Bianchi feels at home in Sepang

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F1’s newest superstar Jules Bianchi already feels at home at the Sepang International Circuit despite it being his first time racing at the track.

“It’s my first time racing here and I am happy with the way I have acclimatized to the track,” said Bianchi. “Now we have to see what the rest of the weekend holds. It could be frustrating, it could be exciting. We will see.”

Bianchi finished an impressive 18th in Free Practice 2, 1.2 seconds ahead of closest rivals Caterham, and also in front of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. The Frenchman is already turning heads in the F1 paddock, but he remains focused on improving his own pace ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

“I am pleased with my performance today though and we seem to be making progress on the set up we need here. This is just one of those races and circuits and it’s the same for every team.”

Practice wasn’t so straightforward for Bianchi’s teammate, Max Chilton. The British driver finished almost five seconds off Kimi Raikkonen in FP2 as he struggled in Sepang.

“Today hasn’t been the most straightforward of days but I know from experience that this circuit presents a variety of challenges, so not entirely unexpected,” revealed Chilton.

However, he believes that the conditions could aid him in what looks set to be a very close race on Sunday.

“The rain looks sets to play its part – that much looks clear. The rest is a little open right now so I think we will see an interesting qualifying and race.”

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two Ligier JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and British youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”