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GRAND-AM Rolex Series 2013 Season Review

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This year’s GRAND-AM Rolex Series season had its highlights and unlike the ALMS, didn’t really have a sense of “finality” to it given the fact that its parent company, NASCAR, was the one doing the purchasing of ALMS as sports car racing headed toward the merged TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014. What it did have, in spades, was the emergence of new breakout stars…

DP

No one will accuse Jordan Taylor of lacking for personality. The 22-year-old Floridian took his quirky, off the wall style to another level in 2013 with a series of music videos, Vines and Instagram posts that regularly defied logic or belief. In fact, one of the most common questions asked during 2013 in the sports car world was, “Did Jordan Taylor really just do that?

But, while Taylor is doing his best to promote his brand off-track, his brand on-track grew to another level as well in 2013 in his first full season in Daytona Prototypes. Once the awkward bit of replacing his older brother Ricky in father Wayne’s No. 10 Corvette DP was past, the younger Taylor grew by leaps and bounds working with co-driver Max Angelelli. They won twice in the first half of the season but it was when the team switched up its rotation, with Angelelli starting and Taylor finishing, the team hit its stride. Taylor delivered three of the most clutch performances in a row with wins in Kansas over Scott Pruett, Monterey over the Ganassi teammates, and Lime Rock over the field to capture the championship for he and “Max the Axe.. It was an effort well beyond his years.

The other real breakout stars, even if their results didn’t show it, were Brendon Hartley (Starworks Ford/BMW Riley) and Dane Cameron (Sahlen’s BMW Riley). Hartley nearly won in Austin and did break through at Road America; the latter seemed a race for Cameron’s taking before mechanical woes struck late in the day. Both punched above their weight with gentlemen co-drivers alongside.

The regular DP star teams elsewhere – Ganassi, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, Action Express Racing and Michael Shank Racing – didn’t have their best years. Ganassi’s No. 01 car dominated the Rolex 24 and GAINSCO followed with a win in Austin, while Action Express took two midseason wins. Shank’s team spent more time repairing cars in seemingly Herculean efforts after a run of accidents, but unfortunately failed to reach the winner’s circle at any point in 2013. Also of note, Enzo Potolicchio branched off on his own from Starworks to create 8Star Motorsports and made a few waves in his first season with a Corvette DP.

GT/GX

Ferrari captured its second straight Rolex GT class title with its GRAND-AM-spec 458, which is modified slightly from the full FIA GT3-spec car. The Scuderia Corsa team, in its first full season, wrapped its hands around the car best and Alessandro Balzan took the GT class driver’s title. Balzan meshed well with a variety of co-drivers, Jeff Westphal then Leh Keen mainly, throughout the year. The No. 63 won only once (Kansas) but was a model of consistency en route to the title.

Hard luck runners-up were Magnus Racing, who also only won once but propelled themselves into the points lead entering the last race of the year. The John Potter/Andy Lally pairing was excellent and it was only when the car was hit by a wayward Aston Martin at the Lime Rock season finale that the title went begging. This is a team that has a Rolex 24 and North American Endurance Championship in its bag already, and will come out more determined than ever to win a class title in 2014. They already have the unofficial “racing press release championship” secured.

Elsewhere in class the Stevenson Camaro and Turner BMW M3 teams, with the old but reliable Prep 2 model cars, won seven of the 12 races in class. John Edwards and Robin Liddell spearheaded the Stevenson effort, which struggled for consistency despite four wins. Turner’s pair of Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana lacked the outright pace but often parlayed good strategic moves into success on race day.

The three remaining wins went to Audi (Rolex 24 with Alex Job Racing), Corvette (Lime Rock season finale, Marsh Racing) and Ferrari (R. Ferri/AIM Motorsport at Indianapolis). The R.Ferri/AIM No. 61 saw Alex Tagliani alongside defending class champion Jeff Segal in the balance of the season after Max Papis’ NASCAR commitments took him out of action. Segal’s old car, the No. 69 with Anthony Lazzaro and Emil Assentato, stayed in title contention to the end but lacked the speed to contend regularly for wins.

In the new GX class, Dr. Jim Norman emerged as driver’s champion after running a Porsche Cayman all year. Norman was part of the Napleton Racing team’s win at Daytona, then switched to a BGB-run effort the rest of the year. The class was more or less created to provide a home to Mazda’s SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Diesel, which won the last nine races after it got inevitable teething issues sorted. But missing points in the opening rounds provided the path for Norman to take the driver’s crown.

VIDEO: Valtteri Bottas’ first day as a Mercedes F1 driver

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Following Valtteri Bottas’ official unveiling as a Mercedes driver on Monday, the team wasted little time in showing the Finn the ropes at its base in Brackley, England.

Bottas was released from his contract by Williams so he could join Mercedes for 2017, replacing world champion Nico Rosberg following the German’s shock decision to retire from F1.

Bottas was announced as Mercedes’ new driver on Monday, completing the puzzle for the 2017 driver market and putting an end to six weeks of speculation.

In the above video released by Mercedes, Bottas gets to grips with life at Brackley after signing his new contract with team chief Toto Wolff and meeting his new team members for the first time.

In related news, Mercedes announced on Friday that it had struck an agreement with the Wihuri Group, a Finnish conglomerate that has previously sponsored Bottas.

Wihuri’s branding will appear on the Mercedes drivers’ racesuits and helmets, as well as on the team’s trackside uniform.

“We are delighted to welcome Wihuri to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport family today,” Wolff said.

“As a respected brand both in Finland and globally, Wihuri will be a valuable addition to our team and we look forward to working with them and helping to expand their Formula One experience.

“This year will be a new challenge for our team, with a new driver line-up, including our new Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of course, and new regulations.

“I am sure it going to be a very exciting year to be involved with our team and the sport of Formula 1.”

Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

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© Yamaha MotoGP
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MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
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MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.

BRDC: Reports Silverstone will definitely drop British GP ‘speculative and wrong’

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  The grid at the start of the race during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 10, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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The British Racing Drivers Club has issued a statement dismissing suggestions that Silverstone will definitely drop its Formula 1 race following the 2019 season.

Doubt was cast over the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone following a leaked letter from BRDC chairman John Grant, in which he admitted to concerns about the cost of hosting the race.

Grant admitted that BRDC officials were considering triggering a clause in Silverstone’s F1 contract that would allow it to end its commitment after 2019 due to “ruinous” costs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the BRDC stressed that no final decision had been made and that suggestions a final decision to drop the race had already been made were incorrect.

“The British Racing Drivers Club wishes to make clear that recent press reports suggesting that talks have been unsuccessful and that the British Grand Prix will definitely be dropped after 2019 are speculative and wrong,” the statement reads.

“Our objective is to preserve the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for many years to come but, of course, we can only do this if it makes economic sense,” Grant added.

“As I have said before, we will be considering over the next six months if we should give notice of our intention to exercise the break clause in our grand prix contract at the end of 2019. No decision has been made, or will be made, until mid-July.

“In the meantime, we will be using this period to explore all interested parties, hopefully in private, various ways in which we might work out a more sustainable proposition.”