Alessandro Balzan celebrates with team (Scuderia Corsa/Ferrari North America)

Scuderia Corsa reflects on Ferrari’s second straight Rolex GT title

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For the second consecutive season, Ferrari has captured the championship in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series’ GT class. That gives the Scuderia a perfect 2-for-2 strike rate in the years it has entered with the GRAND-AM spec F458 Italia, before 2014 arrives and GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series take the green flag as the newly merged Tudor United SportsCar Championship.

Scuderia Corsa followed AIM Autosport/Team FXDD’s championship-winning ways of 2012. This year, Alessandro Balzan took the title in dramatic fashion in the season finale at Lime Rock Park. Balzan entered the title decider down four points to the Magnus Racing pair of Andy Lally and John Potter, but avoided trouble as the Magnus Porsche was hit by another car on just the second lap of the race. With second place, his ninth top-five finish in 12 races, Balzan emerged as champion ahead of Lally and Potter by 10 points.

“I was never relaxed during the race since things were always happening in front of us, behind us, or next to us,” Balzan said after the race. “The DP’s were passing us and sometimes it was a nightmare because you know that you are leading the championship but you also know that you are losing so much time in traffic.”

Scuderia Corsa team principal Giacomo Mattioli explained Balzan rose to the challenge in his first full season of Rolex GT competition.

“The thing that really convinced me is his track record,” Mattioli said. “This is now five years in a row he’s won the championship: Porsche Cup three years, Ferrari Challenge and now Rolex GT. I knew he wouldn’t crack under pressure, and wouldn’t do, shall we say stupid things.

“What I was surprised by is how quickly he has learned and adapted to tracks, and to tires he didn’t really know. That beat even my expectations. It’s a telling talent. That’s hard to do and it’s not easy to predict how quickly he’ll pick up a track. I’ve never seen anyone else do that within 3-4 laps.”

Balzan had several different co-drivers in 2013 – Alessandro Per Guidi for two races, Jeff Westphal through Watkins Glen and Leh Keen the last five races – and had to mesh his style with whoever else was sharing the seat of the No. 63 Ferrari F458 Italia. They only won once, but had the best finishing record in the field.

“The chemistry between the drivers is a key ingredient, but the chemistry among the team is a bigger ingredient,” Mattioli said. “Pretty much every driver who has raced for us has felt welcome and comfortable and grown in very quickly. One big component with Alessandro is he is a super nice guy. He’s easygoing, he makes everyone comfortable, and he gelled with Jeff and Leh. I couldn’t have scripted it.”

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Mattioli (left) and Mattiacci (right) (Scuderia Corsa/Ferrari North America)

Nor could they have scripted the fact that the team could enter into Rolex GT and win the title in its first full season. Mattioli and Ferrari North America president/CEO Marco Mattiacci have a strong relationship and to win in front of Mattiacci was great for both individuals.

“My background has been in working with the factory,” said Mattioli, who was born and raised in Modena and eventually came to work for Ferrari in North America. “We have had the opportunity to see – shall we say, both sides of the fence: the corporate and retail ends of it. I have a unique perspective to be able to reflect and understand the factory requirements. Marco and I have had a friendship for many years, but we are very in tune on the business side.”

“The manufacturer championship is very important for Ferrari, because it demonstrates not only the phenomenal performance, speed, balance, but also the reliability of the 458 Italia,” Mattiacci said immediately after the race. “To win it for the second time, against the high level of competition in the Rolex Series in the United States, is an achievement we are very proud of.”

Balzan reflected on the title, too, as this was his first full season racing in the U.S.

“I am very happy for the team. Everyone at Scuderia Corsa, really deserved it,” he said. “It’s really crazy to think we are champions in the first year. I have to thank Giacomo because he believed in me, otherwise I would have never gotten the seat. I’m a 100% Scuderia Corsa product, and it is a dream for a little Italian driver coming from Italy that is now living in Modena.”

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Team shot (Scuderia Corsa/Ferrari North America)

Looking ahead to 2014, Mattioli confirmed Scuderia Corsa will return to defend its title.

“It’s definitely exciting and very interesting, the first year, because it’s easier said than done when you mesh two different series and so many classes,” he said. “We’re staying in GTD. The goal is two cars for the full season.

“We are very happy to be involved with the Tudor United championship. I think there will be a lot of competition again, coming from Porsche, coming from other manufacturers. But we’ll be there with the 458 package.

“For a driver – this is not me saying it – but the opportunity to race for Ferrari is the top,” he added. “I think our drivers feel the same, we are very lucky to be involved with Ferrari and there are few things in life you cannot separate. It’s part of the DNA of the company. If you want to represent Ferrari at any level – retail, business, dealer – you need to race. It’s exciting, it’s fun.”

Sebastian Vettel: Ferrari still in the dark over 2017 F1 chances

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Sebastian Vettel believes that Ferrari is still unsure about its Formula 1 championship chances in 2017 despite finishing as the fastest team through pre-season testing.

Following a winless campaign in 2016, Ferrari sprung a surprise in winter testing by dominating proceedings in Barcelona, with Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen finishing as the fastest drivers.

The new SF70H car appears to be a marked improvement on its predecessor following the change in the technical regulations, with three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton naming Ferrari as the favorite to win the first race in Australia this weekend.

Vettel remained coy about his chances when speaking in Thursday’s FIA press conference, saying it won’t be until the first sessions of the weekend in Melbourne are complete that Ferrari will truly know where it stands.

“So far we don’t know anything. For all of us it will be exciting to find out where we are on Saturday and Sunday, to get a first impression,” Vettel said.

“For us a lot of new things last year didn’t really go the way we expected, so I think for this year we have really focused on ourselves. We have tried to do our job back in the factory and in testing.

“I think testing times, I don’t think they are that crucial, I think it matters much more what you show from here onwards. We’ll see. I think we are a bit in the dark like everyone else, not knowing what other people have done.

“For ourselves we can be reasonably happy, we did decent mileage, we didn’t have any major issues with the car and hopefully we can carry that momentum into the race.”

Vettel added that Mercedes rival Hamilton “must be” the favorite for the drivers’ title in 2017 given the German team’s form, having won over 50 races in the past three years.

“Mercedes obviously has been in very, very strong form the last three years and even though we changed the regulations, if a team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what you do with the rules,” Vettel said.

“I think it’s very clear who is the favorite. For all of us sitting here, we are trying our best to catch-up. How much we have succeeded, we will see and, as the season goes on, I’m sure the cars will have big progression and all the teams will bring lots of stuff to develop the cars.

“So, whoever’s in a good place in the beginning and still in a good place at the end will have a chance.”

Full 2017 F1 on NBC Grand Prix race schedule, air times and networks

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NBC Sports Group has released the air times for all 20 Grands Prix ahead of the 2017 season, with all races live on either NBC, NBCSN or CNBC.

Coverage begins with this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix; full times and details for the race at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit can be found here. The race coverage starts at midnight on March 26 with F1 Countdown, with lights out at 1 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

There’s nearly 200 hours of coverage throughout the year throughout the networks. With most races on NBCSN, the four traditional NBC races (Monaco, Canada, United States, Mexico) continue and the remaining three races will be on CNBC for their live first airing.

NBC Sports Group’s Formula One commentating team returns for a fifth consecutive season, with lead race announcer Leigh Diffey (play-by-play), veteran analyst and former driver David Hobbs, analyst Steve Matchett, a former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team, and F1 insider Will Buxton, who will provide live reports on-site for all 20 races this season.

This week’s coverage of the Australian Grand Prix will also include a season preview from veteran motorsports essayist Sam Posey, as he discusses the retirement of 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg, and the state of F1 without Bernie Ecclestone at the helm for the first time in 40 years.

Last season, NBCSN’s 2016 F1 coverage (14 races) averaged 429,000 viewers, up 3% vs. 2015 (418,000; 13 races), to rank as the best F1 season for a single cable network since 1995 (ESPN: 755,000 viewers). Viewership has more than doubled since the first season on NBCSN, up 107% vs. 2013. Click here for more information on last year’s record F1 viewership.

In addition, NBC Sports Group will present comprehensive coverage of practice and qualifying of all 20 races across its family of networks and NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Streaming coverage will also enhance race coverage with dedicated feeds, including:

  • On-Board Feed –  NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app’s channel for live on-board cameras;
  • Pit Lane Feed – A dedicated channel on pit lane featuring all pit stops and team communication;
  • Driver Tracker – real-time data showing where all 22 cars are on track.
2017 FORMULA ONE SCHEDULE (all times ET)
Date Grand Prix Time Network
Sun., March 26 Australian Grand Prix 12:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., April 9 Chinese Grand Prix 1:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., April 16 Bahrain Grand Prix 10:30 a.m. CNBC
Sun., April 30 Russian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., May 14 Spanish Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., May 28 Monaco Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBC
Sun., June 11 Canadian Grand Prix 2 p.m. NBC
Sun., June 25 Azerbaijan Grand Prix 8:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., July 9 Austrian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. CNBC
Sun., July 16 British Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. CNBC
Sun., July 30 Hungarian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., August 27 Belgian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., September 3 Italian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., September 17 Singapore Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 1 Malaysian Grand Prix 2:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 8 Japanese Grand Prix 12:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 22 United States Grand Prix 3 p.m. NBC
Sun., October 29 Mexican Grand Prix 3 p.m. NBC
Sun., November 12 Brazilian Grand Prix 10:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., November 26 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN

 

Hamilton maintains Ferrari is F1 favorite, says Vettel is cooling hype

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Lewis Hamilton has maintained that Ferrari is the team to beat heading into this weekend’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia, believing that Sebastian Vettel is trying hard to keep a lid on the hype surrounding his chances.

Hamilton enters 2017 chasing a fourth world title after losing out to ex-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg last year, and is one of the favorites for the drivers’ championship.

Ferrari sprung a surprise in testing by finishing as the fastest team ahead of Mercedes – winner of over 50 races in the last three years alone – after capitalizing on the change in the technical regulations for this year.

Hamilton said throughout testing that he believed Ferrari would be the team to beat in Melbourne, and did not change his view in the Thursday press conference ahead of Sunday’s race.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment and I think they will definitely be the favorites, but we’ll find out more going into the weekend,” Hamilton said.

“It’s interesting to see, Sebastian’s usually a lot more hyped and I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.

“I’m very keen to see what Red Bull bring because they were quite far behind through testing, at least compared to Ferrari and didn’t see them bring many upgrades, or an upgrade as far as I could see.

“So I’m assuming they’re bringing something here which I’m excited to see what they do bring.”

Hamilton has ordinarily battled with just one driver – Rosberg – for race wins over the past three years given Mercedes’ pace advantage, but is excited about the prospect of battling with multiple racers from different teams at the front in 2017.

“Having more teams and more drivers up at the front fighting for wins, that’s what racing is all about. I’m hoping that’s the case,” Hamilton said.

“As far as I know, no team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes, so that is our goal as a team. We’re here to win, we’re here to do something no-one else has done.

“Whether or not we’re in the right place at this moment in the season, we’ll find out. But I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”

Sam Schmidt to enter the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame

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Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, is set to be inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame as part of its 2017 class. He joins boxer Floyd Mayweather, professional golf coach Butch Harmon, and 1950s college football star Overton Curtis as inductees. The Las Vegas Bowl college football game will also be inducted as part of the ceremonies.

“I’m truly honored to be recognized with this group of incredible athletes and organizations,” said Schmidt, who resides in Henderson, Nevada. “When you look at the other recipients over the past 21 years, it is truly a who’s who of Nevada sports and community leaders, all of whom I respect tremendously and several I call friends. I am proud that this award represents both accomplishments on the track and as a team owner, as well as a commitment to giving back to the local community which has always been important to my family.”

Dan Dolby, executive director of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, described that this year’s inductees exemplify everything they look for in the Nevada sports community. “The class of 2017 is accomplished in so many different ways. We have an outstanding group of athletes who have contributed so much both in the competitive arena and in the community, as well as one of most iconic and longest-lasting sporting events in our city. This class again represents the best attributes of our community, and we are thrilled to bestow upon them the state’s highest sports honor in welcoming them to the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.”

Sam Schmidt’s teams have claimed seven Indy Lights championships, the most of any team in series’ history, although the Lights team ceased operations this offseason. His Verizon IndyCar Series teams have also claimed two poles for the Indianapolis 500.

But, Schmidt’s accomplishments extend beyond the IndyCar and Indy Lights paddocks. He piloted a specially prepared Corvette, using a combination of breathing and neck movements, that was designed by team partner and sponsor Arrow Electronics to the top of Pikes Peak, which stands at more than 14,000 feet. He also completed an exhibition run in the same car prior to pole qualifying for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The ceremony will take place on June 2 a the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.