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Ganassi, Pruett excited for Ford future

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Tuesday’s announcement – a long-awaited and anticipated confirmation that Chip Ganassi Racing’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship effort would switch from BMW to Ford Ecoboost engines – changes the game in the merged series before it’s even run its first race.

How, you ask? The Michael Shank Racing team was likely to be Ford’s flagship team, and it has had the longest history with the manufacturer in GRAND-AM Rolex Series history. Ganassi, though, brings the championship pedigree (five GRAND-AM titles, the last three with BMW) and consistent week-in, week-out threat to win that Shank’s team has often struggled to produce.

That’s no knock on Shank, but when you’re the scrappy, plucky underdog compared to the “Goliath” that is CGR, it’s always more of an uphill struggle to achieve the same results on a regular basis.

If nothing else, Ganassi has given himself a new nickname as a result of the partnership.

“You can call me ‘Mr. Detroit,’ I guess, with having both Ford and Chevrolet now,” Ganassi told me Tuesday at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

“For many years we’ve been in different series, with IndyCar, sports car and NASCAR, and we’ve been under three manufacturers for a long time. So now, we’re down to two manufacturers. It’s exciting and it’s really no different than a car dealer with more brands under his belt.”

Indeed it’s Ganassi who has spread his wings to have two of North America’s “Big Three” auto manufacturers at once. But while the decision to not bring everything under the Chevrolet umbrella may come as a surprise, Ganassi explained that the Ecoboost platform, a turbocharged V6 built more for efficiency, was a better fit for his sports car operation.

“I’ve been a proponent of ‘economy car,’ mileage, ‘going green,’ renewable, all these sort of buzzwords over the last 10 years,” he said. “Somewhere along the line we lost ‘performance.’ With Ecoboost, we’ll have economy, and performance. I’ve been preaching that you can have that in racing. It’s about using the least fuel as you can to get to the finish, right?”

Lead driver of one of the CGR Riley Ford Daytona Prototypes is Scott Pruett, himself a five-time Rolex DP champion and a five-time overall winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

For Pruett, the switch to Ford marks a homecoming and an anniversary. He’s also driven for the “blue oval” in IndyCar and NASCAR.

“The last time was when Doug Yates, interestingly, was building the engines on the ’32 Tide ride,'” Pruett said. “And it’s pretty interesting, I was telling the Ford guys this story. 30 years ago this month was my first opportunity to drive a big car, and it was a Ford: a front-engined Mustang GTP, ’83, Elkhart Lake, Wis.”

Pruett explained the challenges the DP teams are facing with such a condensed timeline between making this announcement and upgrading the car with the necessary performance and aero adjustments, before the team’s first scheduled test December 14-15 at Daytona. One of the few constants is staying in Continental Tires, which P2 teams need to adapt to.

“We’re getting the engine fit, components organized; it’s a lot of reorganization to move from a normally aspirated V8 to a turbocharged V6, and do all the other updates,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate (all the rule news) is coming now, because realistically this should have happened in June and July. That makes it more difficult for the teams, considering the reality that this largely falls on the Daytona Prototype guys, not the P2 guys.”

Ganassi confirmed two DPs will run at the Rolex 24 and continues to pursue the second full-season car there. The team adds a fourth IndyCar for Tony Kanaan in 2014, and remains constant with two Chevrolets in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Davidson would not turn down Jaguar Formula E drive

Anthony Davidson (GBR) 
Toyota Hybrid Racing
World Endurance Championship. 6 Hours of Bahrain. 18th-21st  November 2015. Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain.
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SPA – Anthony Davidson is open to a move into Formula E with Jaguar upon its entry to the championship later this year, but is yet to receive a serious offer from the British manufacturer.

Jaguar confirmed at the end of last year that it would be entering Formula E from the 2016-2017 season, and is expected to be competitive from the very beginning thanks to its relationship with championship battery supplier Williams.

As a result, the Jaguar seats are among the most coveted for the new season, leading to speculation that 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship winner and Toyota racer Davidson could become the latest driver to combine endurance racing duties with Formula E.

Davidson confirmed to NBC Sports that he’d be interested in doing so, but said he is yet to receive a serious approach.

“If I was approached seriously and wasn’t messed about by having to do a driver shoot-out or anything ridiculous like that, then maybe I would,” Davidson said.

“So far I haven’t had a serious approach. I would be up for it. I’m always up for racing in different cars, especially to drive a single-seater again would be nice, but it’s not high on my priority list at the moment.”

When asked by NBC Sports if a move to Jaguar would be of interest, Davidson confirmed that preliminary talks had been held but nothing had been firmed up.

“I got in touch, we were in touch. We had a chat and that’s about all that came from it,” Davidson said.

“I wouldn’t turn down an offer, let’s put it that way. But I’m not going to break a leg falling over myself to get into one.

“I’m 37 years old now. If I can’t sell myself now then there’s no point.

“If people don’t know what I’m capable of then that’s their loss.”

Verstappen never saw a reason to leave Red Bull setup

MILTON KEYNES, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Red Bull Racing arrives at the Red Bull Racing Factory on May 5, 2016 at the Red Bull Racing Factory, Milton Keynes, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen says that he did not consider leaving the Red Bull setup for a rival before being promoted to the energy drink giant’s senior Formula 1 team.

Red Bull announced on Thursday that it would be swapping Verstappen, previously of Toro Rosso, with Daniil Kvyat in a bid to ease the pressure on the Russian following a disastrous Russian Grand Prix.

Verstappen has made a significant impact on F1 since making his debut with Toro Rosso last year at the age of 17, leading to speculation about a possible move away.

However, the Dutchman said that he never considered leaving Red Bull as he feels happy within its racing programme.

“To be honest, I was always very happy at Red Bull,” Verstappen said.

“I never saw reason to change and of course with this opportunity there is no reason to change so I’m happy to be here.

“It’s a great honor and it’s a top team and that’s where every driver wants to drive I think. I can’t wait to get started.”

Verstappen paid his first visit to Red Bull’s factory in Milton Keynes, England on Thursday to meet his new team, but says he has no expectations for the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix.

“I go there with no expectations to be honest,” Verstappen said.

“I just want to adapt to the car, understand it better and better every session and like I said before, study the data and see what my teammate is doing because the most important thing is to score points.

“Of course I’m driving for a top team now, but in the end you always try to do your best which is what I always try to do. For me, I don’t feel more pressure.”

Porsche sweeps to one-two in Spa WEC qualifying

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber
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SPA – After seeing its streak of pole positions in the FIA World Endurance Championship end at Silverstone, Porsche bounced back in style by sweeping to an impressive one-two finish in qualifying for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

Porsche debuted its low downforce aero kit in Spa on Friday to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, and it proved to be potent from the outset as the no. 1 car shared by Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard set the pace in qualifying.

Under unusually sunny skies at Spa, Hartley set the early pace despite reporting a clutch issue before Bernhard went faster still on his run, resulting in a two-lap average for the car of 1:55.793.

Porsche’s Silverstone-winning no. 2 car followed in P2 with Marc Lieb and Neel Jani sharing driving duties, albeit seven-tenths of a second down.

The battle for P3 between Toyota and Audi appears to be closer than ever at Spa, with just three-tenths of a second separating all four cars. Traffic for the Audis allowed the Toyotas to edge ahead, with the no. 6 car finishing third ahead of Audi’s no. 8. Toyota’s no. 5 followed in P5 ahead of the sister no. 7 Audi.

In LMP2, G-Drive Racing secured class pole thanks to Roman Rusinov and Rene Rast as their two-lap average was half a second clear of the field. The no. 36 Signatech Alpine team followed in P2, while Manor enjoyed a strong showing to get its cars third and fifth on the grid, with the Jota Sport-run no. 38 Gibson car splitting them.

GTE Pro’s qualifying saw the new Ferrari 488 GTEs excel once again as AF Corse stormed to a one-two in class with the no. 71 of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon taking pole. The duo claimed victory at Silverstone in their first race together, and managed to edge out the sister no. 51 Ferrari by three-tenths of a second in the first qualifying session.

Aston Martin Racing finished as the best of the rest with its no. 97 Vantage V8 slotting into P3 ahead of the two Ford GTs in fourth and fifth, both seven-tenths down on the pole time. Porsche struggled once again as the no. 77 911 RSR ailed to P7 in class, 2.3 seconds off the pace.

AMR made up for its GTE Pro qualifying defeat in GTE Am as the no. 98 car took pole by 1.8 seconds in the hands of Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana. AF Corse followed in a distant second place, while the Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR followed in third.

The 6 Hours of Spa kicks off at 2:30pm local time (8:30am ET) on Sunday.

For full results from Spa qualifying, click here.

Webber: Red Bull decision to drop Kvyat ‘harsh’ but not surprising

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16:  Mark Webber of Australia and Porsche Team 919 Hybrid talks to the media during previews the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Silverstone race at the Silverstone Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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SPA – Ex-Formula 1 driver Mark Webber believes that Red Bull’s decision to drop Daniil Kvyat in favor of Max Verstappen is “harsh” but has been brewing for some time.

On Thursday, Red Bull announced that Verstappen would be moving up from junior team Toro Rosso to take Kvyat’s seat from the Spanish Grand Prix, with the Russian moving in the opposite direction.

Webber enjoyed a turbulent spell with Red Bull in F1 between 2007 and 2013, enjoying a particularly frosty relationship with team advisor Helmut Marko who was instrumental in the decision to promote Verstappen to the senior outfit.

Speaking at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps ahead of this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship race, Porsche driver Webber said he was not surprised by the call.

“It was probably on the cards even before Russia, so in a way you probably feel there was something brewing,” Webber said when asked about the decision by NBC Sports.

“They’ve done it. And let’s see if Max can break Red Bull records again. He’s got no choice [to be ready]. He has to be ready.

“[Kvyat has] had a year and 30% there in terms of time. They don’t believe that he’s done enough. In their eyes he hasn’t done enough and they see that one other guy is doing enough.

“Normally you wait until the end of the year but obviously you know that doesn’t happen sometimes, particularly with Red Bull. They change it whenever they feel – bang.

“Helmut just wants performance. He wants to put the fastest guys in the best scenario as quick as possible.

“People just say that the mistakes that Dany made, it was off the back of that, but obviously it was probably accumulating to a point where they were not overly happy with his performance in the build-up.”

Webber said that he felt it was harsh on Kvyat, but believes that part of the move was a ploy by Red Bull to ensure that Verstappen is tied down to them for longer and prevent rivals from signing him for the 2017 season.

“Yeah, I feel it’s harsh but it’s a big business and things move fast and I think also again getting ahead of the ’17 market a bit, making sure everything’s ready,” Webber said.

“It’ll be a complete non-topic in six months as usual in F1, even three months. Everyone moves on.

“In Formula 1 you have nowhere to hide.”