With big year coming, Stewart-Haas Racing reorganizes

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As Stewart-Haas Racing prepares to expand to a four-car lineup for next year’s Sprint Cup campaign, the team has announced a series of organizational changes to its competition department – chief among them being the hiring of former Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief Chad Johnston to fill the same role for its recuperating driver/co-owner, Tony Stewart.

Johnston completed his tenure at MWR in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Like his driver, Martin Truex Jr., he too was told by MWR that he was free to look for new employment after the team announced it would drop to two full-time cars in 2014 following the loss of sponsor NAPA; Truex is moving on to Furniture Row Racing to drive its No. 78 car.

Stewart and Johnston worked together briefly back in 2004-2005 at Morgan-Dollar Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series. At that time, Stewart raced a handful of CWTS events for the team, with Johnston serving as race engineer.

Additionally, Daniel Knost will make his debut as a crew chief next season for Kurt Busch’s No. 41 squad after serving as race engineer for the No. 39 of now-departed Ryan Newman. Before going to the No. 39, Knost – who has been with SHR since 2008 – was race engineer for Danica Patrick in an eight-race stretch during the 2012 season.

Other major notes from SHR’s reorganization:

  • Rodney Childers, who joined SHR last month, will be crew chief for the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick. He most recently was crew chief for the No. 55 MWR team of Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.
  • Tony Gibson will remain crew chief for Patrick on the No. 10 car.
  • Greg Zipadelli has been promoted to the role of vice president of competition, where he’ll manage all four Cup squads.
  • Matt Borland has been named vice president of engineering and will oversee the team’s technical side, as well as various research and development projects. A team release also notes that he’ll shift from being an active crew chief “to that of a mentor, specifically in regard to the crew chief position on the No. 41 Haas Automation team of driver Kurt Busch” – namely, Knost.

In a statement, Stewart said that with the changes, the team is set to transform seamlessly into a bigger operation.

“Obviously, there is a lot of change happening for 2014 as we grow to four teams and bring in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch,” he said. “But with our new management structure and the crew chiefs we have in place, we’re well positioned to handle whatever challenges come our way.

“Collectively, we have the experience and wherewithal necessary for each of our teams to perform at the highest level possible.”

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.