Force India picks Perez for second seat

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Sergio Perez arrived late on Formula One’s driver market for 2014, but the Mexican played his way into a seat anyway after strong performances in the final two races when he knew he was a free agent.

Perez shifts from McLaren to Force India for 2014, where he will team alongside Nico Hulkenberg. It’s a multi-year deal for Perez, who will have the chance to prove himself alongside one of F1’s most highly regarded drivers who hasn’t yet had a chance at one of the proverbial “top teams.”

“It’s great to announce my new team as Sahara Force India,” Perez said. “Coming here was always my first choice and I’m really happy everything has now been confirmed. I want to say thank you to Vijay and the whole team for giving me the opportunity.”

Perez gave the usual platitudes about hoping to lift the team into the top tier of the field.

“This is a young team with a lot of determination and they’ve produced competitive cars for the last few years,” he said. “It’s all change for next season with the new regulations, but I already have a good feeling about 2014. My plan now is to visit the factory and get to know everyone in the team.”

Team principal Vijay Mallya feels his squad has two top-flight stars who could potentially lift Force India into the top five in the Constructor’s Championship.

“It’s a pleasure to welcome Sergio to the team,” Mallya said. “He brings a healthy mix of youth and experience, and I’ve been very impressed with his recent performances. He already has several podium finishes to his name and being chosen by McLaren last year was a clear indication that he is a driver to watch for the future.

“We also recognize Sergio’s incredible talent and we are proud to have him in our team,” he added. “He clearly has great speed and plenty of fire in his belly. Our job is to make sure he settles in quickly by creating the right atmosphere so that he can realize his potential. By pairing Sergio alongside Nico, we enter the new season with an extremely competitive line-up, which will go toward helping us achieve our goals for the new season.”

Perez starred on numerous occasions in the midfield in his two years with Sauber, which helped to earn his promotion to McLaren this past year. But after a single season, he was dropped for rookie Kevin Magnussen, who is part of McLaren’s young driver program.

The move, of course, officially confirms both of Force India’s 2013 drivers are out. Adrian Sutil, a Force India veteran over six seasons (2007-’11, ’13) dating back to the team’s stint as Spyker, enters the free agent market as does Scotsman Paul di Resta after three years with Force India. Sutil has been linked to Sauber, where incidentally, he’d replace Hulkenberg. Di Resta, meanwhile, appears less likely to stay in F1 after three years with some very high peaks but unfortunately too many valleys.

Force India, interestingly, has now changed its driver lineup for a fifth straight season. The di Resta/Sutil partnership was in effect in 2013 and 2011, with di Resta and Hulkenberg in 2012, Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi in 2010 and Sutil, Liuzzi and Giancarlo Fisichella in 2009. The last time the team carried the same lineup into back-to-back years was when Fisichella and Sutil entered 2009 as teammates after the team’s first year in that guise, in 2008.

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and Danish youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”