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 Aston Martin, which ran a single GT Le Mans class Vantage at Daytona, has also withdrawn.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

Vettel edges Hamilton to lead opening Abu Dhabi GP practice

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Sebastian Vettel made a flying start to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend by leading the opening Formula 1 practice session at the Yas Marina Circuit for Ferrari on Friday afternoon.

A three-time winner in Abu Dhabi, Vettel enters the final race weekend of the season eager to score back-to-back victories for the first time in four years, having hit the top step of the podium last time out in Brazil.

Vettel sent out an early warning shot to Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton by beating the recently-crowned drivers’ champion by one-tenth of a second in FP1, turning in a fastest time of 1:39.006.

Hamilton was left to settle for second place ahead of Max Verstappen, who finished a mere 0.148 seconds slower than Vettel for Red Bull.

Kimi Raikkonen took fourth after finishing half a second down on his teammate at the top of the timesheets, with Valtteri Bottas ending the session fifth in the second Mercedes.

Sergio Perez ended FP1 as the leading midfield driver in sixth for Force India ahead of the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, while Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top 10.

The final FP1 session of the year saw the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection appear on a number of cars ahead of its introduction for the 2018 season, with Bottas and Haas’ Antonio Giovinazzi among the drivers trialing it.

Giovinazzi was one of two junior drivers to feature in the session, with Force India running Mercedes youngster George Russell in place of Esteban Ocon. Russell ended the session 11th overall, while Giovinazzi took P18.