Fernando Alonso celebrated his 32nd birthday a few days after last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix. In the paddock, many people gave him good wishes ahead of the day, and some were even kind enough to ask him: “What do you want for your birthday?”
When the Spaniard turned around and said: “Someone else’s car,” the rumor mill went into overdrive. Could Alonso – the man who was intended to revive Ferrari’s fortunes from 2010 – really be looking to leave?
Since then, the story has refused to lie down. Speculation linking him to McLaren emerged when it was revealed that Sergio Perez was under pressure (and ultimately dropped), but Alonso remained defiant. In fact, he was getting a bit irritated towards the end of the season when, in every press conference, he was asked the same question. “Will you be leaving Ferrari?”
Come 2014, little has changed. The same rumors linger, and after another poor start to the season and another title concession, it’s not surprising. You cannot blame Alonso for being frustrated. This glorious partnership that was intended to take both driver and team back to the top has not gone entirely to plan. Three championship runner-up trophies will mean little to either Alonso or Ferrari.
As per 2013, the main place that the rumor mill continues to spit out is McLaren. Jenson Button is 33 and nearing the end of his career; McLaren will be getting Honda engines for 2015, and could return to form. Although Alonso’s tenure with the team ended in the worst possible fashion – him walking away when relations with Lewis Hamilton soured – there are suggestions he could be angling for a move back. After all, he is one of the most naturally talented drivers on the grid, and ultimately wants a third world title before he retires. If Ferrari can’t give him that, someone else might.
The big problem with this story for me is that McLaren already has a succession plan in place. Namely, Stoffel Vandoorne is the man who puts a spanner in the works.
Vandoorne has consistently impressed throughout his junior career, much like Kevin Magnussen. He won on his GP2 debut in Bahrain last month, and is thought of very highly within the McLaren setup. Should Button opt to call it quits at the end of the 2016 season, having enjoyed one year with Honda power, Vandoorne appears to be the perfect driver to complement Magnussen. If McLaren did draft in Alonso as a replacement for Button, it would put Vandoorne’s F1 aspirations on the back burner.
Over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, an even stranger rumor emerged: Alonso was angling for a move to Mercedes, the team that will most probably win both championships in 2014.
It must be hastened that, unlike the Newey to Ferrari rumor, this came out of nowhere. However, some corners of the paddock suggested that Alonso could come in as a replacement for Nico Rosberg, and re-join Lewis Hamilton.
Toto Wolff was asked about this rumor, and he looked perplexed, telling broadcasters “I wouldn’t change my line-up for the world.” Indeed, the Hamilton-Rosberg partnership looks to be very fruitful, having scored 197/215 possible points in 2014.
Alonso was then asked whether he’d be moving to Mercedes, but he just said: “No.”
Back to our original question. Why won’t the Alonso leaving Ferrari rumors go away? Because Ferrari still isn’t winning. Just one podium finish in the first five races is a very poor yield. The Spaniard continues to pull the car through the order and make it do things that it simply shouldn’t, but until he’s got the fastest car, it’s unlikely the rumor mill will give this one up.
I can appreciate why he would want to leave Ferrari, but where can he go? McLaren has the afore-mentioned succession plan, Mercedes has a perfect line-up, and so does Red Bull. A move to Lotus? Force India? Williams? Unlikely.
This story does split opinion in the paddock, but I for one cannot see him walking away from Ferrari at the end of 2014 because – disregarding everything else – he has few places to go.
He is still the unofficial number one driver, as suggested by Kimi Raikkonen’s odd strategy in Spain, and technical director James Allison is yet to design a car. His first will be in 2015. And who knows? Maybe that will be the year that the Alonso-Ferrari partnership finally lives up to the lofty expectations.
A street has been renamed and unveiled on Monday in honor of the late Jules Bianchi in his hometown of Nice, France.
The former ‘rue du Sapin’ in Nice is now ‘rue Jules Bianchi,’ in the Frenchman’s honor. A ceremony took place Monday at that street at the intersection of ‘avenue Pierre de Coubertin.’
Posts from the unveil are linked below. Charles Leclerc, Bianchi’s countryman and Ferrari Driver Academy member who participated in a couple first F1 free practice sessions with Haas F1 Team last year, posted “You’ll never ever be forgotten.”
Bianchi died in 2015 following a coma sustained after his accident in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, where he suffered a diffuse axonal injury. Not long afterwards, his No. 17 was retired from active competition in Formula 1.
Bianchi scored the first points and to date, the best career finish for the Manor F1 team, when he finished ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.
The Red Deer, Alberta native raced for JDC Motorsports in 2015 before moving to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing last season. The move reunites Thompson with fellow Canadian and EA team owner Michael Duncalfe.
“This was easily one of the hardest off seasons I have had in my motorsport career thus far,” Thompson admitted. “I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get behind the wheel of a racecar in 2017, so when the opportunity arose to become a part of the EA organization, I was ecstatic.
“This is a dream team fit for myself, in a number of different ways. I met Michael when I was just 11-years-old racing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the Western Canadian Karting Championships. It just goes to show you what relationship building can do for your career down the road! Since then, I actually raced for Michael in his decorated FF1600 program, and claimed my first two formula car wins with him. There’s not many team owners in the paddock who I have had such a great history and relationship with over the years.”
Andre Castro, an 18-year-old born in New York but with Colombian heritage, is the second confirmed driver at Newman/Wachs Racing ahead of its return to full-time racing. He’ll be in the team’s No. 37 entry alongside the previously announced Dakota Dickerson in the No. 36 car, with the series sophomore expected to improve this year.
“We ran Andre in our first test at Indy last October, and we had some success with him right from the start,”said team manager, Brian Halahan. “He was fast and he worked well with the team, so I feel we can build on that and have him running strong as soon as he is back in the Newman Wachs car. I think Andre and Dakota will make good teammates and push each other to the front.”
Castro is a go-kart veteran with limited car racing experience, but was nominated as a finalist for last year’s Team USA Scholarship.
“I am thrilled to be a part of Newman Wachs’ return to open-wheel racing, said Castro. After working with the team closely in the weeks leading up to the Chris Griffis Memorial test at Indy last fall, I saw that the team was incredibly serious about coming back and winning straight out of the gate. At the test itself, I was able to work with engineer Alan O’Leary extremely well, and by the end of the final day, me, a rookie driver and a returning team, together, we managed to be on top of the time sheets.”
While these two are in the USF2000 field this year, one driver who won’t be back for a second go-’round is Cameron Das, who raced his debut season with JAY Motorsports. The Baltimore teenager has stretched his wings not just in USF2000, but also in SCCA’s new U.S. F4 Championship, which he won.
Das, 16, will shift to Europe this year and will be one to watch along with new Red Bull Junior driver Neil Verhagen. Das has been confirmed with Carlin for its BRDC British F3 team, along with previously confirmed drivers James Pull and Enaam Ahmed.
“British Formula Three feels like the natural next step in my racing development,” said Das, who’s already tested for the team. “I’ve already had a chance to see Carlin in action and I couldn’t be more excited to spend the 2017 season with them. I really appreciate the support from my sponsor Autobahn Indoor Speedway and other partners for allowing me to embark on this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait for the first race weekend.”
The signing did bring up a good point – Das is unquestionably the racing driver with the name closest in spelling to actress Cameron Diaz.
MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno takes a look through the entries for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, car-by-car. Here’s a look through the two prototype classes, Prototype and Prototype Challenge. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.
With 12 cars in P that are all new and five in PC that are in their final year of eligibility, the prototype classes span the generations of recent sports car designs, teams, and lineups.
Daytona Prototype international (DPi) spec cars
No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing (Action Express Racing) Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R Drivers: Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Filipe Albuquerque Roar Time: 1:38.693 (5)
Outlook: On what should be a better playing field for the debuting Cadillac DPi, the No. 5 Action Express team seeks a return to winning this race for the first time in three years.
No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing (Action Express Racing) Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R Drivers: Dane Cameron, Eric Curran, Seb Morris, Mike Conway Roar Time: 1:38.902 (6)
Outlook: The time is right for the No. 31 car to finally contend at Daytona since it hasn’t in years past. Defending IMSA champs Cameron and Curran enter at the top of their games; Conway should star in his Rolex debut while Sunoco Challenge winner Morris, Andy Meyrick’s protégé, is the wild card.
No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R Drivers: Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor, Max Angelelli, Jeff Gordon Roar Time: 1:38.951 (8)
Outlook: After a rash of near misses and heartache, is this finally the year for the second generation of Taylor brothers to break through at Daytona? Gordon is the star guest driver here, and how close he is to the pace after a 10-year race layoff may determine their final outcome.
Outlook: New car but the same lineup for this Mazda trio, who won’t lack for pace on their own. Suspension issues interrupted their Roar; reliability is also a key target for the same AER engine that continues into 2017.
No. 70 Mazda Motorsports Car: Mazda RT24-P Drivers: Joel Miller, Tom Long, James Hinchcliffe Roar Time: 1:39.574 (10)
Outlook: Take the above description and copy and paste it here, except with a Machine Gray livery rather than Soul Red. The “Mayor of Hinchtown” makes a welcome return to Mazda for a fifth time, after a year’s hiatus.
Outlook: While it’s Derani and Sharp that return as defending champion co-drivers, it’s likely Derani and Dalziel – back Stateside full-time with ESM after a one-year detour to VISIT FLORIDA Racing – who will carry this car’s pace and hopes. The car doesn’t have a ton of miles and may struggle initially.
No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Car: Nissan Onroak DPi Drivers: Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Bruno Senna, Brendon Hartley Roar Time: 1:39.608 (11)
Outlook: Senna and Hartley are the impressive new additions here alongside the other two defending champion co-drivers, “JVO” and Brown. Hartley’s Daytona history is mixed with only one P5, last year, while Senna will look to star in what is, surprisingly, his Rolex 24 debut.
LMP2 spec cars
No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Car: Riley Mk. 30-Gibson Drivers: Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens, Rene Rast Roar Time: 1:38.922 (7)
Outlook: Last year was a nightmare year for VISIT FLORIDA at Daytona with a tried-and-true car. More new elements enter with a new car (the Riley-Gibson), drivers (the admittedly fast van der Zande and Rast) and director of race operations (Michael Harvey), who if they can mesh quickly could produce a result.
No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Car: Ligier JS P217-Gibson Drivers: Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Michael Guasch, RC Enerson Roar Time: 1:38.596 (4)
Outlook: The car, class and most of the lineup is new. But Bobby Oergel runs a good program and won this race in PC before just two years ago. The team once again fields a similarly under-the-radar lineup, particularly with sports car debutante Enerson alongside expected pacesetter “TKS.” A podium is possible here if the car holds.
No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Car: Oreca 07-Gibson Drivers: Stephen Simpson, Mikhail Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Mathias Beche Roar Time: 1:39.167 (9)
Outlook: John Church’s team steps up to Prototype and will find the going tougher here than it was in PC, where the team won last year. Finishing must be the first goal here for what will be a likable underdog entry in class, with Beche the all but certain car pacesetter.
No. 13 Rebellion Racing Car: Oreca 07-Gibson Drivers: Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin Roar Time: 1:38.408 (3)
Outlook: Rebellion makes its U.S. return and Daytona debut with, surprisingly, three Rolex 24 rookies in its all-star lineup of four drivers (Sarrazin has one start in 2013). Whether the undoubted pace can translate in the race week remains to be seen.
No. 81 DragonSpeed Car: Oreca 07-Gibson Drivers: Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman, Loic Duval Roar Time: 1:38.343 (1)
Outlook: Elton Julian’s team knows how to run endurance races and had some success in the ELMS. Fourth at Sebring was an impressive result last year, and in some respects they may have wanted more. A podium is more than possible for the team that was the Roar pacesetter.
Outlook: The swan song for the PC class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona will see a new team add its name to the list of class winners, a guaranteed fourth in as many years as CORE autosport, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and JDC/Miller Motorsports have won the last three. With those three teams now elsewhere on the WeatherTech Championship grid, it’s left to the Peter Baron, Brian Alder and Brent O’Neill-led stalwarts to make up the five-car grid.
While the PC class lacks the overall depth and star power in the three other classes, there’s still some intrigue. Performance Tech’s quartet was meant to be all 24 years of age or younger with French the only Rolex 24 veteran, although that changed following the Roar. Baron has done his usual star finding to spread between his two cars at Starworks. And at BAR1, past Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice returns to active competition after five years out, Johnny Mowlem makes one final drive at Daytona, and young guns Trent Hindman and Gustavo Yacaman will be keen to impress in their opportunities.
Expect the class to very much be a battle of survival, but it will be cool to see one of these three team owners rewarded for their persistence and dedication.
No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Drivers: James French, Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward, Nick Boulle Roar Time: 1:41.888 (1)
No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Drivers: Ben Keating, John Falb, Chris Cumming, Remo Ruscitti, Robert Wickens Roar Time: 1:43.320 (3)
No. 88 Starworks Motorsport Drivers: Scott Mayer, Alex Popow, James Dayson, Sebastian Saavedra, Sean Rayhall Roar Time: 1:44.089 (5)
No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Drivers: Buddy Rice, Don Yount, Gustavo Yacaman, Chapman Ducote, Mark Kvamme Roar Time: 1:43.865 (4)
No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Drivers: Johnny Mowlem, Tom Papadopoulos, Trent Hindman, Adam Merzon, David Cheng Roar Time: 1:42.701 (2)
The sports car world’s first race glimpse of the new Daytona Prototype international and new-for-2017 LMP2-spec chassis will come at this week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, where months of testing for both type of cars will help determine who draws first blood out of the gate in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.
A 12-car Prototype class grid features seven of the DPis, three Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, two Mazda RT24-Ps and two Nissan Onroak DPis, while the LMP2-spec cars include three Oreca 07s and a single Ligier JS P217 and Riley Mk. 30 chassis apiece. The LMP2-spec cars all have the spec Gibson engine while DPis allow manufacturers to run both their engine and designed bodywork over one of the four base chassis.
The last time a sea change this big came to the Rolex 24 occurred in 2003, with the debut of the first iteration Daytona Prototypes. The tube-framed chassis defined the future for the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, with a field of six at the first race growing to 30 just three years later in 2006.
Of course that first run in 2003 was always going to be littered with mechanical maladies and by the time the race was over, TRG had captured a shock but well-executed overall win with a GT class Porsche 911 GT3.
The Cadillac and the Mazda edge ahead of the Nissan Onroak in terms of test miles prior to this year’s Rolex 24, and haven’t sacrificed performance in the process.
For Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who’ve shared the Konica Minolta-backed Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing the last few years, the chance to develop a manufacturer-based DPi from scratch has provided them a new dose of experience to their burgeoning careers.
“Even compared to the P2 car I drove in Le Mans (an open-top Morgan Judd) in 2014, this is a totally different planet,” Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “It’s such a huge evolution from P2 cars in the past. It’ll likely take a season to get up to speed and how it responds to changes, how it drives, lot of learning curves. How stiff the car it is, how responsive. The power is nice obviously. It’s been a pleasure to drive.
“(Dallara’s) main department is the aero department. So with all the work they do being aero driven in P1, F3, GP2, F1, IndyCar… everything is so aero driven. With their body, it can stand out what they can do.”
These two share the No. 10 Cadillac for Wayne Taylor Racing with Max Angelelli, who was instrumental in working with Dallara throughout the design and test process, and a certain fourth driver who may generate some buzz this Rolex 24 in Jeff Gordon.
At Action Express Racing, meanwhile, defending IMSA Prototype champions Dane Cameron and Eric Curran have their first new car to develop in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Cadillac. Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, have driven a bevy of prototypes throughout their career.
Yet it might be their extra drivers – Filipe Albuquerque (No. 5) and Mike Conway (No. 31) – who add the most help to the full-season duos at the Rolex. Both have raced full-time in the FIA World Endurance Championship and have raced both LMP1 and LMP2-spec cars, with Albuquerque (Audi) and Conway (Toyota) having had the chance to make their mark understanding how those cars work.
Conway, who along with Sunoco Challenge winner Seb Morris make their Rolex 24 debuts as extras in the No. 31 car, described how this Cadillac drives compared to the LMP1 Toyota he races full-time and the LMP2-spec Oreca 03 and Oreca 05s he’s raced in the past. As you’d expect, the DPi seems to fit well between the two.
“I’ve not done loads of laps, but enough to learn the track and car,” Conway told NBC Sports. “It’s an LMP2 car with more power really, so I knew what to expect. It’s more just learning the tires.”
At Mazda, the RT24-Ps have the base Riley Multimatic chassis with the Mazda-designed aero styling as the bodywork. Speed gaps from the December test were erased at the Roar and the Mazda actually topped the speed traps there, with Jonathan Bomarito in at over 197 mph.
Tom Long and his Long Road Racing team/family have been integral parts of Mazda’s development work over the years, mainly in the MX-5 platform including the new Global MX-5 Cup car which premiered last year. Although the platform is new, Long hailed Mazda’s aspects of continuity for its new car.
“It helps that we have the same engine package as before, so we do have that on our side,” said Long, who will share the No. 70 Castrol Edge Machine Gray Mazda with Joel Miller and James Hinchcliffe. “Having that continuity between the driver lineup, crew chiefs and engineers helps so much. We learn together; we’re already ahead in that standpoint. That’s the Mazda mantra to never stop challenging. We’ll push forward.”
The Mazdas fought through suspension issues at the Roar but will look to press on for the rest of the month. The No. 70 is Mazda’s Chassis 1 while the No. 55 Soul Red Mazda, driven by Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot, is the Chassis 3. The lone base Riley Mk. 30, an LMP2-spec car, is entered by VISIT FLORIDA Racing, with Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and Rene Rast sharing the No. 90 Gibson-powered entry.
The new Nissan premiered publicly in December. Despite the car’s outward appearance looking similar, save for the GT-R inspired nose assembly, more is different under the bodywork to clearly differentiate it from the Ligier JS P217 base chassis.
“The car carryover is actually nothing from last year,” Ryan Dalziel, co-driver of the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan with Scott Sharp and Pipo Derani, explained. “It’s new regulations and the ’16 Ligier was obviously based on the ’14 rules. So we were one of the few cars in P2 not built with a narrow tub.
“Everything is new, from the suspension and the like. Really no carryover parts. Between the WEC-spec and our spec there’s a massive difference in powerplants. The differential, rear end, driveshafts; basically the whole rear end is mechanically different. Add in the different routing on the sidepods, which is a lot of the reason why the sidepods are different. It’s not so much styling cues as intercoolers, but radiators for the turbo motor. That said, it still feels fundamentally like the previous Ligier and it means they’re using what they’ve learned.”
That No. 2 car is alongside the team’s sister car, the No. 22 entry, driven by Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Bruno Senna and Brendon Hartley.
The base Ligier is the progression from the Ligier JS P2, which in its third year in 2016 had a banner campaign winning at Daytona and Sebring with ESM, and Petit Le Mans with Michael Shank Racing. The Ligier was unlucky to have not won at Le Mans in three tries.
Ethan Bregman, North American Market Manager, Onroak, explained the design and test process for one of the four new LMP2 chassis for 2017, the new Ligier.
“I believe for us, our aero work is an advantage,” he told NBC Sports at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in December. “Our worry was (DPi) manufacturer styling could slow the cars down. We’ve done 2000-plus runs in wind tunnel, plus CFD, so there’s been huge amount of time optimizing this car.
“Compared to the DPi model, the P2 cars will remain the baseline with the spec-Gibson (engine) and the DPis BoP’d to match. The DPis are great structure for manufacturer involvement. They can put their branding behind it. But at same time, a privateer can get a P2 and have it competitive, because they’re there.”
The lone privateer Ligier entry comes in the capable hands of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, which steps up from PC into Prototype this year. Bobby Oergel’s team knows how to win endurance races, having captured Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans in recent years, and has a sneaky good lineup assembled with Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Michael Guasch and sports car debutante RC Enerson.
That saves Oreca for last, although their pace at the Roar should have put them much higher. Three teams are running the Oreca 07, in full-season entrants JDC/Miller Motorsports (Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Mathias Beche) and partial season teams Rebellion Racing (Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin) and DragonSpeed (Ben Hanley, Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Henrik Hedman), the latter two teams having led all but one of the Roar sessions.
As the logical evolution from the previous generation Oreca 05, the new Oreca is quick out of the box and well-honed in development. Jani delivered good first impressions.
“To be honest, I’m not reading too much into it yet. We’ve just been focusing on getting to know the car – it’s completely new,” he said, via IMSA, at the Roar. “Working with the team’s engineers, we’ve made a lot of changes on the car. There’s still some room to improve, but that’s normal. But I don’t think everyone else is really showing what they can do. The main thing for us was working on reliability, and so far it’s great – knock on wood.”
The technical variations in all six car combinations are part of the allure and draw for the race, and the intrigue in wondering which car and team will nail the combination of pace, performance, patience and reliability makes this year’s prototype battle a fascinating one to watch.