Sports cars: Porsche, Aston Martin WEC lineups; Level 5 out of TUSC

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A few bits and pieces from the world of sports car racing, across the FIA World Endurance Championship, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge:

  • Porsche has, officially, confirmed the lineups of its two 919 Hybrids it will run in the WEC for its top-line prototype return. Romain Dumas will share the No. 14 entry with Neel Jani and Marc Lieb; Dumas’ longtime co-driver Timo Bernhard anchors the sister No. 20 alongside Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley.
  • Aston Martin Racing has confirmed most of its drivers for its GTE Pro and GTE Am class entries in the WEC. Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke share the lead Pro car, the No. 97 Vantage. Meanwhile the new Interush-supported Bamboo Engineering group joins up with AMR for the second Pro car, the No. 99,  to be driven by Fernando Rees (Brazil), WTCC driver Alex MacDowall (England) and Craft Racing AMR’s Darryl O’Young (Hong Kong).
  • A quartet of Danes will rotate around the Young Driver AMR No. 95 Am class car, with David Heinemeier Hansson in for the full season and a combination of either Kristian Poulsen, Christoffer Nygaard and Nicki Thiim joining at selected events. Paul Dalla Lana’s is the team’s lone confirmed driver on its second WEC Am car, with Bruno Senna confirmed only for the team’s third Pro car and fifth in total at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  • Level 5 Motorsports has made waves in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship by confirming it will withdraw its Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s from the series, effective immediately, before the next round of the season at Sebring March 15. Level 5 won the GT Daytona class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona following the overturning of a penalty that had been issued for avoidable contact. Compared to past years, Level 5 was running a customer program in 2013, and team manager David Stone told Sportscar365.com the decision was entirely his, and he had “no ill will or negativity” toward the series. The revised TUDOR Championship program for Level 5’s only pair of confirmed drivers, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, is expected to be revealed soon.
  • Once Level 5’s two Ferraris are removed, they’ll drop from the latest rundown of the Sebring entry list. Aston Martin, which ran a single GT Le Mans class Vantage at Daytona, has also withdrawn. Combined with the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing withdrawal, there will be several changes to the field by the time the race weekend actually occurs. But the field should still be north of 60 cars.
  • Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian will team with DreamWorks Studios to promote the upcoming Aaron Paul action flick “Need For Speed.” More here from IMSA’s website.
  • Nick Esayian, longtime RealTime Racing driver, has shifted to the TRG-AMR Aston Martin program in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS class. Esayian’s longtime teammate Peter Cunningham will advance into the series’ GT class ranks in RealTime’s new Acura TLX. A full entry list for the season-opening doubleheader weekend at St. Petersburg is linked here, via the series website.
  • Russia’s first Formula One driver, Vitaly Petrov, has confirmed a deal to race with Mercedes in the DTM in 2014. Petrov competed in F1 from 2010 to 2012, the first two years with Renault before switching to Caterham. He finished third at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, becoming the first Russian driver to stand on an F1 podium.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”