TUSC: Starworks signs E.J. Viso, Sebastian Saavedra for Rolex 24

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Two more open-wheel veterans, E.J. Viso and Sebastian Saavedra, have linked up with Starworks Motorsport to contend for a win in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

Viso and Saavedra, who raced for Andretti Autosport and Dragon Racing respectively in the IndyCar Series last year, will join Starworks regulars Alex Popow, Brendon Hartley, and Scott Mayer in the team’s No. 78 Dinan-powered Riley Daytona Prototype.

“It was always our intention to race in both the P and PC classes of the new series,” team owner Peter Baron said in a statement. “It was impossible for us to make the initial entry deadline for the P class, but the team worked extremely hard over the winter to ensure we’d be ready for a place when it came up.

“We have a very strong set of drivers in the 78 car with returning race winners Scott, Alex and Brendon, who have been joined by two hungry guys in E.J. and Sebastian. I’m looking forward to seeing what this driver combo can do and I’m confident that we’ll improve on our 2013 Rolex 24 results.”

At last year’s Rolex, Starworks’ No. 2 entry finished 13 laps off the pace in sixth, while its No. 8 entry bowed out after hitting the wall on Lap 441.

In his comments, Viso appeared to indicate that he’d be open to staying with Starworks as it competes in this year’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

“I am very excited to start my second Daytona 24, and for a second time with Starworks,” the Venezuelan said. “I believe that the line-up we have for it is great and it’s probably one of my favorite races so far in my career.

“It is definitely one that challenges everyone; the teams, drivers and even the spectators. I am ready and really looking forward to it and, hopefully, many more races with Starworks.”

As for Saavedra, he will be making his inaugural Rolex 24 start this year. He has one GRAND-AM start to his credit, the 2012 Rolex Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I am very excited with this last minute situation,” Saavedra said. “I would like to thank [team owner] Peter [Baron] for the invitation to join the very successful Starworks family. I am open-minded about what’s going to happen this weekend; we have a great line-up of drivers, so I am focusing on doing the best job and hopefully some watches with it.”

Popow will be pulling double-duty for Starworks during the Rolex, as he’ll also be co-driving the team’s No. 7 ORECA FLM09 Prototype Challenge car.

Last year, he and Ryan Dalziel (now driving a P2 car for Extreme Speed Motorsports) took the No. 2 Daytona Prototype to a fifth-place class finish in the Rolex Series championship. The 2013 season also saw Hartley, recently made a factory driver for Porsche, collaborate with Mayer for a Starworks win at Road America.

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.