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IMSA: Risi Ferrari, Turner BMW, 8Star PC big winners on VIR weekend

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Releases from IMSA Communications on this weekend’s Oak Tree Grand Prix from Virginia International Raceway, the third-to-last race weekend of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, are below. Risi Competizione bagged a last lap win in GT Le Mans, with Turner Motorsport winning the GT Daytona class yet again. 8Star Motorsports won both segments of the weekend’s Prototype Challenge races.

DANVILLE, Va. (August 24, 2014) – Ferrari continues to find new reasons to celebrate in its 60th anniversary celebration of racing in North America.

Two races after scoring its first pole in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and one race after a breakthrough first win at Road America, Giancarlo Fisichella made a last-lap pass on Wolf Henzler to score a second consecutive victory in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia Sunday in the Oak Tree Grand Prix at Virginia International Raceway.

A late caution set up a six-minute sprint to the checkered flag, with Fisichella immediately attacking the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR of Henzler. The two went side-by-side multiple times throughout the final four laps with Fisichella making the race-winning pass on the final lap in Turn 11.

“I knew it was the last lap and I did all I could do,” said Fisichella, who was joined by co-driver Pierre Kaffer in the victory, just as he was two weeks ago at Road America. “I got close to Henzler and I was lucky because I even had a good exit. Once I took the lead, I was quicker than him in the straights.”

Henzler, who took over for co-driver Bryan Sellers, was tasked with conserving enough fuel to get to the finish throughout his one hour, 10 minute stint, while also maintaining enough pace to stay ahead of the rest of the GTLM field. A caution for the stopped Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen with 12 minutes remaining allowed Henzler to save enough fuel to finish the race, but also put Fisichella right on his rear bumper.

“Sometimes you have to take a chance; we took a bit of (a gamble on) fuel and it paid off,” said Henzler. “Some other times you take a chance and you can’t make it. This time we were lucky, other times we were not. I think we deserved it, we deserved to be on the podium here.”

Searching for its first victory in GTLM competition, BMW scored its sixth podium in nine races with Dirk Mueller and John Edwards co-driving to third in BMW Team RLL’s No. 56 Crowne Plaza BMW Z4 GTE.

Antonio Garcia and the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R team unofficially leads the GTLM standings by six points, 270-264, over Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer and the No. 93 SRT Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R team with two races remaining.

FOURTH VICTORY FOR CAMERON, PALTTALA RESULTS IN THREE-WAY TIE IN GTD

Dane Cameron swept to the inside of Damien Faulkner with 45 minutes remaining and led the rest of the way to take the fourth GT Daytona (GTD) victory of the season for the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 started by Markus Palttala in the Oak Tree Grand Prix.

Cameron took the checkered flag 1.420 seconds ahead of Alessandro Balzan, giving the team its second consecutive victory while setting up a three-way tie atop the GTD point standings with only two races remaining.

Cameron now has 244 points, unofficially joining No. 555 AIM Autosport REVO/Robert Graham Ferrari 458 Italia drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, and No. 22 Alex Job Racing WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT America drivers Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil for the lead in the championship.

“It’s a big gain for us to come in 12 points behind and leave tied,” Cameron said. “We’re in a good position now, but we’re not going to change our strategy. We’re not going to run conservatively and run for points or anything. We’ll do what we need to win this championship.

“The last thing we needed today was that late yellow. The last thing we wanted was to be bunched up with everybody else, but I was able to get a good run coming out of the first corner and I could exhale from there. It was a pretty stressful day. It’s never easy to win in this category.”

Palttala led prior to his pit stop during the first of three cautions. Madison Snow, driving the No. 58 Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 GT America started by early race leader Jan Heylen, and Faulkner, who joined Michael Lewis in the No. 81 GB Autosport Tully’s Coffee Porsche 911, stayed out under the second caution period shortly before the two hour mark to take turns in the lead. Following the restart, Cameron needed four minutes to execute what proved to be the winning pass.

Balzan finished second in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia started by Jeff Westphal, followed by Patrick Dempsey and Andrew Davis in the No. 27 Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 GT America.

Dempsey started from the back of the field after missing qualifying due to an accident in Saturday morning practice, and worked his way up to third prior to his pit stop. Davis rejoined the race in seventh, and quickly worked his way into podium contention.

“I felt today was really important to show how much it means to me and to be in a series with these guys that are up here,” Dempsey said. “After chasing a podium for so long this year, and being here to compete, is so much fun.

“It’s a tremendous honor and privilege. When you have these moments, you’re grateful to have this experience.”

source: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

DANVILLE, Va. (August 24, 2014) – Luis Diaz took over where teammate Sean Rayhall left off at Virginia International Raceway, leading every lap of Sunday’s 45-minute Prototype Challenge (PC) segment to give the No. 25 8Star Motorsports Takis/Speedsters ORECA FLM09 the overall victory in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event.

Rayhall led all 23 laps in Saturday evening’s segment, while Diaz led 24 laps on Sunday, holding off the efforts of Bruno Junqueira, Colin Braun and Renger van der Zande, who each took turns in second. The event ended under caution following a late incident involving Junqueira, who spun and made contact with a tire barrier in Turn 7.

Combined points from the weekend’s two segments determined the final results for the eighth PC race of the season.

“My plan was to stay out front,” Diaz said. “I’m not very good with math, that’s why I’m a race car driver. I knew I didn’t have as fast of a pace as the other guys, so I couldn’t make any mistakes. I had a lot of pressure on me, I was playing the game of not looking in my mirrors. I was thankful the yellow flag came out. I knew Colin was stronger than me, and we didn’t have to fight against this good driver.”

Braun finished the segment in second in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 started by Jon Bennett, who finished seventh in the opening segment. Renger van der Zande took third in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Martini entry started by Mirco Schultis, who was eighth on Saturday.

“They certainly had a good car, a fast car, and hats off to them,” Braun said. “Guys who finished second always say if they had more green flag running we would have had a shot at them at the end. It would have been fun to race Luis at the end, but that’s the way it goes. It was certainly exciting racing.”

Diaz led Junqueira for the opening 14 laps, before Junqueira spun in the No. 09 RSR Racing Linospresso USA entry driven to second by Duncan Ende on Saturday. Braun then ran second for several laps, but lost the position to van der Zande while challenging Diaz in the Oak Tree Turn.

Van der Zande had an off-course excursion of his own three laps later, with Braun moving to within a half-second of the lead before the final caution.

“It was a real bullfight, a sprint race, and I enjoyed it,” said van der Zande, a two-time winner in 2014 competition. “My fight for the lead was amazing – all fair and clean, with a little paint exchanged.”

In the combined final results, David Ostella (fifth on Sunday) and James French (third on Saturday) finished second in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09, followed by Braun and Bennett.

“James did an awesome job going from seventh to third yesterday, but I struggled with the car today,” Ostella said. “I can’t complain about second overall. It’s our best finish of the season. Hopefully we will get it one better at the next one.”

The next race for the PC competitors will be at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, with all four TUDOR Championship classes featured on Saturday, Sept. 20.

Nobuharu Matsushita to remain in GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _MG_4660
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Nobuharu Matsushita will remain in the GP2 Series for the 2016 season after agreeing a new deal with defending champions ART Grand Prix.

Matsushita made his GP2 debut in 2015 with ART, racing alongside Stoffel Vandoorne who ultimately won the drivers’ title in record-breaking fashion.

Matsushita finished ninth in the final drivers’ standings with one race win to his name, and is now gunning to battle for the championship in his second year with ART.

“I would like to thank Honda and ART Grand Prix for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in GP2 Series,” Matsushita said.

“ART Grand Prix won the championships last year, and I am so honored to be part of such an amazing team again. As a member of HFDP, Honda Formula Dream Project, aiming to be the top-world-class driver, I will give my best to win the drivers and the team championship in my second GP2 season.”

Matsushita will race alongside Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin at ART in 2016, with the Russian driver moving from Rapax for his sophomore year in the series.

“I am truly delighted to start our third year of partnership together with Honda with this reinforcement of our collaboration,” ART team boss Sebastien Philippe said.

“Nobuharu will partner Sergey Sirotkin in the GP2 Series. He had an incredible year in 2015 when he did not know Europe or the championship, the team and the car, but nevertheless he secured one win, several podiums and made massive improvements all year long.

“As a driver and on a personal level, we have no doubt at all that he has all the assets needed to fight for the title in 2016.”

NHRA: Lots of change heading into this weekend’s season-opening Winternationals

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Last season, the National Hot Rod Association adopted a “#BaptismByNitro” theme to attract new fans and attention to the sport.

But as it kicks off the new season with this weekend’s Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California,  if the NHRA were to come up with a new theme song for 2016, it’d likely be the old Scorpions ballad “Winds Of Change.”

Change – and positive change at that – seems to be all around in the wind for the NHRA, including:

* Peter Clifford begins his first full season as NHRA president (he replaced the retired Tom Compton last June). Clifford has made a number of dynamic hires in an effort to improve the sanctioning body’s reach and attractiveness to fans.

* The NHRA has embarked upon one of its most ambitious marketing and communications initiatives ever to increase fan attention and attendance at events, including the hiring of veteran motorsports reporter Terry Blount late last season as new vice president of communications.

* Another significant hire is Emmy award-winning Ken Adelson as vice president of broadcasting and digital content to supercharge the NHRA’s TV and digital sides.

* Fox Sports and Fox Sports 1 has become the official TV partner of the sport, with plans to televise live the majority of the 24 races this season, including expected three-hour presentations of final eliminations on Sundays. In addition, former Funny Car champ Tony Pedregon embarks upon a new career as a NHRA TV analyst.

* New rules in Pro Stock, including the long-awaited implementation of electronic fuel injection and the removal of long-standing monster hood scoops, should inject life into a class that had grown somewhat stagnant to fans in recent years.

* After becoming the first back-to-back female champion in any NHRA pro categories, Pro Stock queen Erica Enders goes for three straight titles this season.

* Fan favorite and five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlan returns to the sport on a full-time basis after racing part-time last season.

* After enduring what he called his “worst season in 25 years” in 2015, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force is bound and determined to earn title No. 17 in 2016. The ageless Force (66 years old) told MotorSportsTalk that he feels as invigorated as he’s ever been and looks forward to significantly improve from last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish.

* In addition, Force will have long-time crew chief Austin Coil “helping out” in an unofficial capacity for Force’s Funny Car, as well as those of son-in-law and John Force Racing team president Robert Hight and Force’s youngest daughter, Courtney.

* John Force Racing also scored another coup in the offseason by hiring 11-time Top Fuel champion team owner/crew chief Alan Johnson as a consultant to oversee the Top Fuel efforts of driver Brittany Force. Judging by some of the runs Force had during last weekend’s preseason testing for nitro cars at Phoenix, not only does she seem likely to earn her first career win, she also is an early possible contender for the championship.

* Defending pro class champions are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

And those changes are just for starters. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that the NHRA is poised for increased growth and notoriety in 2016.

While the sanctioning body still has not capitulated to what many fans want – the return of full quarter-mile drag strip racing for Top Fuel and Funny Car competition (the standard remains 1,000 feet for 2016) – the changes that have already occurred for this season definitely hold a lot of promise.

Yes, the winds of change are swirling within the NHRA.

And if Clifford and the rest of the sanctioning body officials have their way and many of the changes prove successful, by season’s end the NHRA may be signing another Scorpions song that deals with wind: “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.”

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Helmut Marko: Modern-day F1 drivers are overpaid

xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.
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Red Bull Racing team advisor Helmut Marko believes that modern-day Formula 1 drivers are overpaid due to the reduced risk and easier driving conditions they experience.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel are two of the highest-paid drivers on the grid in 2016, earning upwards of $30 million per year from their teams.

However, Marko believes that drivers in F1 are overpaid as there is now a reduced risk of suffering a fatal accident, and that with the cars being easier to drive, their worth has decreased.

“Basically, the drivers of today are definitely overpaid for two reasons,” Marko told Sport Bild in Germany.

“Firstly, there is only a small risk that serious accidents can result in injury or even be fatal.

“Secondly, young top talent like [Max] Verstappen or [Pascal] Wehrlein can take the modern car and straight away easily do 100 laps without tiring.

“Previously you had even a Vettel have to take breaks because he was not used to the high centrifugal forces. This means that the cars are easier to drive. The drivers must do less.”

Wolff: Wehrlein, Ocon deserve Formula 1 roles

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 23:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during Formula One testing at the Red Bull Ring on June 23, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
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Mercedes AMG Petronas team boss Toto Wolff believes that junior talents Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon have both earned their roles in Formula 1 for the 2016 season “on merit”.

Wehrlein will make his grand prix debut in 2016 with Manor Racing after winning the DTM title for Mercedes last year, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the series.

Ocon has been loaned to Renault Sport F1 Racing for its comeback season, and will work as the team’s reserve driver following his GP3 title success last year.

Wolff feels that both drivers deserve their chance in F1 this year, and also said that Mercedes will look to expand its junior program across the course of the season.

“We’re delighted that Pascal and Esteban will tackle a fresh set of challenges in 2016,” Wolff said. “Our aim is to build their experience in the best possible environment and, following positive discussions with our counterparts at Manor and Renault, it became clear that their respective Formula 1 programmes presented ideal opportunities to achieve that.

“It is very pleasing to see young drivers earning their spot in Formula 1 on merit and to see that talent is being rewarded by the system. Pascal and Esteban have proven themselves to be amongst the top young drivers out there – and both come into 2016 as champions of their respective series.

“But they still have plenty to learn and they will be staying humble, with their feet on the ground. This is an important year for them and we will be following their progress with great interest, while also looking to expand our junior program.

“Mercedes-Benz has a strong tradition of developing young racing talent and our eyes are very much open to other promising prospects for the future.”