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NASCAR Notes: “Bono” Manion in as crew chief for Cup rookie Annett

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Sprint Cup rookie Michael Annett will be guided by one of the series’ veteran crew chiefs this year at Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Kevin “Bono” Manion, most recently the crew chief for Jamie McMurray at Chip Ganassi Racing, has joined TBR to fill the same role on Annett’s No. 7 Chevrolet. With Manion’s arrival, the team’s namesake now looks forward to working more in business and management roles.

“Our original plan was for me to be the crew chief, but when the opportunity to hire Bono came along, it’s the right fit that will allow me to step back from doing both [ownership/crew chief],” said Baldwin in a press release.

“I can concentrate more on making our business and competition relationships stronger. I can take a look from the top of the hill rather than in the trenches.”

Manion was replaced on McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet last fall by Keith Rodden, a former lead engineer for Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 5 Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne.

But now “Bono” has reunited with Baldwin, whom he worked with through much of the 1990s as they rose together from the New England modified scene all the way into the Cup Series.

“I’m excited to be on board with TBR and to be back with Tommy,” Manion said in his own thoughts. “Our careers have taken us on different paths throughout the years and we’ve created our own successes, but it’s great to be reunited and come full circle. Everyone on the team seems to have so much passion and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

As for Annett, he now has two former Daytona 500-winning crew chiefs to help him along as he experiences his first Cup season. Manion won the Great American Race in 2010 with McMurray, and Baldwin won it in 2002 with Ward Burton at Bill Davis Racing.

Manion also has a pair of Nationwide Series titles from 2004 and 2005 with driver Martin Truex Jr.

“[Manion] brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and winning resume with him to TBR,” Annett said. “I have a great amount of respect and friendship with Bono and can’t wait to get to Daytona and kick off the 2014 season with him.

“Bono being hired by TBR is a great testament of Tommy’s leadership ability and surrounding this company with the talent Bono brings to the team. We have some great things ahead of us and I’m excited where this organization is headed.”

This season, Matt Kenseth will continue to enjoy Nationwide Series support from Reser’s Fine Foods and video game retail chain GameStop.

Reser’s will be on Kenseth’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for seven Nationwide races in 2014 beginning with the season-opening Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona on Saturday, Feb. 22. They’ll also be on board for Nationwide rounds at Phoenix, Charlotte (May), Kentucky, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, and Kansas (October).

GameStop is in for a block of 10 races beginning with the Las Vegas event on Saturday, March 8. Also on the docket for them: Bristol (March), California, both Texas races (April/October), Darlington, Dover, Richmond (September), Charlotte (October), and the season finale at Homestead-Miami in November.

Kenseth earned two wins, seven Top-5s and 14 Top-10s in 16 Nationwide starts last year.

Team Penske also announced today that another of its Nationwide Series sponsors, Wurth, is taking on a four-race sponsorship as primary backer for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford Fusion in the Sprint Cup series.

Wurth’s first race on the No. 2 will be the March 23 Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. All of the No. 2’s races this year are now accounted for sponsorship-wise, with Miller Lite as the primary for 24 races and Alliance Truck Parts as the primary for eight races.

Jacques Villeneuve: F1 is ‘supposed to be too expensive, too crazy’

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1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve feels that he cannot relate to the series in its current form, saying that it is supposed to be “too expensive” and “too crazy”.

Villeneuve raced in F1 between 1996 and 2006, and remains a keen observer as part of his role as a pundit on Italian television.

F1 has striven to enforce greater cost control and road relevance in recent years, but Villeneuve believes that this is the wrong direction, saying officials should instead focus on making the series spectacular.

“That’s when I start to feel old because I don’t relate to the technology of modern Formula 1,” Villeneuve said.

“Because to my mind, Formula 1 has always been about extremes. Pushing the boundaries and human boundaries.

“It’s supposed to be too fast, it’s supposed to be too expensive, it’s supposed to be crazy. And that’s not what we have.

“You see drivers get out of the car and they didn’t even break a sweat because they have too massage their car the whole race and drive within eight seconds of what they’ve done in qualifying. It’s wrong.”

Villeneuve also believes that those in charge of F1 should not listen to fans’ opinions, citing the introduction of DRS in 2011 as being a negative result of doing so.

“The fans kept complaining that ‘oh, there’s not enough overtaking’, ‘oh, there’s not enough of this or that’,” Villeneuve said.

“By listening to that, what did F1 do? Let’s put DRS. Because that way we’ll have hundreds of overtakes in a race. But name me one overtake that you remember since DRS – you don’t. Because you don’t see the driver working it.

“Look at a motorbike race, sometimes they take a rider 10 laps to overtake another rider, but in these 10 laps you see the work that goes with it, and what that overtake happens, wow.

“But now you don’t. Next straight line, press a button, that’s it. All of these rule changes to try and create a better show actually create a worse show.

“Then the technology, take the engine, amazing beautiful technology – for the engineers. It shouldn’t be in F1. It doesn’t bring anything. It takes away from F1.

“It has nothing to do there. It’s crazy engineering. I wouldn’t want it on my road car.”

WRC’s Paddon calls for lessons to be learned from Monte Carlo spectator death

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FIA World Rally Championship racer Hayden Paddon has called for lessons to be learned following the death of a spectator on the opening stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night.

A spectator was killed after being struck by Paddon’s car when the New Zealander hit black ice and careered into a roadside bank.

Hyundai driver Paddon was withdrawn from the remainder of the rally out of respect, and has now issued a statement regarding the incident.

Here is the statement in full:

Hi everyone,

Upon reflection, I wanted to issue a small statement about yesterday’s events.

Firstly, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the spectator involved. No matter the circumstances, this is never something we want to see.

Secondly, John [Kennard, co-driver] and I are humbled by all the messages of support at this time. Obviously, my thoughts are with the family and that is my only concern at the moment. Not being able to return home to New Zealand does make it a little tougher but it is important we stay strong.

I do want to take this chance to ask people not to speculate. Irrespective of how and why the accident happened, finger pointing will not change anything. The most important thing is that we learn from this and I am committed to work with the FIA and rally organizers relentlessly to ensure this does not happen again.

I will take this chance to ask spectators at rallies to please be considerate of where you stand and to respect the instructions of the marshals. We all want to enjoy a good show and go home to the family afterwards.

I also ask each and every rally fan at the events, if you see someone in a dangerous position to request they move for everyone’s best interest. As a community, we can collectively work together to prevent this from happening again.

Lastly, I please ask the respect from the media in these times, especially for the family and friends of the spectator. I will not issue any further statements or conduct interviews at this stage. We made the decision not to continue this weekend out of respect, but will be back in Sweden where we will pay tribute.

Thank you again for everyone’s support and for the support of the team – it really does mean a lot.”

The Monte Carlo Rally finishes on Saturday.

Marcus Ericsson excited about Pascal Wehrlein’s arrival at Sauber for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 02: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track ahead of Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 2, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Marcus Ericsson is relishing the opportunity to work with Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber through the 2017 Formula 1 season, saying he rates the German driver highly.

Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor, scoring just the second top-10 finish in the team’s history at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes junior was announced as a Sauber driver for 2017 on Monday, replacing Felipe Nasr after the Brazilian lost his financial backing.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Ericsson spoke warmly of Wehrlein’s arrival, believing that they will forge a strong partnership that will help Sauber to develop.

“I think it’s great news for me and Sauber. Pascal is a very fast and respected driver with a great CV,” Ericsson said.

“I think we can really push each other and the team forward, so I am looking forward to a great season.

“I honestly rate [Wehrlein] highly. He’s won the DTM championship and been part of the Mercedes family for a long time, so they seem to believe a lot in him.

“Of course my aim is to beat him – what else? – and I expect it to be a tough fight. But that’s exactly what I need in order to perform at my best.”

Sauber was at risk of collapsing at midway through the 2016 season, having struggled financially for some time before being taken over by Longbow Finance during the summer.

The team subsequently went on a recruitment drive, bringing in a number of management and engineering staff, with Ericsson noticing a difference.

“It definitely takes time, but I think it’s clear that if you look at the second half of last season we really made some big progress,” Ericsson said.

“And the aim is, of course, to continue that way in 2017. We’ve had some great people decide to join the team in the last couple of months and that also makes a difference.

“So all in all it feels like we’re moving in the right way. And with two young and hungry drivers in the cockpits we should be on a good run.”

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.”