Thursday Austin press conference noteworthy by Kovalainen’s absence

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Thursday’s press conference for the United States Grand Prix was more notable for the one driver absent from the proceedings: new Lotus signing Heikki Kovalainen.

The Finn was meant to join the other five participants in Austin, but for the slight problem he hasn’t arrived in Austin yet. The team said he was en route to the facility in due course, before he replaces Kimi Raikkonen for the final two Grands Prix this Formula One season.

As it is, of the other five present, only Jules Bianchi (Marussia) has a contract in place for next year. The rest – Paul di Resta (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams) and Mexicans Sergio Perez (McLaren) and Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) – are all figuring out plans for next season.

“I’m confident with the team as we try to do our best to finish this year,” said Bianchi. “It all started really well, but it has been difficult of late.”

Di Resta, who’s been back on form of late with back-to-back points scoring finishes in the last two races, is surprised by late the silly season is occurring.

“I think it’s very late, but what can you do really?” di Resta said.

Maldonado, who seemed optimistic about his future at last night’s FOTA Fan Forum, pretty much echoed those thoughts this morning.

“For sure I know (what I’ll be doing),” Maldonado said. “We have a couple options. I have a tough decision ahead.”

Perez and Gutierrez largely echoed the same thoughts as they did at the Fan Forum, although Perez had the line of the morning regarding the large Mexican contingent of fans expected to attend in Austin this weekend.

“The grandstands would be empty without the Mexicans,” he deadpanned.

Audi bids farewell to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich upon retirement

Audi Sport
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Audi bid farewell to its iconic head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, at its end-of-season ‘Race Night’ event in Germany on Friday upon his retirement.

Ullrich took over the reins as Audi’s head of motorsport in 1993 and stayed in the role for 23 years, overseeing its arrival in the prototype class of sports car racing and domination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ullrich stepped down from the position at the end of 2016, handing the reins over to ex-Audi DTM chief Dieter Gass, and attended his final racing event with the German marque at its first works Formula E outing in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Ullrich was honored at the Race Night event on Friday and thanked for his efforts in developing Audi into a force within global motorsport.

“In 566 factory-backed commitments during this period he celebrated 209 victories, 13 of them in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eleven in the 12-hour race at Sebring and nine in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ at Road Atlanta,” a piece on Ullrich’s tenure for Audi’s website reads.

“31 driver titles in super touring car racing, in the DTM and in the sports prototype category are credited to him. 57 campaigners were Audi factory drivers during Wolfgang Ullrich’s era and he was responsible for 18 new developments of racing cars – an impressive tally.”