Photo courtesy of IMSA

The 2017 Roar Before the Rolex 24 entry list revealed

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The unofficial kickoff to the North American road racing calendar occurs this week at Daytona International Speedway, with the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 test, which runs from Jan. 6-8 before the Jan. 28-29 Rolex 24 at Daytona itself.

It’s the de facto “spring training” event for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with this year’s Roar taking on a greater significance as the first public event for the debut of the series’ new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) formula, alongside the new 2017-spec LMP2 chassis.

In all, 50 cars are entered, with the biggest entry coming from the GT Daytona class. There are 12 cars in Prototype, 2 in Prototype Challenge, 11 in GT Le Mans and 25 in GT Daytona.

Despite a flurry of TBD drivers listed, many of the TBDs have already been named by their respective teams, and are just going through the formal process by IMSA to be officially added later (per IMSA: Nominated drivers that have not received their 2017 IMSA membership/license are listed as TBD).

The PC class also figures to grow from 2 cars for the Rolex 24. Right now, only BAR1 Motorsports has cars entered although both Performance Tech Motorsports and Starworks Motorsport figure to add entries.

Prototype’s dynamic dozen entries features seven DPi models, three of the new Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, with two Mazda MRT24-Ps and two Nissan Onroak DPis apiece. The remaining five entries are new-spec LMP2 cars: three Oreca 07s, one singular Riley Mk. 30 and one Ligier JS P217.

Most of the drivers have already been announced, and Jeff Gordon heads a list of star guest drivers that include plenty of aces from the IndyCar and sports car worlds.

The GTLM field sees Ford Chip Ganassi Racing going all in with four cars to attempt to topple Corvette Racing. Ganassi won at Le Mans last year while Corvette enters with a shot at a Rolex 24 three-peat. Unlike last year, Risi Competizione will make the Roar as it has its Ferrari 488 GTE (the lone Ferrari in class), while BMW Team RLL has several new drivers and Porsche GT Team has both new drivers and, more importantly, its new mid-engined normally aspirated 911.

GTD boasts the largest number of manufacturers to go along with the car count. Some of the lineups are carefully crafted to take full advantage of the controversial driver ratings system, so there’s a number of de facto all-pro lineups in a theoretically pro-am class. With the debuts of Acura, Lexus and Mercedes-AMG in GTD, how those seven cars get on compared to the returning makes and models will be interesting to watch.

The full entry list is linked here. But to fill in the TBDs, we’ll list the ones already announced by teams below:

PROTOTYPE

  • 2-Tequila Patron ESM, Pipo Derani
  • 13-Rebellion Racing, Nick Heidfeld, Stephane Sarrazin
  • 22-Tequila Patron ESM, Brendon Hartley
  • 31-Action Express Racing, Mike Conway
  • 52-PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, Jose Gutierrez, Mike Guasch (fourth driver still TBD)
  • 81-DragonSpeed, Loic Duval, Ben Hanley
  • 85-JDC/Miller Motorsports, Mathias Beche
  • 90-Visit Florida Racing, Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens (third driver still TBD)

GT LE MANS

  • 69-Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Harry Tincknell, Tony Kanaan

GT DAYTONA

  • 14-3GT Racing, Sage Karam
  • 15-3GT Racing, Jack Hawksworth, Austin Cindric
  • 23-Alex Job Racing, Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer (this car not listed on the entry list, but has been announced)
  • 28-Alegra Motorsports, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada
  • 33-Riley Motorsports-Team AMG, Adam Christodoulou
  • 50-Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing, Cooper MacNeil, Shane van Gisbergen, Thomas Jaeger
  • 57-Stevenson Motorsports, Robin Liddell, Matt Bell (U.S.)
  • 63-Scuderia Corsa, Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen, Matteo Cressoni (fourth driver still TBD)
  • 73-Park Place Motorsports, Joerg Bergmeister (fourth driver still TBD)
  • 86-Michael Shank Racing, Jeff Segal, Ryan Hunter-Reay
  • 93-Michael Shank Racing, Graham Rahal
  • 991-TRG, Pablo Sanchez

Ricciardo downbeat after disaster Australian GP ends in retirement

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Daniel Ricciardo was left downbeat after a disastrous end to a difficult Australian Grand Prix weekend that saw the home Formula 1 favorite almost miss the race entirely.

Ricciardo was due to start the race 10th after crashing out of qualifying on Saturday, and was then handed a five-place grid penalty following a gearbox change overnight.

Ricciardo then suffered another setback when an electrical issue emerged during his reconnaissance lap to the grid, causing his car to get stuck in sixth gear.

After coming back to the pit lane in a truck, the RB13 car was revived by the Red Bull crew to allow Ricciardo to enter the race, albeit two laps down, making the event a glorified test session.

Ricciardo showed good pace, but was eventually forced to retire when an engine issue emerged on his car just after half distance, marking a sour end to his home race weekend.

“I’m just over it at the moment. It’s one of those days, tomorrow I’ll be fine,” Ricciardo told NBCSN after the session.

“It snowballed from yesterday. The out lap had problems, then I thought the race was done. We got out a few laps down. Good to get out and learn more. Then I had another issue, fuel pressure or something. Let’s go to China and have a better one there.”

Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen ended up fifth, with Ricciardo taking some heart from the result despite his own setbacks.

“I learned quite a bit with the car,” Ricciardo said. “I was behind a few slower cars. There’s other strengths and weaknesses. Max’s pace looked good at the moment.

“I’ll be alright when I wake up tomorrow. It’s been a long week.

“I feel like crap, it’s not how we’d like the opener to go at home.”

Alonso: Poor Australia display ‘a problem for McLaren, not me’

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Fernando Alonso believes his performance in Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia was one of the best of his career, despite only being in contention for 10th place when he was forced to retire.

Alonso and McLaren arrived in Melbourne off the back of a torrid pre-season that had seen the Honda power unit present a number of problems, limiting the team’s running.

McLaren’s expectations for the Australian Grand Prix were low, making Alonso’s charge to 13th in qualifying an impressive one.

The Spaniard made a good start to move into the top 10 early on, and was in the running for points until a suspension issued forced him to retire with six laps remaining.

“The race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN after the race.

“The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. Good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to stay in the points. Suspension stopped us from getting this point.”

Alonso then delivered another scathing comment to McLaren, saying that his uncompetitive display was not his problem as he was driving at the peak of his powers.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating,” Alonso said.

“But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team, not me.”

Ferrari outplays Mercedes as Vettel takes Australian GP victory

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Sebastian Vettel kick-started Ferrari’s 2017 Formula 1 season in style as a strategic stunner allowed him to jump Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and storm to victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel and Ferrari arrived in Melbourne as favorites for victory following a hugely impressive pre-season, only for Hamilton to dominate practice and take pole, suggesting Mercedes’ recent pace advantage still remained.

Hamilton led the early part of the race, but was unable to shake off Vettel, with the German staying close enough to give Ferrari the chance to get ahead through a brilliant strategy call.

The decision to chase the ‘overcut’, combined with Hamilton hitting traffic, saw Vettel snatch the lead through the tire changes and then dominate proceedings accordingly.

It was a display reminiscent of Vettel’s Red Bull heyday, and marked his first win in Australia since 2011. It was Ferrari’s first at Albert Park since Kimi Raikkonen’s success in 2007. In both instances, the winner in Australia went on to win the world championship.

Hamilton managed to make a clean getaway from pole and retain the lead at the first corner, with Vettel staying in close company through the early part of the race, immediately creating a strategy headache for the defending champion team. Hamilton managed to eke out a lead over Vettel, raising the gap to two seconds in the opening stint, but it was still nowhere near enough to give Mercedes any kind of comfort.

Vettel ramped up the pressure as the first round of pit stops neared, cutting the gap to Hamilton to less than one second. Hamilton reacted by diving into the pits, preventing Vettel from getting close, with his switch to the soft tire ensuring he didn’t need to make another stop. Ferrari didn’t bring Vettel in immediately, instead keeping the German out. With Valtteri Bottas 11 seconds behind in P2, Ferrari had the chance to roll the dice and keep Vettel out.

The race moved in the Scuderia’s favor when Hamilton came onto the back of Max Verstappen, who was running fourth, and found himself struggling to pass. Mercedes told Hamilton over the radio that it was “race critical” and he had to pass, yet with his tires already struggling, the three-time champion was haemorrhaging time to Vettel.

Ferrari brought Vettel in at the end of Lap 23, releasing him into clean air after coming across a number of backmarkers. A swift turnaround from the Italian marque’s pit crew allowed Vettel to emerge from the pits ahead of both Verstappen and Hamilton, handing him the net lead. Hamilton vented his frustration over the radio as he kept struggling behind Verstappen, with Vettel immediately breaking free. By the time Verstappen finally stopped at the end of Lap 25, Vettel was already six seconds clear of Hamilton.

Mercedes told Hamilton that it was considering a switch to ‘plan B’ on strategy, with the Briton still struggling to match Vettel’s pace at the front. To make matters worse, Bottas was beginning to close up behind, moving to within three seconds of his esteemed teammate in the race for second.

As Vettel extended his lead at the front, former teammate Daniel Ricciardo saw his weekend come to an unceremonious end as he retired a little over half distance. Having barely made the start following an electrical issue pre-race, the Australian’s home event became a glorified test session, but an engine problem meant it came to a premature end.

Hamilton looked to steady the ship in his No. 44 Mercedes, cutting the gap to Vettel to less than nine seconds, but it proved fruitless. Vettel was able to remain cool and keep up an impressive pace to the very end, crossing the line with an 9.9 second buffer to record victory in Australia for the second time.

Hamilton managed to keep ahead of Bottas in second, leaving the Finn to take a solid podium finish on his Mercedes debut. Kimi Raikkonen ended up fourth in the second Ferrari, finishing over 20 seconds adrift of his teammate, while Max Verstappen’s decision to change strategy mid-race failed to give him anything more than fifth.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ferrari’s pit wall perfected Vettel’s strategy, something it has failed to do in recent years. Bottas had a very strong Mercedes debut, finishing third. Felipe Massa came home sixth on his comeback race. Sergio Perez did well to take seventh for Force India, with teammate Esteban Ocon taking his first F1 point in P10. Toro Rosso pair Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat both ended in the points, P8 and P9 respectively. Antonio Giovinazzi impressed on debut to finish 12th for Sauber.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Mercedes looked unable to answer Ferrari’s pace, with Hamilton seeming uncomfortable in the Mercedes W08. Raikkonen and Verstappen both had quiet races, ending up P4 and P5. Renault missed out on points with Nico Hulkenberg finishing 11th, while Jolyon Palmer retired early after a miserable weekend. McLaren’s pre-season struggles continued as engine issues forced Fernando Alonso to retire and left Stoffel Vandoorne P13, two laps down. Romain Grosjean retired on Lap 15 with an engine issue, with smoke pouring out of the back of his car; the Frenchman had been running P7, marking a big opportunity missed for Haas. Ricciardo had a horrible home race with his engine failure.

NOTABLE: Vettel’s win over Hamilton could act as a nice foreshadowing for the title battle to come. We’re yet to see Vettel and Hamilton go head to head in a straight title battle, but this could be the year. Vettel now has four wins for Ferrari, but this could be the most significant: the last time both he (2011) and Ferrari (2007) won in Australia, they went on to win the title.

QUOTABLE: ” I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.” – Fernando Alonso to NBCSN after his retirement.

RESULTS

WATCH LIVE: Australian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 12am ET

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The new Formula 1 season kicks off this Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET) as a new era for the sport gets underway.

New rules, new drivers and even a new owner of the series all adds up to make 2017 a season of change, with the established status quo in recent years set to be challenged.

Mercedes faced a stringent test from Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again took pole position after fending off Sebastian Vettel in the final Q3 shootout.

It may have been a familiar result, being Mercedes’ 16th-straight pole, yet the stage is set for a closer fight on Sunday, with a number of storylines due to play out up and down the grid.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at Albert Park providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.