Rolex 24 - Testing

AJ Allmendinger ready to make the most of second chance with new team

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Having been picked to replace Kurt Busch in the No. 22 Dodge after Busch’s ouster from Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season, AJ Allmendinger came into 2012 sitting on top of the world.

He was with one of the better teams in the sport, driving for a motorsports legend in Roger Penske, and had Allmendinger stuck around for the whole season, would have shared in then-teammate Brad Keselowski’s run to the Sprint Cup championship later that same year.

Unfortunately, the man they call “The Dinger” saw that world collapse just about six months into his term with Team Penske, being suspended by NASCAR after testing positive for a banned stimulant following a random drug test.

In a matter of days that followed, Allmendingers Sprint Cup career, if not his future racing career – not to mention his tenure with Team Penske – had come to an abrupt end almost as quickly as it began.

To his credit, Allmendinger owned up to what he did and became a virtual poster boy for NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. Allmendinger did everything that was asked of him and was quickly reinstated less than 3 ½ months after being suspended.

“I learned that there’s a lot of things I needed to change,” Allmendinger reflected back about his layoff with MotorSportsTalk during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour. “That racing itself didn’t just make me happy. Being away from racing, that wasn’t making me happy. There were just a lot of things that I needed to work on personally and mentally, kind of like almost starting all over again.

“Honestly, if it didn’t happen, I probably would never have had those opportunities, just because you’re so busy and you try to carry on and say it’ll fix itself. We all know it’s not going to fix itself. We can’t hide from problems, they won’t just go away. It gave me a chance to step back, look at myself and say I need to start over, to figure out the areas I need to work on and find true happiness.

“Racing makes me happy, but it wasn’t the sole reason. I wasn’t happy at the time. Being at home and the things I was dealing with (including divorce proceedings) weren’t making me happy. It’s that whole package. I feel so much better where I’m at now as a person.”

Last season, Allmendinger hoped to return to a full-time ride, but the opportunities were not there, so he did what he needed to do to keep himself visible. After finishing third in the Rolex 24 last January, he came back to race for Penske (proving he didn’t burn any bridges) in the Indianapolis 500 (started fifth, finished seventh).

Allmendinger would race in a total of six IndyCar races in 2013, as well as 18 Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing and JTG-Daugherty Racing, and also won both Nationwide Series races he entered (both also for Penske).

Allmendinger now finds himself in a similar position as Kurt Busch was in last season. Busch took an opportunity from Furniture Row Racing and ultimately became the first driver in Sprint Cup history to qualify a one-car team in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

That’s what Allmendinger would like to replicate in 2014.

“It is almost like starting over to be with this race team,” he said. “They don’t make me feel just like a driver, they make me feel a part of their family, I’m a key component to the race team and building it, not just driving the car. For all those reasons, I’m really looking forward to the partnership.”

The feeling is mutual, says team co-owner and ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty.

“We think it’s going to be a huge step for our program going forward,” Daugherty said of having Allmendinger. “We’re hoping to kind of simulate what the 78 (Busch and the Furniture Row team) did last year, to be very competitive every week.

“Expectations within our company are very high. We want to be inside that top-20 every week. … If you run well as a single-car team and get inside the top-20, you’re doing something.”

Putting Allmendinger behind the wheel is one of several changes for JTG-Daugherty, which is entering its 20th season in NASCAR racing this year. The perennial also-ran organization intends on shaking things up this year in a big way.

“We’re going to show up, be loud and proud, walk into some of those places like Dover and kick their butts, that’s what we’re planning on doing,” Daugherty said. “There’s no need to be shallow or meek about it. We got our butts kicked the last couple of years, so we’re going to hopefully return the favor this year.”

One of the biggest changes is JTG-D’s switch from Toyota to Chevrolet motors and chassis leased from Richard Childress Racing.

“We knew we had to have the alliance if we truly were going to be competitive,” Daugherty said. “Within our four walls, we don’t feel like we’re a 30th-place race team; we feel like we’re a 20th-place race team, but the reality of it is we were a 30th-place race team last year.

“We felt that Richard Childress gave us the best opportunity to maximize everything they were going to allow us to utilize. From Day One, they’ve given us entrée to everything they do in their building and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

Allmendinger plans on sticking around JTG-D, having recently signed a three-year contract.

“I thought this was the right place to be, the right choice for me and a place I can be hopefully for a long time,” Allmendinger said. “I’m very fortunate. … After 2012, I had to really sit down and look at that maybe, what you call big-time auto racing, I might be done with it. I love being here. I hope it continues for a long time.”

Allmendinger also realizes that everything he’s gone through has made him stronger.

“I truly believe now that things are meant to happen for a reason,” he said. “God had a plan and there’s so many things that happened last year that I’m so fortunate about. I’m in a great place, I feel so good mentally, physically – I’m just ready to go.”

Yet no matter how positive his attitude is, Allmendinger realizes and has accepted that he will likely carry for the rest of his career, if not his life, the stigma of having been suspended for drug use.

“I know that because of that stuff and where I’m at now and how much better I am,” Allmendinger said. “It sounds dumb, not that I’d ever want to have to go through that, but I’m happy I did and I wouldn’t actually go back and change it. That’s really the true thing. No, (talking about) it doesn’t bother me anymore.

“I’m happy to know I’ve learned from the past. But I don’t go back to the past, I just look toward the future. It’s a part of me and probably always will be.”

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

FIA confirms remaining dates on 2017 WRC calendar, adds Poland

GAP, FRANCE - JANUARY 23:  Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia of France compete in their Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen Polo R WRC during Day Three of the WRC Monte Carlo on January 23, 2016 in Gap, France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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The FIA has confirmed the full calendar for the 2017 World Rally Championship season following the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Vienna this week.

The WMSC had previously approved a 12-round calendar for the 2017 season, but only confirmed the dates for the opening six rounds of the year.

In a statement issued by the FIA on Wednesday, the dates were firmed up for the entire calendar, as well as adding a 13th round in Poland.

FIA World Rally Championship – 2017 Calendar

1. Monte Carlo – 20-22 January
2. Sweden – 10-12 February
3. Mexico – 10-12 March
4. France – April 7-9
5. Argentina – April 28-30
6. Portugal – 19-21 May
7. Italy – 9-11 June
8. Poland – 30 June – 2 July
9. Finland – 28-30 July
10. Germany – 19-20 August
11. Spain – 6-8 October
12. Great Britain – 27-29 October
13. Australia – 17-19 November

In its statement, the FIA also confirmed the following regarding WRC in 2017:

  • The start order for World Championship rallies from 2017 has been amended and is now based purely on performance:
    • Day 1: All cars start according to the actual Championship classification
    • Day 2: P1 drivers start in the reverse order of the actual rally classification after Day 1. Other drivers start in the order of the rally classification.
    • Day 3: P1 drivers start in the reverse order of the actual rally classification after Day 2. Other drivers start in the order of the rally classification.
    • P1 drivers re-starting in Rally 2 will start at the end of the P1 group.
    • The start order of the first rally of the Championship will be based on the Championship classification of the previous year.
  • A WRC Trophy has been created for drivers and co-drivers participating in pre-2017 specification WRC cars. The maximum number of qualifying rallies is seven and the driver and co-driver who have scored the highest total of points in six of the qualifying rallies will win the titles. If less than five competitors register, no titles will be awarded.
  • M-Sport has been awarded the contract to supply R2 cars for the FIA Junior WRC Championship for 2017 and 2018.
  • Michelin Competition and DMACK Tyres are the registered tire companies for the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship.

Following Volkswagen’s shock withdrawal from the WRC, defending champion Sebastien Ogier is currently without a seat, but is known to be in the running for drives with both Citroen and the Ford M-Sport team in 2017.

Porsche confirms Lotterer, Tandy, Bamber in LMP1 seats for 2017

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Porsche has confirmed its line-up for the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season, welcoming Andre Lotterer, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber into its LMP1 ranks at its Night of Champions event.

Following Mark Webber’s retirement from racing at the end of the 2016, and the decision to relocate world champions Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, Porsche had three free seats for next year between its two LMP1 cars.

Audi’s decision to end its LMP1 program following the 2016 season left Lotterer without a drive, with the three-time Le Mans winner being picked up by Porsche.

The German marque has also promoted 2015 Le Mans winners Bamber and Tandy up into full-time LMP1 seats, the pair having raced in GTs for Porsche over the past 12 months after no third car was run last year at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

“Lotterer and Tandy will share driving duties in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid with the reigning World Endurance Champion Neel Jani,” a statement from Porsche reads.

“Joining the two New Zealanders Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley in the cockpit of the #2 vehicle is Timo Bernhard from Germany.

“Thanks to continuing development, next year’s 919 represents another step in its technological evolution, featuring a completely new colour design, an optimised aerokit, and the complete overhaul of almost all components.

“The vehicle will be officially unveiled on 23 March at the WEC prologue, which is held for the first time in Monza, Italy.”

Porsche also confirmed its plans for its expanded GT program in 2017, when it will enter a pair of new 911 RSRs to the GTE Pro class of the WEC and aim for the championship.

“In addition to its LMP1 commitments, Porsche will also send a factory squad to the 2017 FIA WEC rounds to tackle the GT world championship titles for the best driver and the most successful manufacturer, which will be awarded for the first time,” the statement adds.

“This is a significant boost for our motorsport involvement and underlines that we have chosen the right platform with the WEC,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche AG.

“The Porsche Motorsport GT team will campaign a pair of new 911 RSR in the GTE-Pro class. The drivers confirmed so far for these seats are Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki and Richard Lietz.”

Porsche will also continue with its factory entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2017, once again fielding the new 911 RSR car.

“For the fourth season, Porsche will take on the competition with a factory entry in America’s most important sports car series, the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship.

“As in the FIA WEC, Porsche Motorsport GT fields two brand-new 911 RSR. Sharing the cockpit of the #911 vehicle are Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner. At the particularly long events such as the Daytona 24 Hours, the 12 Hours of Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans, the duo will receive support from Frédéric Makowiecki.

“The regular drivers in the number 912 vehicle are Kévin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor, with Richard Lietz joining them for the four long-distance classics. The season-opening race is the 24 Hours of Daytona on 28 January.”

Montoya sympathizes with Verstappen over mixed response to driving style

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talks with ex racer Juan Pablo Montoya on the drivers parade before the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 30, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Juan Pablo Montoya believes that he faced a similar criticism during his time in Formula 1 to what Max Verstappen is currently receiving for his on-track driving style.

Montoya raced in F1 between 2001 and 2006, with his aggressive approach winning him both admirers and critics in the paddock.

Verstappen’s antics on-track have incurred the wrath of a number of drivers in 2016, and even resulted in the clarification of a rule regarding moving under braking.

However, his overtaking masterclass in Brazil has been talked up as one of the greatest drives in F1 history, with many praising the excitement that his approach brings to the grid.

Montoya sympathized with the Dutchman over such double standards when reflecting on his F1 career in a special feature for McLaren’s website.

“The way Verstappen’s been treated, I got treated like that a lot,” Montoya said.

“I would pass people. I left and then people realized two years later: ‘We’re missing that.’

“I got an award for overtaking move of the year, and I thought that’s my job, that’s what we’re all supposed to do!”

Montoya famously walked out of McLaren midway through the 2006 season before moving into NASCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing, and explained that the team’s reluctance to take up its option on him prompted the decision.

“The team had an option on me in December 2005, for 2007, and they didn’t take it. They said they wanted to wait a little bit more,” Montoya explained.

“We knew Fernando [Alonso] was coming, and we knew Kimi [Raikkonen] was going. You have an option on me, and you’re saying you want to take a little bit more time?

“I was more of the theory you either want me, or you don’t. If I’m not worth enough to be there, then I might as well do something else.

“In my mind from that point on it didn’t really matter. You’re already looking into the future, where are you going to go, what are you going to do?

“Ron [Dennis] still wanted to delay the decision about 2007, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay there as well. A lot of things came together, and the opportunity to race with Chip Ganassi in America came on board.

“I wanted to be in F1 for winning, I didn’t want to just fill the grid. There were no really good opportunities.”

Rio Haryanto ‘working hard’ to make F1 comeback in 2017

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Rio Haryanto of Indonesia drives the 8 Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Rio Haryanto says he is “working hard” to secure a seat on the Formula 1 grid for the 2017 season after losing his drive with Manor mid-way through 2016.

Haryanto made his F1 debut in Australia and enjoyed a solid half-season before being dropped after failing to secure enough financial backing to see out the campaign.

The Indonesian driver is thought to have secured more funding ahead of a possible return in 2017, potentially with Manor once again or with the Sauber team.

“Of course there is a chance to get back again,” Haryanto told Reuters.

“We are working hard to get the seat back. It has to be next year.”

Haryanto’s manager Piers Hunnisett added: “There are three places left now. Once one gets done, everything else can go very quickly. We are just watching everybody.

“I’m quite positive we can do something. But things change very quickly in Formula 1. I know we’ve still got huge support from Indonesia, the media and the fans. Sponsorship is ongoing.”

Haryanto was replaced by Esteban Ocon at Manor from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards, but the Frenchman will race for Force India next year, freeing up a seat.

Outgoing Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez is rumored to be in the mix for a seat at Manor should Mexican-American businessman Tavo Hellmund become an investor in the team, while Mercedes is in talks with both Manor and Sauber about a seat for junior driver Pascal Wehrlein.