2017 F1 championship set to showcase young talent

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Next year’s Formula One championship promises to showcase young driving talent keen to emulate 19-year-old rising star Max Verstappen.

Goodbye Felipe Massa, hello Lance Stroll.

So long Jenson Button, welcome Stoffel Vandoorne.

As 30-somethings Massa and Button leave F1 with more than 550 races between them, they will be replaced by the 18-year-old Stroll and the 24-year-old Vandoorne – two of the fresh faces on a new-look grid.

Stroll is taking Massa’s seat at Williams, while Vandoorne is replacing Button at McLaren.

Others, like Frenchman Esteban Ocon, will be keen to make an impression in the way Verstappen has done.

Verstappen, the youngest driver to win an F1 race when he won the Spanish GP in May when still 18, already has seven podium finishes.

But the others are largely untested.

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 25: Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium and McLaren Honda walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 25, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Vandoorne has raced once this year, as a stand-in for Fernando Alonso at the Bahrain GP in April, while Ocon has nine races after making his F1 debut at the Belgian GP in August.

But it will be new territory for Stroll, the son of Canadian billionaire investor Lawrence Stroll.

Williams announced earlier this month that Stroll would be taking the seat vacated by Massa, who is retiring.

Stroll, who was part of the prestigious Ferrari driver academy, won this year’s European Formula 3 championship by a large margin.

“I want to be a quick driver – maybe the quickest one day,” he said. “If Williams didn’t think that I am ready, I wouldn’t be here.”

Williams’ deputy team principal Claire Williams certainly thinks he is.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 24: Lance Stroll of Canada and Williams talks in the Paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“He’s absolutely got the talent. We are going to have high expectations of him next year,” she said. “Anyone that has met Lance knows and understands that he deserves that promotion into Formula One. He’s extremely intelligent, a very quick learner.”

Stroll will be the youngest driver on the grid and F1’s youngest since Verstappen made his debut last year at 17.

Stroll, the first Canadian in F1 since 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve, has been financially backed by his father since he was eight.

“Without that (backing) I wouldn’t have been able to move from Canada to Europe and pursue my dream,” he said. “No matter how much money you have, if you are not able to be quicker than the rest you don’t get anywhere.”

His father’s influence helped his son get a taste for the sport.

“I watched F1 races with my dad early on Sunday mornings in Canada when I was very young. Then I got hooked,” Stroll said. “When I look back at those days, it was fantastic sharing this passion for motorsport with my dad. Michael Schumacher was also a huge inspiration for me.”

Vandoorne, meanwhile, won the GP2 series last year, and is so highly rated that Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said in August that McLaren would be “crazy” not to take him.

Filling in for Alonso in Bahrain, the Belgian driver made an immediate impression.

In qualifying, he was actually faster than Button – the 2009 F1 champion – and finished a creditable 10th in the race.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 24: Esteban Ocon of France and Manor Racing talks in the Paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Ocon made his F1 debut a month before his 20th birthday. He began this year racing for Mercedes in Germany’s DTM touring car championship and was a reserve driver for Renault until the Manor F1 team snapped him up.

He will have a quicker car when he joins Force India next season on a multi-year contract, replacing German Nico Hulkenberg, who will drive for Renault.

Ocon has strong credentials, winning the European F3 series in 2014. That year, Verstappen finished third.

“As much as it’s sad to be losing a couple of the Formula One legend drivers, it’s going to be really exciting next year,” Williams said.

The first race of the season is the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 26, where German driver Nico Rosberg will defend his title after clinching it at Sunday’s Abu Dhabi GP.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”