TUSC: Teams we’ll be missing

Leave a comment

With a grid of 69 confirmed cars for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, split between 29 prototypes and 40 GT cars, and a further nine cars listed as alternates, no one will suggest the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is lacking quantity or quality of entrants in its four classes.

Still, after compiling an entry list directly by number yesterday, there are some obvious omissions of quality and legendary American teams who won’t be on the grid at Daytona (we’re excluding Audi, Toyota and Porsche LMP1 prototypes here as they have not been present or would not have been able to commit given the TUDOR Championship class structure of P, PC, GTLM and GTD).

Teams have either moved on to different categories or are still to announce their 2014 plans. A few examples:

Dyson Racing (No. 16)

The biggest prototype casualty of the lot. Rob Dyson’s team celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013, but unfortunately the American Le Mans Series was only treated to the longtime pairing of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith for just a handful of races, with other drivers picking up the slack for a portion of the year. When the Dyson/Smith pair was together, they were exciting to watch as usual in their Lola Mazda P1 coupe. Dyson’s team has run Daytona Prototypes in the past, but has also explored the P2 route of cars over the years. Either way, this is a team that won memorable Rolex 24s in 1997 and 1999, and will be missed next month.

Brumos Racing (No. 59)

I held out some hope that after financial woes sidelined them early in 2013 that they could restructure the organization and return for 2014 with one of Porsche’s new 911 GT Americas created specifically for the TUDOR Championship. That doesn’t appear to be the case for the iconic, longtime flagship Porsche team that won Daytona overall three times in the 1970s and again in 2009 with a Riley Porsche DP. A Daytona without Hurley Haywood officially involved doesn’t seem possible.

AIM Autosport (Nos. 61/69)

AIM operated as a two-car team in the Rolex Series GT class this year with the R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport team the name for car 61, and AIM Autosport Team FXDD for car 69. Only in 2011, the No. 69 car won the class championship with Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato. Segal has shifted to the Level 5 Ferrari effort in GT Daytona while Assentato, per Sportscar365, is exploring other options as the funded driver. That leaves AIM on the sidelines for now, but hoping to appear in another format in some way, shape or form soon. Too quality of an operation to stay gone for long.

Team Sahlen (Nos. 42/43)

A longtime GRAND-AM supporter, the Sahlen’s team stepped up to Daytona Prototypes in 2013 with some success but several near misses when the team’s ace pro driver, Dane Cameron, ran into bad luck when in a position to win. The team announced it would scale back and withdraw from the TUDOR Championship in November, and has not yet revealed the next portion of its plans. Cameron is much too talented to be left on the sidelines, and will no doubt end up somewhere else soon.

Highcroft Racing (Nos. 0/1/9)

Duncan Dayton’s team last appeared to help run the radical DeltaWing open-top spyder in its first iteration in 2012, with Nissan badging and corporate support. On their own, they last raced in the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring and finished second overall in an HPD ARX-01e P1 car, a one-off chassis that never raced again. Its last full season in the ALMS, in 2010, it won the Prototype class championship with a trio of aces in David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti. A top-flight organization based in Connecticut, Dayton and his team gave a lot to the ALMS but his official presence in the TUDOR Championship is still a question mark.

Drayson Racing (Nos. 8/88)

Another of the old ALMS prototype teams, Lord Paul Drayson moved on from American motorsport after 2010 to create an all-electric P1 car, the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV, which set four land speed records in October. Drayson’s team has also been confirmed to the new FIA Formula E Championship, which begins in 2014. An affable Englishman, Drayson and his team brought a lot to the ALMS when they raced here full-time, and would have been a nice addition to the prototype field this year.

Ferrari’s F1 pre-season pace hard to find in Australian GP practice

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Following one of the most impressive pre-season performances in recent times, Ferrari headed into the new Formula 1 season facing the expectation and anticipation of a title challenge against Mercedes, the sport’s incumbent team to beat.

Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finished as the two fastest drivers in Barcelona earlier this month, with the SF70H appearing to have locked in well to the new technical regulations for 2017.

For the first time since – one may argue – 2008, Ferrari entered the season looking like a serious title threat; perhaps even the fastest team.

Yet you would not have thought so judging by its Friday form in Australia as F1 got its official running underway for 2017.

FP1 saw both Vettel and Raikkonen lose track time due to some minor problems with their cars, the pair only getting in a couple of quick laps to leave them P5 and P6 overall.

Most expected a clearer picture to emerge in FP2 when both qualifying and race simulations would be completed by Mercedes and Ferrari, with Vettel and Raikkonen getting a chance to impress on low fuel and the ultra-soft tire compound.

But once again, they could not match the pace of three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who led Mercedes’ charge. Vettel finished the session second and beat Valtteri Bottas in the second W08 – but it was the half a second gap to Hamilton that sparked concern. Perhaps Ferrari testing form wasn’t all that it seemed.

Vettel downplayed the importance of Ferrari’s Friday display after the session, telling reporters that it would be Saturday in qualifying when its battle with Mercedes would play out in full.

“Today is not really that important. It’s very important but not if you look at the final standings and one lap only,” Vettel said.

“I think overall it’s been OK. We had some small trouble this morning that cost us some track time, so it took us a bit longer to get into the groove.

“Overall I think we can still improve. The car does not yet feel as good as it should and as it can, so I’m confident we can do something.”

Raikkonen – fourth-fastest in FP2 – echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“I didn’t really expect anything because it’s like in testing, we had no idea what others were doing, we only know what we are doing,” Raikkonen said.

“For sure we cold have done slightly more straightforward running today and small things here and there, but I think overall we have to be happy and we go forward tomorrow.”

The true difference between Ferrari and Mercedes will become clear in qualifying – but until then, it is feasible that the game of bluffs that played out through testing may just be continuing.

Hamilton boosted by ’99 per cent perfect’ F1 practice in Australia

Getty Images
1 Comment

Lewis Hamilton was given a boost ahead of the first round of the 2017 Formula 1 season in Australia on Sunday by enjoying a near-perfect day of practice at Albert Park.

Hamilton endured a difficult end to pre-season testing in Barcelona two weeks ago as Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel surged clear in the timesheets.

Ferrari’s pace was such that Hamilton said it was the favorite for victory this weekend in Melbourne, with the SF70H car produced by the Italian manufacturer appearing to have adjusted best to the new regulations for 2017.

Hamilton offered a plot twist in practice on Friday, though, heading up a Mercedes one-two in FP1 before leading once again in FP2, finishing half a second clear of the pack.

“It’s great to be back in Australia and I’m super happy to be back in the car, particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 per cent perfect,” Hamilton said.

“After struggling with some issues in Barcelona, we didn’t know if we’d have the same thing here. What’s really encouraging is that we’ve arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be. It’s feeling great out there and the guys have done a fantastic job.

“We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tires performed really well today too.”

Hamilton refused to read too much into Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari in practice, believing the true difference between the two teams will only become clear in qualifying on Saturday.

“Coming into today, we really didn’t know where we’d be,” Hamilton said. “We knew from FP1 that the Ferrari’s weren’t at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick. We’ll see tomorrow how it really stands.

“I feel very much at home in Melbourne. There’s always a great buzz here and a lot of support. I’m just really happy to see everyone and receive their positive energy. I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.