darren Bly who was the man on the move in the early laps. He first passed the beast that is Andy Robinson’s ex-Craig Lowndes Ford Falcon V8 Supercar for 4th on lap 2, before passing Bradley Gelman for third and then finally Vaughan Fletcher for second going up Avon Rise into Quarry on lap 3. Whilst Bly was charging through the field, Ilsa Cox was building a comfortable lead out front, stretching it close to five seconds by the end of lap 3.

Now with a clear track in front, Bly was able to fully utilize the reported 800bhp in his Skyline to rapidly close on Ilsa Cox for the lead. He began looking for a way through on lap 4, although at the Bobbies chicane his over cooked things and lost several seconds as he got all crossed up putting the immense amount of power onto the road, especially as his Skyline was converted to 2wd spec not the standard 4wd.

Behind the front two it was Dale Gent who was now moving up, as he took his Subaru Impreza from 6th on the grid past Vaughan Fletcher for 3rd on lap 5, although he subsequently ruined his hard work a lap later with a very bizarre spin going up Avon Rise, dropping back to his starting position in 6th. After several laps of harrying Cox for the lead, Bly once again got all crossed up putting the power down at Bobbies on lap 8, although this time he couldn’t hold it as he spun off and into the barriers on the outside of the track. The spin would prove too much as Bly was forced to retire on the spot from 2nd.

This seemingly left Ilsa Cox with a comfortable run to the flag, although her lap times were slowing as she looked to be nursing a problem. Behind her, after challenging Gelman for several laps Dale Gent finally found a way past on the inside at Folly to claim 4th place in his recovery drive. At the end of the penultimate lap it became clear Cox was slowing dramatically, as she was forced into retirement halfway up Avon Rise on the final lap. It was a cruel twist of fate for the local favorite, who looked comfortable out front until her car issues, which were later revealed to be chronic engine overheating issues.

With Ilsa Cox forced into retirement this left Vaughan Fletcher to cruise round the final lap to claim a comfortable if fortuitous victory from Andy Robinson in his Falcon V8 Supercar, with Dale Gent completing the podium after his recovery drive. Ian Froggatt was 4th in another Subaru Impreza, whilst Bradley Gelman came home 5th, before Steven Woods completed the top six in his VW Golf Mk4, also claiming the VW Challenge class honors also.

Conditions had changed somewhat for the second of the Classic Thunder races, with grey skies now engulfing the circuit as they headed out once again halfway through this congested MotorsTV meeting.The grid for the second race was determined by the finishing order of the opening race, meaning Vaughan Fletcher was on pole after his earlier win, whilst Andy Robinson shared the front row with him for the rolling start.

At the start it was Robinson who made the best getaway to lead, although at this early stages it was Dale Gent who was demanding all the spectators attention as he began challenging Fletcher for 2nd. At Camp at the end of lap 2 he pulled off a brilliant around the outside move, something that would have looked great on the TV camera’s. Gent immediately disposed of Fletcher and set off after Robinson, soon passing him and taking the lead on lap 4.

Robinson fell back from the clutches of Gent as he established a comfortable lead at the front. Gent was looking in inspired form in this race after his podium in the first race, as he left Robinson and Fletcher evenly spaced behind as he looked supremely comfortable for the entire race. Vaughan Fletcher had looked slightly slower in this second race, and on lap 8 he was forced into retirement, leaving Ian Froggatt in another Subaru Impreza to claim the final podium spot in 3rd.

From here on out it was status quo at the front as Dale Gent completed the final few laps to claim a comfortable victory in his Impreza, with Andy Robinson and Ian Froggatt an equally comfortable 2nd and 3rd respectively. Bradley Gelman finished 4th, with Steven Woods again winning the VW Challenge class as he came home 5th. Some final lap fun was provided by the 6th place finisher Andy Thompson, who spun on oil exiting the final corner, before deciding he had enough of an advantage that he could reverse across the line to complete the top six.

Both of the Hammerite Racing Thunder Championship provided good, quality racing as the eclectic field kept both the spectators and TV audience entertained throughout both 15 minute races. Whilst there was some misfortune for the likes of Ilsa Cox and Darren Bly, the series showed it’s quality and we all surely hope the BARC will bring the series back to Castle Combe next year.

For more information on this great series please feel free to visit their website below.
http://classictouringcars.com/champ_thunder.html

Bull outlasts rest to claim opening Sports @ GT win

Next up on track was the first of the local circuit championships, the Castle Combe Sports @ GT championship, beginning it’s second season since being split in two with the Castle Combe Sports Racing Car Series. The series is still well supported however and a wide variety of machinery took to the grid for their 15 lap opening stanza of their season.

Ian Hall sat on pole position with his impressive and very throaty Darrian Wildcat and his 6 litre Rover V8 engine, the highly sophisticated Mitsubishi Evo 9 alongside him. Perry Waddams in his impressive TVR Tuscan Challenge car sat in 3rd whilst Oliver Bull completed row two in his sleek Vauxhall Tigra Silhouette national hot rods spec car.

Off the line unsurprisingly it was the 4 wheel drive of Barry Squibb’s Evo which rocketed into an early lead off the line, although his lead would prove to be short lived as he was forced to slowly return to the pits by the end of lap 1, the myriad of reliability issues which slowed this car last year rearing their ugly head once again. This put Ian Hall into the lead, closely followed by Perry Waddams, both well clear of the pack in the early laps.

In the early laps the main battle was for 4th position between Michael Timberlake in his BMW M3, old circuit favorite Ilsa Cox in her Seat Leon Cupra car and Bull in his Vauxhall Tigra. Timberlake provided a good defense, although it was breached by Cox on lap 4 as she took 4th at Bobbies.

At the front the lead pairing had been slowly closing together in the opening laps, with Waddams finally passing Hall for the lead at Quarry on lap 5, whilst later on in the lap Bull quickly dispatched with Cox and Timberlake,cementing himself in 4th. A lap later and Ian Hall’s progressively sicker sounding Darrian pulled into the pits with a possible misfire, leaving Waddams comfortably clear of the rest of the pack.

Waddams now led comfortably from Dylan Popovic in the unusual Avatar racer, who at this stage of the race was more concerned with the progressively closing Oliver Bull behind him. After edging up to the back of Popovic, Bull made a move stick for 2nd at the Esses on lap 12, now setting his sights on the troubled Waddams out front.

The drama was kept up until the final lap, with Waddams slowing at Tower, leaving Oliver Bull free to claim the lead on the penultimate lap, clear now to claim a shock victory in the opening round of the resident Sports @ GT championship. Waddams slowed dramatically half way round the final lap, which Dylan Popovic felt contributed possibly to his last lap spin at the Esses, ripping off the venturi tunnels at the back of his Avatar.

After the late laps it was surprise that Bull was eventually able to comfortably win by 22 seconds from the recovering Popovic, with a delighted Ilsa Cox able to complete the podium. Michael Timberlake came home 4th, with Kevin Mears and Paul Arber completing the top six, a lap down on victor Bull.

For more information on this series please visit their website here. http://www.ccracingclub.co.uk/championships/gt/