PWC: Aschenbach’s win validates Blackdog move to GTS

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“This level of car could possibly be the best type of sports car racing in the world.”

It’s a bold statement from Lawson Aschenbach, driver of the No. 10 Blackdog Racing Chevy Camaro in the GTS class of the Pirelli World Challenge. But considering Aschenbach’s resume – driving everything from Porsches, to Civics, to Cadillacs – it carries some weight.

Team and driver switched from the GT class to the GTS class in World Challenge this year; Tony Gaples is a longtime Corvette racer in GT, and Aschenbach drove for the TruSpeed Porsche team in 2012.

Now, they’ve entered a hornet’s nest of competition that includes the RealTime Acuras, GTSport with Goldcrest Porsche Caymans, Best IT Camaros, Kinetic Kia Optimas and other cars such as the Ford Mustang Boss 302Rs, Aston Martin Vantage, Nissan 370Z, Lotus Exige and Scion FR-S. It’s as diverse a class as you’ll see racing in North America today.

“From street car to race car, most are street-related parts,” says Aschenbach. “It’s the best way for a manufacturer to validate their street car. The class showcases that. I don’t see why any manufacturer wouldn’t want to be involved. Top programs like Kinetic, RealTime, Goldcrest/GTSport, etc., probably should be in GT. But this is a great place to prove the team and the car capabilities.”

That makes it all the more impressive that in just their second weekend as a combined unit, Aschenbach took down established class king Peter Cunningham of RealTime at Long Beach to score Blackdog’s first GTS victory (see it Sunday, May 5, 2 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Network). Aschenbach attests the effort Gaples and chief mechanic Ray Sorenson have put in has made all the difference.

“I’m so pleased with the results so far, but in all honesty, I expected it,” Aschenbach says. “When this program started to come together, and I worked with Ray and Tony a couple years ago in a test day, I realized the professionalism and what they were capable of.”

Aschenbach, who notes the Camaro is a true testament to the effort of GM engineers, handles street courses very well. It has great brakes and takes bumps and corners very well, key elements to success on the concrete canyons that populate the World Challenge schedule.

Knowing where GT cars have their strong suits is also important, as in the GTS class, you always have to be aware of faster GT traffic. Having been in both classes is an asset for both Aschenbach and Gaples.

The drive for another win occurs in a little more than two weeks at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. GT and GTS will race combined as they have to open the year, with TC and TCB joining for the first time this season.

Race Recap: Rosberg’s hot streak continues in Abu Dhabi

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The 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may have lacked the drama of the title deciders we have been treated to at the Yas Marina Circuit over the years, but it was nevertheless an important race in setting the scene for the new season.

Nico Rosberg capped off a largely disappointing campaign with a sixth win of the year, completing his first career hat-trick following victories in Mexico and Brazil.

Teammate Lewis Hamilton was left to settle for P2 once again, and although he may have clinched his third world title in emphatic style earlier this year, the Briton will undoubtedly be wary of a renewed charge from Rosberg in 2016 following his impressive run of form.

In the final race recap video of the season, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett review the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the F1 year as a whole ahead of the long winter break.

Lowdon, Booth bid farewell to Manor in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Manor Marussia Team Principal John Booth and Manor Marussia President and Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon arrive in the paddock before final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth both bid emotional farewells to Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after resigning from their roles last month.

Lowdon and Booth were instrumental in the formation of Virgin Racing in 2010, which ultimately evolved to become Marussia F1 Team.

When Marussia collapsed financially in 2014, Lowdon and Booth managed to keep the team going and revive it as Manor for the new season, securing its place on the grid.

However, following disagreements with team owner Stephen Fitzpatrick over the future of the team, both Lowdon and Booth tendered their resignations, with today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marking the final race in their roles.

“This is of course my final race with the Manor Marussia F1 Team,” Booth said.

“At a time like this, there is so much to say but I think the single biggest sentiment I will take away is incredible pride at just how much we punched above our weight for such a small team.

“It was a greater challenge than we ever anticipated, but six years on we are still here fighting.

“I wish the team every success in the future and I will be following their progress with a great deal of satisfaction at what we created together.”

Lowdon took to Twitter to thank the Manor team, but left the door on F1 open by only saying goodbye ‘for now’.

Manor’s final race of the year ended with another double finish as Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi finished 18th and 19th respectively. After the race, both drivers paid tribute to their outgoing bosses.

“I would like to thank everyone in the team for their support, but in particular John and Graeme, who we say goodbye to here today,” Stevens said.

Merhi added: “I would like to thank the whole team, not only for this opportunity but for the hard work throughout the season. We’ve had some difficult times, but I am very proud of us.

“My thanks also to John and Graeme and I wish them well for the future. I am sure we have not seen the last of them!”

Alonso: I will be racing in 2016, “that’s 100%”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Honda arrives in the paddock before final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso has once again rejected speculation claiming he could take a sabbatical from Formula 1 in 2016, telling NBCSN that he will be racing next year.

Alonso saw a miserable first year back at McLaren come to a disappointing end in Abu Dhabi on Sunday as he finished 17th, two laps down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Deficiencies with the Honda power unit used by McLaren have blighted Alonso’s efforts all season long, prompting a number of outbursts that continued in Abu Dhabi when he threatened to retire the car.

The Spaniard finished the season with just 11 points to his name, marking his worst F1 campaign since his debut year with Minardi back in 2001.

Earlier in the race weekend, it was suggested that Alonso could take a year out of F1 if McLaren and Honda were unable to provide him a competitive car for next year.

Alonso denied such speculation on Saturday, and confirmed to NBCSN after the race on Sunday that he would definitely be racing in 2016.

“No, I will be racing. That’s 100%,” Alonso said when asked if he would be taking a sabbatical.

“If I had to choose a sabbatical, I would choose this [year]! I was here, I was pushing, I was giving my maximum, and I will always do.”

Alonso spent the entirety of his race in Abu Dhabi alone at the back of the field after a first lap collision with Pastor Maldonado and a penalty for his part in it.

“Being last with no battles all the race, it was pretty much alone,” Alonso said.

“We say always that there are some test races for us, but today it was more than ever a test because I was alone all the race.

“Hopefully we got some useful information for winter to develop the car but it was a very difficult race from the start.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Abu Dhabi GP post-race (VIDEO)

xxxx during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 29, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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The final round of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi may not have had a great deal riding on it with both championships already decided, but with the foundations already being laid for the new year, there were a number of storylines running throughout an eventual race at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Nico Rosberg managed to see off a late challenge from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to pick up his sixth win of the year and, for the first time in his F1 career, a third in a row.

The German driver controlled proceedings from start to finish, while Hamilton was forced to settle for P2 once again ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

For the final time in 2015, Will Buxton brings you all of the news, interviews and insight following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the latest edition of Paddock Pass.