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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 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 Aston Martin, which ran a single GT Le Mans class Vantage at Daytona, has also withdrawn.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.

Barcelona to host 2017 F1 pre-season tests, Bahrain gets in-season running

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during day two of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 23, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain will host two tests ahead of the 2017 Formula 1 season as originally planned despite a push to move part of the running to Bahrain.

Barcelona has traditionally hosted F1’s pre-season running, with two tests provisionally scheduled for the end of February and beginning of March before the start of the season in Australia.

However, with Pirelli set to introduce a radically different tire specification for next season, a number of F1 team bosses believed it would be better to hold the running in Bahrain where conditions would be stable and warmer.

Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe said in Japan that F1 risked a repeat of the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if caution was not taken with the new tires.

However, the counter-argument was that holding testing outside of Europe would significantly bump up costs for all teams, having a particular impact on the grid’s smaller operations.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone met with officials from all 11 teams on Friday in Austin ahead of this weekend’s race to make a decision on pre-season testing.

Despite over half the grid wishing to have at least one test in Bahrain, the lack of unanimity means that both pre-season tests will remain in Barcelona.

Bahrain will however now host one of the in-season tests, as confirmed by Red Bull’s Christian Horner on Friday.

“We have had numerous debates about this and we had a meeting earlier today with Bernie about this,” Horner said.

“There was even a vote with the FIA earlier this week and with the way the regulations are currently written, to test outside of Europe, we would require the unanimous consent of all the teams and that doesn’t exist.

“It has been agreed that we will test in Barcelona pre-season and in order to find a compromise for assisting Pirelli after the Bahrain race, the first of the in-season tests will be in Bahrain.”

Possible 2017 Formula 1 Test Calendar


1. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – February 27 – March 2 2017
2. Circuit de Barcelona-Cataluny – March 7-10 2017


1. Bahrain International Circuit – April 18-19 2017
2. Silverstone – July 11-12 2017

Free agent Conor Daly looking for more successful IndyCar situation in ’17

Conor Daly visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway's infamous 'Snake Pit' prior to Sunday's Indianapolis 500. Photo: IndyCar
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IndyCar driver Conor Daly is looking for a new racing home in the IndyCar ranks for 2017.

But that didn’t stop Daly from attending the opening day of practice for the Formula One United States Grand Prix Friday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

NBCSN’s Will Buxton had a chance to sit down with Daly, who despite being a free agent for 2017, has a very optimistic outlook that he’ll soon find a new home.

“I’m driving for Red Bull in Formula One next year. They’re going to run a third car,” Daly quipped, somewhat stunning Buxton at first before revealing he was joking.

“No, I’m just focusing on IndyCar,” Daly said. “There’s a couple teams with a lot of open seats. We’re talking to everyone in the business.

“I would have loved to come back with Coyne (Dale Coyne Racing), but there seems to be some different stuff happening there.

“Either way, I love IndyCar, want to be in IndyCar, that’s where my heart is. So whether it’s Foyt, ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing), Andretti, you never know what’s going to happen, so we’ll see.”

But Daly wouldn’t let the F1 angle die altogether. When Buxton asked Daly about having previously tested for Force India, Daly said it’s an unlikely possibility, but still an intriguing one.

“I love Bob (deputy team principal Bob Fernley) and everyone at Force India,” Daly said. “They made my European career happen.

“I actually told them earlier: ‘Hey, Bob, I’m available. I’m ready.’ But I think there’s a few other fish in the sea.”

Daly came in second to Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi as the IndyCar circuit rookie of the year, but he took pride in being named the top overtaking driver of the year in IndyCar in 2016.

“Yeah, I passed 87 cars this year, which was fun because I like racing, so that was quite enjoyable,” Daly said. “We came home with one award this year, so there you go.”

Perhaps the most important question – and Daly reply – was when he was asked if he feels ready to step up in class in IndyCar to a more consistently successful team.

“I think so,” Daly said. “I was really happy with this year. We had a lot of ups and downs and I made some mistakes, but we also had more positives than negatives.

“I’m excited about the future and continue making IndyCar great again and I’m excited about how we can go about doing that.”

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FP2: View from the ground in Austin, 2016 edition

during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.
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AUSTIN, Texas – One of the joys of coming to the United States Grand Prix on an annual basis is the opportunity to have a session to sample the view from trackside, and attempt to gauge quite what the feel on the ground is.

I must say though, with this being my third crack at a “View from the ground: FP2” trackside occasion, this one was a bit like most movie three-quels (2013, 2014 editions linked here).

It had its moments of greatness but was not quite the measure of the original, nor the first sequel.

This was a truncated walk, I’ll admit. I got to see the outside of Turn 1, the two bridges covering the Esses and before the Turn 18 Carousel, and the respective crowds from there. I didn’t get to the hairpin at Turn 11 to see that crowd figure. I didn’t get to soak up as much time as I would have liked, having come from another event just previous following FP1 this morning.

The hillside out of Turn 1 really stands out in terms of not being as packed as it has been in the past. It used to be standing room only or close; now, I’m afraid, there was plenty of room to walk and move around. Similarly, the Esses were only about two or three rows deep of folks from the top, rather than four to five; the best grandstand packing seemed to be the one exiting Turn 17 in the stadium section just near the Austin 360 Ampitheater and COTA Tower.

The crowd here is good, but not great, and this is with nearly perfect weather for the onlookers, with highs in the low 70 degree Fahrenheit ambient range.

If the circuit releases a crowd number today, be wary of it if it’s listed in the 60,000 or 70,000 range – there are simply not that many fans here today. A more conservative estimate would be 10-20,000 less than that, at least.

So the hope now is that Saturday’s Taylor Swift concert to go along with qualifying will produce a crowd bigger than today’s, and the race itself plus the Usher/The Roots concert on Sunday does the same, to achieve COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein’s goal of this being the second highest attended USGP weekend of the five here on site.

The upside, of course, is that there’s been an inevitable and expected bounce back in attendees today following last year’s dreary, rainy Friday – when only FP1 ran and FP2 was scrubbed owing to the miserable conditions. But it’s not a massive surge in numbers.

Some other notes from the ground:

Still missing that ear-piercing sound

I want to like the 1.6L V6 turbo power units. I really do.

But, I also want to come to an F1 race and have my ears damn near ready to fall off from shrill, piercing shrieks that I can’t get anywhere else.

Coming from traditionally IndyCar weekends, where the series run 2.2L V6 twin-turbos, to now F1 weekends, you expect a little bit of a change in pitch.

The pitch is similar – and it is still sonorous, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s quite nice actually.

But there’s something about coming to a Grand Prix where you’re not wanting to be able to have a solid conversation while cars are on track. It’s good that you can get that now in some respects. But man, I want some screams.

Good merchandise displays on offer

Whether behind the main grandstands or throughout the main fan corridors, the fans have a good lot of options when it comes to finding team gear. It did not seem as though one or more teams was slighted; admittedly, though, there was not as much Haas F1 Team regalia on display as I might have figured.

Respectable fan offerings in Guest Services and food options

Between the track food at concessions and a number of food trucks – an Austin staple – there seemed a good lot of options for fans to eat today. How reasonable they were priced, however, depended on how much you got and where you looked.

Guest Services having free sunscreen on offer was good to see, if perhaps you were not properly prepared and hadn’t put any on. One of the things about attending a race at Circuit of The Americas is that you will get sun-drenched if you sit anywhere besides the primary frontstraight grandstand, or are lucky enough to have suite access somewhere covered and perhaps, air conditioned.

Red storm of colors

Because I was walking more rapidly than normal on this track walk occasion, I didn’t get a great look at the percentage of attire team-to-team. I will say, though, that plenty of Ferrari kits caught my eye, and it was no surprise to see. I didn’t see as much in the way of fans wearing Mercedes gear or others to match. It is fun to see older kit – Renault’s old blue and yellow from the Mild Seven tobacco days was present.

Welcome back, Danny

The 1985 Indianapolis 500 champion and one time Benetton-sponsored Tyrrell F1 driver, Danny Sullivan, has made his first visit back to Circuit of The Americas since the inaugural running here in 2012. Sullivan emceed a Quint Events-hosted fan event in the Legends Club outside of Turn 1 earlier in the day, taking fan questions about the state of play in F1 and other forms of racing today. He shared a memorable Paul Newman story, where their competitive juices flowed even when it got to rental cars. Sullivan has been an F1 driver steward on a number of occasions over the last five to six seasons, including most recently at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Tower time, if you want

The iconic COTA Tower remained packed today, particularly for FP2. Fans can access the tower for $30 for a standard tour, or for an additional $15 ($45 total), they can go to the tower in an expedited VIP line – and get champagne in the process.

More thoughts from today at Circuit of The Americas will follow in MotorSportsTalk’s Friday Paddock Notebook.

Rosberg quickest as Ricciardo, Red Bull rally in second USGP practice

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Formula 1 championship leader Nico Rosberg stamped his authority on proceedings in Austin, Texas ahead of the United States Grand Prix by topping the second free practice session on Friday afternoon.

Following his ninth victory of the 2016 season in Japan two weeks ago, Rosberg arrived in Austin leading the drivers’ standings by 33 points from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The German driver has started on pole for the past two years at the Circuit of The Americas, only to finish second to Hamilton on both occasions.

After seeing Hamilton lead FP1, Rosberg hit back in second practice to top the timesheets with a lap of 1:37.358, enjoying an advantage over the field of almost two-tenths of a second.

However, it was not Hamilton who played second-fiddle this time around. Instead, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shot up to P2, suggesting that the sizeable advantage Mercedes enjoyed in FP1 was exaggerated. Hamilton was left to settle for third in the final standings.

Second practice featured one short red flag period after debris was left on-track at the esses, appearing to come off the back of one of the Haas cars as the American team continued to struggle at the start of its home grand prix weekend.

Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari in the mix at the front of the field in second practice, finishing within a second of Rosberg at the front in fourth place, while Max Verstappen ended the session fifth in the second Red Bull.

Force India continued its impressive start to the weekend as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh, with the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso following in P8 and P9. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top 10 in the second Ferrari as he struggled with front-end grip.