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The American F1 Dream: Conor Daly’s push for the top

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Formula 1’s recent revival in the USA has been wonderful to see. The return of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin has been a complete success, and an American team is set to join the grid in 2016 courtesy of NASCAR team owner Gene Haas.

However, there is still one thing missing: an American driver. You have to go back to Scott Speed in 2007 for the last US F1 racer, but there are two very young and exciting talents coming through the ranks at the moment.

First up, we have Alexander Rossi. The Caterham test driver is perhaps the closest to F1 at the moment, but he is still yet to make the full-time step up. We spoke to him about his chances a few weeks ago in Montreal.

The second is Conor Daly. The two drivers took different routes up the junior ladder, but the ultimate goal remains the same: Formula 1. Therefore, with the sport becoming increasingly pro-American, surely it must bode well for an American driver?

“People keep saying that,” Conor explains, “but me and Rossi are still here in GP2, and we’re not getting those calls to jump up. I love being American, I happy being American, but we can’t keep seem to generate the support that other nationalities get from their pure countries – not morale support, financial support.”

And this has been what has held Conor back all too often: finances. After what he called “the worst winter ever” in pursuit of a race seat, he eventually secured a last-minute drive in GP2.

“I’m not fortunate enough to have governments behind me or oil companies, so it is what it is and I’m happy to be here and we’ve done every race so far so all is well,” he said. “I can’t be more thankful to these guys for the opportunity.

“We’ll just have to continue to see how it plays out, and even if it’s Alex and not me, that’s awesome, I’d love to see Alex there, but we cannot stress enough that we need help to get there for sure.”

The fact that Formula 1 has become so business oriented has been to the detriment of drivers such as Conor. Strictly speaking, the sport should involve the best 22 drivers in the world. However, the rise of the pay driver means that sometimes the size of your wallet can mean more than the trophies on your shelf.

Daly, Rossi, and even Gene Haas have all had to deal with the difficulty of being an American trying to break into a Euro-centric sport. “For me as a driver, you had to come to Europe to try to get to F1,” Conor said. ” I think no matter what he’s going to make the right decisions when it comes to the time to do it.

“I think if you have a base of operations in America, you can also just as easily – maybe not have one big one but two small ones. I’m sure when the time comes they’ll make the right decision either way.”

Haas Formula appears to be Conor’s best chance of stepping up into an F1 role in the near future, but after seeing many opportunities come and go over the years, he is unwilling to say for certain that he will make it into the sport.

“Some day you could be at zero percent, and the next day you might get a call and things are at 95%,” he said. “I thought I was gonna be a Formula 1 driver when USF1 came up. All of a sudden we thought ‘wow, life is good’.

“I thought everything was going to be fine when I had a contract with Gerry Forsythe for ten years. He was one of my original investors, and then after 2010, my best season in Star Mazda, he decided that he wanted to pull out.

“I’ve known a lot of things, and it’s all gone well, but then it’s all gone up in flames too so I can’t put any percents on anything.”

What Conor said next summed up the sometimes brutal and uncertain life of a racing driver trying to make a break into a top-line series.

“You have to be confident that opportunities are real, but for sure if any opportunities come up you have to chase it to a certain point to make sure whether it’s real or not,” he explained.

“But for sure you hear a lot more things in racing that never happen then actually do happen, so that’s the shady part. There’s so many people who promise so many things that never actually happen; that’s the sad part of racing.”

It is sad. It is sad that drivers without the necessary funding see their F1 hopes go up in flames. Conor currently races in GP2, which is technically F1’s direct feeder series. However, the last two champions – Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer – are not racing in F1, nor is Sam Bird or James Calado, who came second and third respectively last season. Some of the drivers currently in Formula 1 did not come close to winning the championship.

Nevertheless, Conor is pleased with where he is. “GP2 is a pretty high level championship. I’ve got so much experience now that I can take it really anywhere and I think people would benefit from it, so for sure there are opportunities anywhere.

“I think there are opportunities in sportscars, I obviously have to meet the right people, get in the right meetings, do all this, do all that, as you normally do. IndyCar, I think I would love to do for a very long time if that’s something that I need to do. Long shot left field, if NASCAR, there’s something there I’d take that too.

“Anything, so long as I’m driving and going fast I’m happy.”

Formula 1 remains the ultimate goal, naturally, but it is refreshing to see a driver making himself open to other avenues. Be it F1, IndyCar or sportscars, Conor will be sure to impress.

Amid the flux of pay drivers, reserve roles and billionaire backers, both of our American drivers are fighting hard to get to the top; the hope of hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” ring out in F1 once again still burns brightly.

Follow @LukeSmithF1

IMSA: Landy, Boehm score first career CTSC poles at VIR

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Landy/Ecklin. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Sebastian Landy (GS) and Kevin Boehm (ST) won their first career poles for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Oak Tree Grand Prix at VIRginia International Raceway; the latest two-hour, 30-minute race takes place on Saturday.

Landy, a veteran of IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup action, makes his GS class debut and promptly stuck the No. 99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage he’ll share with Rob Ecklin on the GS pole, with a best time of 1:56.929 on the 3.27-mile road course.

“[Track experience] helped a little bit but I have to thank everyone at Automatic Racing,” the local driver out of Great Falls, Va. told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam. “I’ve always wanted to race in GS. It’s a great day to start on pole for your first race. If I wasn’t as sloppy as I was, there could have been more!”

Danny Burkett starts the No. 33 CJ Wilson Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport he shares with Marc Miller in second, with the pair of Ford Shelby GT350R-Cs from Multimatic Motorsports and Compass360 Racing (the latter repaired after its Road America accident) on Row 2.

Honda has a 1-3 start in the ST class with Columbus, Ohio’s Boehm taking the No. 92 HART Honda Civic Si to the top spot at 2:04.660. He’ll share that car with Cameron Lawrence while the team’s No. 93 car, qualified by Chad Gilsinger who shares with Ryan Eversley, will start from third.

The No. 84 Bimmerworld BMW 328i (James Clay, Tyler Cooke) slots in-between the pair.

Qualifying results are linked here.

The second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice of the day at a hot VIR was less eventful than the morning session when the roof popped off the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM of Dirk Werner.

Corvette Racing came to the fore in second practice with the No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen top of the charts in GT Le Mans and overall. In GT Daytona, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers) was quickest one.

Practice results from the day are linked below.

Practice 1
Practice 2

Stewards confirm Alonso, Ericsson grid drops for Belgian GP

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race stewards at Spa have confirmed that Fernando Alonso and Marcus Ericsson will join Lewis Hamilton in taking a grid drop for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Following the conclusion of the summer break, teams are now beginning to get tight on their power unit component allocations for the remainder of the season.

Each car is limited to just five of each power unit component for the season, with penalties being awarded for exceeding this limit.

After being forced to make unplanned changes earlier in the season, Hamilton took two complete new power units on Friday at Spa, meaning he will almost certainly start the Belgian Grand Prix from the back of the grid with a 30-place drop.

Hamilton won’t be the only driver to drop back, though. The FIA stewards confirmed on Friday that both Alonso and Ericsson had also been forced to make changes, resulting in penalties for both drivers.

Alonso has a 35-place grid penalty looming over him after taking a whole new power unit. The Spaniard was already on the limit of five of each component heading to Spa, making the penalty more severe than Hamilton’s.

Ericsson has taken a new turbocharger, his sixth, meaning he receives a 10-place grid penalty. For each of the remaining ‘sixth’ elements the Sauber driver takes over the rest of the season, he will drop a further five places.

Qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix will settle matters at the front of the grid, but at the rear, it will very much be a case of ‘wait and see’ once all of the penalties are confirmed on Sunday morning.

You can watch qualifying from Spa live on the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Button ‘almost there’ on deciding Formula 1 future

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda sits in his car in the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button says he is “almost there” on deciding his future in Formula 1 as McLaren continues to deliberate its driver line-up for 2017.

Button is the most experienced driver currently racing in F1, and has been with McLaren since 2010.

Fernando Alonso is set to remain with McLaren for next season, but the team is yet to decide whether it will retain Button or promote junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne into a full-time seat.

Button has been linked with a return to Williams – the team he made his F1 debut with in 2000 – should McLaren drop him.

The 2009 F1 world champion is yet to decide whether or not he will continue in F1 next year, but feels he is close to a decision.

“I am almost there with my thought process and you will hear about it soon. I can’t put a timescale on it, but it will be soon enough,” Button told Press Association.

“I did think about it lot [over the summer]. I didn’t have a lot of time to lie on a sun-lounger and think about it to be fair.

“I was busy, but yes, of course, I thought about it.”

Button’s last race win came at the end of 2012 with McLaren, and has not finished on the podium since the start of 2014 thanks to difficulties with the team’s Honda engine last year.

Although McLaren is on the rise, Button stressed that he wants to be in a car that is capable of battling at the front of the pack in 2017.

“I have always said that if I feel like I can be in a car that is fighting for wins I will definitely stay. I think any racing driver would,” Button said.

“But if I am not and I feel like I am not, there is nothing else for me to achieve. I will go and play darts instead.

“I can’t just sit on the beach. I will do all sorts of racing after F1 whether it is in racing cars, push bikes, or triathlons because I am a competitive person and I always want to win.

“So, that is what I want to do. Something I can fight for wins in.”

Button has been linked with a move into the FIA World Endurance Championship should he decide to call time on his F1 career, and is also likely to take up rallycross in some form, following in the footsteps of his father, John.

A roof popped off a BMW M6 GTLM in IMSA’s VIR first practice

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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First practice for this weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge, a GT Le Mans and GT Daytona-only round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at VIRginia International Raceway is in the books.

Fastest times were set by Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR (1:43.232, GTLM and overall) and Madison Snow in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (1:45.722, GTD).

Bamber told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam, “It’s a good way to start the weekend. It’s a new surface; it already seems quicker than last year. The guys at VIR have done a great job to repave it. It’s been pretty difficult the last couple races for us.”

But the session was more notable because it featured a weird interruption, when the roof off the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM popped off on course.

It left Dirk Werner needing to bring the car, sans the roof and rear window, into the pit lane but luckily without further damage following the inadvertent convertible debut of the car.

Werner’s befuddled co-driver, Bill Auberlen, attempted to explain the situation to Adam.

“I’m telling you… I’m dying to ask if it was cooler inside the cockpit!” Auberlen told IMSA Radio, noting how hot it is on track, as well (ambient temperatures are expected in the mid-90s with track temperatures in the 110-115 range).

“So no, we did not plan on this. This is very odd. It’s bizarre how the roof would blow off the thing.

“I went in the grass once. Couldn’t get the downshfits accomplished. Now this. Maybe we get all the troubles out now.

“But now the roof blew off? No idea how, it’s just bad luck.”

Here’s pics and a few tweets about the abnormal incident: