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USF2000 candidates set for MRTI scholarship shootout

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From Dec. 6-7, the $200,000 shootout to win a Mazda scholarship into the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will take place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

A release on the candidates is below:

A total of 18 drivers will congregate next week at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., to contest the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. The unprecedented event brings together talent from around the globe with the winner receiving a $200,000 prize from Mazda to assist in graduation to the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. USF2000 represents the first step on the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires which offers scholarships for talented young drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

The Shootout was designed this year to include the champions of select junior level open-wheel and karting series. In total, 20 championships were granted Shootout “entry tickets” to award their champions, with an eligibility requirement that drivers be between the ages of 14 and 25 on September 30, 2016. Three drivers were unable to attend due to prior commitments.

The final slot on the driver roster was clinched this past weekend at the famed Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Victoria, Australia, where Will Brown, 18, from Toowoomba, Queensland (the same hometown as 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power) finished a close second in the Australian Formula Ford Championship. Brown had been obliged to miss the opening three races, allowing veteran Leanne Tander, who began her FF career one year before Brown was born, to establish a 56-point advantage, but the youngster fought back to finish just 12 points in arrears after sweeping the final three races. Brown also clinched this year’s CAMS Jayco Australian Formula 4 Championship Certified by FIA.

Australian Formula Ford is among a variety of feeder series from five different continents – Asia, Australia and Europe as well as North and South America – who will send representatives to the two-day Shootout.

Other recent nominees include Oliver White, 23, from Bath, England, who earned his place via the Mountney SuperSeries for Formula Ford 1600 in the UK; Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew, 19, and Kyle Kirkwood, 18, both from Jupiter, Fla.; Skip Barber Race Series champion Timo Reger, 20, from Houston, Texas; U.S. Open Rotax Senior class winner Austin Garrison, 18, from Davie, Fla.; and Jonathan Sugianto, 20, of Alhambra, Calif., through the Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear.

The competitors, representing nine different nations, will range in age from 14-year-old Marcel Coletta, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who earned his nomination via a karting shootout in Brazil, to Matt Machiko, from Pittsburgh, Pa., who celebrated his 25th birthday just a few days after clinching the Formula Mazda championship at the 53rd annual SCCA Runoffs Presented by Garmin VIRB at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The full list of scholarship Shootout contestants (with age and hometown) and their affiliation:

Oliver Askew, 19, Jupiter, Fla. – Team USA Scholarship
Will Brown, 18, Toowoomba, Australia – Australian Formula Ford Championship
Marcel Coletta, 14, Sao Paulo, Brazil – Seletiva de Kart Petrobras (Brazil)
Tim de Silva, 20, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. – Pacific F2000 Championship
Trenton Estep, 16, San Antonio, Texas – Formula Tour 1600 (Canada)
Austin Garrison, 18, Davie, Fla. – U.S. Rotax MAX Challenge (U.S. Open Rotax Senior class)
Kyle Kirkwood, 18, Jupiter, Fla. – Team USA Scholarship
Matt Machiko, 25, Pittsburgh, Pa. – SCCA National Championship Runoffs (FM)
Neil Maclennan, 18, Inverness, Scotland – Beatson’s Scottish FF1600 Championship
Axel Matus, 18, Guadalajara, Mexico – Formula Panam
Niall Murray, 21, Dublin, Ireland – BRSCC Avon Tires FF1600 Championship
Peter Portante, 20, Plainville, Conn. – F1600 Formula F Championship Series
Timo Reger, 20, Houston, Texas – Skip Barber Race Series
Nigel Saurino, 21, Tulsa, Okla. – SCCA National Championship Runoffs (FC)
Michael Scott, 21, Te Puke, New Zealand – New Zealand Formula Ford Championship
Jonathan Sugianto, 20, Alhambra, Calif. – Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear
Karthik Tharani, 22, Chennai, India – MMSC MRF F1600 Indian Championship
Oliver White, 23, Bath, England – Mountney SuperSeries for Formula Ford 1600

Full details of the judging panel, Shootout format and cars will be announced later this week as well as the schedule of events which includes an orientation day on December 5, followed by on-track activities on December 6/7.

“This is the next step in the worldwide growth of the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Kyle Kimball, Operations Manager at Mazda Motorsports. “It allows young drivers from around the world to see a direct path to the program, beginning with championships in their own country. Our hope is to continue to see the finest young drivers in the world choose the Mazda Road to Indy, and to represent their country on a path to the top rungs of open-wheel racing.”

Vettel, Raikkonen complete hot laps in Ferrari F1 cars at Daytona

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed their final Formula 1 run-outs of 2016 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, taking part in a special demonstration for the Ferrari Finali Mondiali.

The Finali Mondiali acts as the world final for the continental Ferrari Challenge series, bringing together competitors from the North America, Europe and Asia Pacific championships.

As part of the weekend’s running, Vettel and Raikkonen were on hand to complete demonstration laps behind the wheel of recent Ferrari F1 cars, with Vettel also completing some donuts in front of the main granstand at Daytona.

Here are some of the videos and pictures from the event.

Sebastian Vettel dismisses suggestion he could replace Rosberg at Mercedes

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP is congratulated by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari on the podium during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel has brushed off suggestions that he could take Nico Rosberg’s vacant Formula 1 seat at Mercedes next year, saying his focus lies on working with Ferrari to improve on their 2016 season.

Rosberg sensationally announced on Friday that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden World Championship.

Rosberg’s move has sent the driver market into a late flux, with Mercedes’ Niki Lauda claiming that half of the F1 grid has been in touch regarding the seat despite many of them having contracts.

Vettel has been named as a possible candidate for Rosberg’s seat despite having one year remaining on his Ferrari deal, but when speaking at the Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, the German stressed he is focused on his current commitments at Maranello.

“I think it’s no secret the fact that me and Kimi Raikkonen have a contract for next season,” Vettel is quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Kimi and I are already committed. In 2017 we will be competitive.

“We have not reached the goal this year, but now it will be important to do the job at the factory in the next two months.

“I am confident that we will definitely present an improved package.”

Vettel signed off with a message to Rosberg, wishing the retiring champion “happy holidays!”

Vettel finished 2016 fourth in the drivers’ championship without a win to his name as Ferrari struggled to keep up with Mercedes and Red Bull in the pecking order.

Mercedes is set to begin its search for a replacement on Monday, with the other big-name driver besides Vettel linked to the seat being McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

Should Mercedes want to promote one of its junior drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are both also available, although neither has more than a season of F1 experience.

Hamilton not chasing number one status at Mercedes after Rosberg exit

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he is not chasing number one driver status at Mercedes as the team begins its search for a replacement for Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg edged out Hamilton for the F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi last Sunday before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from the sport five days later.

Mercedes has said it will take its time when looking for a replacement for Rosberg, with the majority of the F1 grid tied up contractually for 2017.

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both been linked with the Mercedes drive in the wake of Rosberg’s departure, leading to questions about whether Hamilton would want another big-name star alongside him.

Mercedes has always stressed that it does not have a number one driver, and Hamilton said that he would not insist on that changing when his new teammate arrives.

“I’ve never been a driver to ever request that,” Hamilton said when asked about number one status.

“I know a lot of the other drivers Sebastian, Fernando make sure that’s in their contract.

“I’ve just always asked to have equal rights. As long as we’re treated fairly, it doesn’t really matter who’s alongside you.

“But of course, we’ve got great team bosses, who I’m sure will choose the right people to be representing the brand.”

Whoever replaces Rosberg will become Hamilton’s fifth teammate in F1, the Briton having previously worked with Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button during his time at McLaren before joining Mercedes in 2013.

Rosberg: Hamilton’s late-season form ‘the best Lewis I’ve ever seen’

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo neads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg believes that Lewis Hamilton produced some of the best performances of his career towards the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season when the Briton had nothing to lose in the championship fight.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 drivers’ championship by five points in Abu Dhabi last Sunday, defeating Hamilton for the first time during their time as teammates.

Rosberg closed out the season with four straight second place finishes, with Hamilton’s run of victories in the same period not being enough to catch up in the standings.

Speaking in a video produced by Mercedes after his championship win, Rosberg said that he felt the most pressure after his final win of the season in Japan, the result that meant he could wrap up the title without taking another victory.

“The changing moment was Suzuka for me, when all of a sudden I had the 33-point lead and that meant it was in my hands, and it’s mine to lose, because it was enough to do second-second-second and third,” Rosberg said.

“That’s when really the pressure started for me because it became real, the chance to win the championship and to beat Lewis. It was real.”

Rosberg was only assured of the title when he crossed the finish line in Abu Dhabi, with Hamilton going deliberately slow in a bid to back the German into the chasing pack.

“Abu Dhabi was intense. It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had in a race car,” Rosberg said.

“Even qualifying, the laps in qualifying, not easy really. And for sure it has an impact on your performance. It’s not possible that you do the same performance as if you’re in Lewis’ position where he has nothing to lose.”

Rosberg believes that the lack of pressure brought the very best out of Hamilton, as he closed out the campaign with four consecutive victories from pole position.

“That’s why he got the pole positions and why I was second in the last couple of races because he’s free, has no weight and nothing to lose,” Rosberg said.

“It was the best Lewis I’ve ever seen, the last few races, because not only was he completely free, but also the most determined and motivated ever, working as hard as ever.

“[It was] massively difficult to beat him in those circumstances.”

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, meaning we have likely seen the last of his rivalry with Hamilton in F1.