Chris Dyson

TUSC: Teams we’ll be missing

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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.

Mercedes takes up option on Ocon for 2016

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C7600
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Mercedes has taken up its option on GP3 driver Esteban Ocon ahead of the 2016 season to make him a full member of its junior programme.

Ocon, 19, won last year’s FIA F3 European Championship ahead of current Toro Rosso driver and Formula 1’s unofficial rookie of the year Max Verstappen.

Having previously been on Lotus’ junior programme, Ocon was expected to move into GP2 for 2015, but his deal with the team fell through and prompted him to race for ART Grand Prix in GP3.

Mercedes announced back in May that it would be supporting Ocon for this season, with an option to make him a fully-fledged member of its junior programme at the end of the year.

In Friday’s FIA press conference, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff confirmed that this option had been taken up, but that plans for Ocon and its other junior talent, Pascal Wehrlein, in 2016 are still to be finalized.

“We’ve taken up the option on him because he has been with us now, or has been following the DTM team for a while, has been the test driver in DTM and integrated well and he’s doing a very good job in GP3 as well and he’s somebody we’d very much like to have in the family,” Wolff said.

“This is why we’ve exercised the option. It doesn’t mean that we’ve found a solution for Pascal.

“The current driver market is a bit difficult because most of the teams have already announced their drivers and it need to be the right deal – but having taken up Esteban we are conscious that we need to find a suitable programme for both of them.

“It could well mean that it could eventually end up for both of them in a testing role, in a reserve driver role and in a DTM role – so it’s not done yet.”

Ocon enters the final race of the GP3 season on Sunday with a six-point advantage over Luca Ghiotto.

Rosberg closes out Abu Dhabi practice on top

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg closed out practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets after edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton on Saturday afternoon at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Rosberg arrived in Abu Dhabi for the final race of the 2015 Formula 1 season chasing a third successive victory, and appears to be in the box seat ahead of qualifying later today after setting the pace in both FP2 and FP3.

A fastest lap time of 1:41.856 was enough to give Rosberg P1 by almost three-tenths of a second in FP3 as Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton struggled to put together a clean flying lap, suffering two minor offs at the hairpin in the first sector.

Ferrari showed signs of an increased threat to Mercedes in FP3 as Sebastian Vettel finished just 0.040 seconds behind Hamilton in third place, bouncing back from a quiet Friday for the Italian marque.

Sergio Perez produced a fine flying lap to finish the session fourth for Force India, and his pace was underpinned by that of teammate Nico Hulkenberg in seventh as they were split by Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas had another routine session en route to eighth and ninth for Williams, while Carlos Sainz Jr. made up for his stoppage on Friday by rounding out the top ten for Toro Rosso.

McLaren’s hopes of some points to finish the season were boosted once again in FP3 as Jenson Button finished 11th. Teammate Fernando Alonso was less fortunate, though, complaining of traffic on his way to 16th overall.

Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Nasr followed Button in P12 and P13, with Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean finishing just behind. Marcus Ericsson had another difficult session, finishing 17th ahead only of the Manor drivers and Daniil Kvyat, who failed to post a lap time due to an electrical issue on his car.

Qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 8am ET on Saturday.

Rosberg wary of engine power deficit in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a tough weekend in Abu Dhabi due to a deficit in engine power caused by the high mileage on his current unit.

Rosberg and the Mercedes team have managed to avoid any engine-related grid penalties in 2015 by keeping within the limit of four power units per season.

By doing so, Mercedes has been forced into extending the milage of its engines, with a failure for Rosberg at the Italian Grand Prix in September having a knock-on effect at the end of the season.

Rosberg therefore arrives in Abu Dhabi with an engine down on power that makes him wary of his chances despite leading practice on Friday.

“It’s been a good start here in Abu Dhabi, but it will be a tough weekend for me as I have quite a high mileage engine in my car,” Rosberg said.

“After the Monza problem, we have had to stretch the engine life more than we had planned over the 19 races, so I definitely have a small lack of power on the straights and therefore need to make up extra time in the corners.

“It will be a big battle with Lewis here. He didn’t really bring together his quick laps, so it will be even closer tomorrow I’m sure. I’m looking forward to it and I definitely want to win this race and give the boys in the garage a reason to celebrate at the end of the season.”

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, world champion Lewis Hamilton was left unhappy with Mercedes’ long-run pace in practice, believing that there is ground to be made up.

“The long run pace doesn’t feel quite as strong so that’s something I need to work on,” Hamilton said. “I’ll probably make some more tweaks tonight and hopefully tomorrow it will be better.

“It’s very hard to overtake here, so of course it’s better to be up on pole. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win from further back.”

Renault: Lotus announcement “very likely” next week

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
© Getty Images
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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has said that the French manufacturer expects to make an announcement regarding its pending takeover of Lotus next week.

Renault has been engaged in negotiations with Lotus over a takeover of the team for many months, and signed a letter of intent back in September confirming its plans to revive a works F1 operation at Enstone.

Although a deal is still yet to be formally agreed and announced, Renault employees have already started working at Lotus to lay the foundations for 2016.

It was speculated that Renault may announce its takeover of Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but Abiteboul confirmed on Friday that nothing would be made official at Yas Marina.

The Frenchman remained coy when asked what exactly Renault’s involvement in F1 would entail in 2016, saying: “I’m afraid I can’t answer to that question. I would like to be in a position to be able to answer to that questions, but I am not today.”

Despite there being no announcement in Abu Dhabi, Abiteboul said that he envisages one being made next week following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

“What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future – short-term or middle-term future – over the weekend, but there will be an announcement, very likely, in the course of next week,” he said.

“We have always said that we would like to do that after the season. The season is ending on Sunday, around the start of December and that is what we will do stick to that plan, which is to make an announcement then.”

Abiteboul said that every effort was being made to finalize the deal with Lotus, but he is excited about the prospect of Renault returning to F1 with a works team for the first time since 2010.

“It’s fair to say that there is a process going on since the signing of the letter of interest on the 28th of September, there is a process involving a lot of people,” Abiteboul said.

“I think 50 people have been working night and day on the realisation of a possible acquisition of a majority stake in Lotus. It’s just a project, It’s been a proper rollercoaster, very exciting.”