F1 Notes: Lotus lands new sponsor; Williams reveals driver plan for Jerez

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We’ve been writing a lot about Lotus over the off-season and not always for particularly positive reasons. But a bit of good news for the cash-strapped Enstone squad has arrived: A new sponsor.

Danish investment company Saxo Bank has become an “official business partner” for Lotus in this coming Formula One season, just a few days after Lotus owner Gerard Lopez admitted that the potential buy-in deal with Quantum Motorsport had officially been scratched.

Saxo Bank is expanding into motorsports to go along with its presence in cycling as a backer of the Tinkoff-Saxo team, which competes in the top-tier UCI World Tour series.

“We are delighted to begin a relationship with Saxo Bank, a fast-growing online trading and investment specialist who have demonstrated strong support in sport through sponsorships in the world of cycling at the highest level with Team Tinkoff-Saxo,” team principal Eric Boullier said in a statement.

“Saxo Bank are taking an exciting and proactive approach to this new partnership with Lotus F1 Team and we are looking forward to enjoying a long and fruitful relationship.”

Meanwhile, Boullier and Co. continue to work hard on the E22 chassis that’s expected to make its debut sometime before next month’s preseason testing in Bahrain (the team has already announced its absence from next week’s testing at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain).

Late last week, the team confirmed on Twitter that its 2014 challenger had passed all of its homologation tests.

Speaking of Jerez, Williams has confirmed its driver plan for the four-day session that runs from Jan. 28-31.

According to a tweet from their account, F1 sophomore Valtteri Bottas will have the honor of putting the first laps on its all-new machine, the Mercedes-powered FW36; in fact, he’ll drive the car for the first two days of the test.

At that point, he’ll hand it over to veteran Felipe Massa for his on-track debut as a Williams driver. The Brazilian will handle testing duties for the final two days in Spain.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.