Mercedes, BMW, Porsche. Photo courtesy of IMSA

2017 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: GTD

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MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno takes a look through the entries for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, car-by-car. Here’s a look through the second of two GT classes, the GT Daytona class. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.

While Prototype has 12 new cars and the GT Le Mans class has 11 factory or factory-supported entries, it’s GT Daytona that’s overflowing in both quality and quantity of entrants. A total of 27 cars from nine different manufacturers includes six returning marques (Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Lamborghini, BMW and Aston Martin) and three new manufacturers (Acura, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG), and it’s possible more than half the 27 cars could contend during the week.

The GTD breakdown is by manufacturer, expected full-season entrants versus expected partial-season entrants.

EXPECTED FULL-SEASON ENTRIES

All. (Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com)
All 3 Mercedes-AMG GT3s. Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com

No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Mario Farnbacher, Adam Christodoulou
Roar Time: 1:46.902 (2)

Outlook: For a team that’s new to the Mercedes in IMSA, their components for Daytona aren’t new to Mercedes overall. Bleekemolen, who drives seemingly anything on four wheels at hyper speed, and Christodoulou are Merc veterans. The younger of two Farnbacher brothers joins as the team’s sneaky, speedy Silver, and with Keating continuing his dynamic duo relationship with Bleekemolen, this entry has a great chance to win in a stacked class.

No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette, Shane van Gisbergen, Thomas Jaeger
Roar Time: 1:47.452 (11)

Outlook: One of the many intriguing GTD entries sees the MacNeils and WeatherTech now link up with Bill Riley’s team and a Mercedes-AMG GT3, swapping Alex Job and the Porsche 911 GT3 R from 2016. This marks the WeatherTech/MacNeil component’s IMSA return after their BoP-alleged withdrawal prior to the end of 2016. Funnily it will likely be the team’s extra drivers, the “notorious SVG” – or “the Giz” – and Mercedes factory ace Jaeger who will lead the team’s pace charge.

No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Boris Said, Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier, Maro Engel
Roar Time: 1:47.322 (7)

Outlook: Both the team and the car are new to Daytona, with Habul’s SunEnergy1 group having raced in a Stevenson Motorsports Audi last year. Engel and Vautier will set the pace here.

All 8 Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini
All 8 Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

No. 16 Change Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Jeroen Mul, Corey Lewis, Brett Sandberg, Kaz Grala
Roar Time: 1:47.591 (14)

Outlook: Mistakes interrupted real promise for Robby Benton’s Change team in its first season in the WeatherTech Championship, including right out of the gate at Daytona when Justin Marks collided with Bryce Miller’s fellow Lamborghini. The lineup here features four accurately rated Silvers, who are either low on American (Mul) or car (Sandberg and Grala) experience. That makes this car intriguing to watch as the quartet of youngsters look to grow and gel, quickly.

No. 27 Dream Racing Competition
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Cedric Sbirrazzuoli, Lawrence DeGeorge, Paolo Ruberti, Luca Persiani, Raffaele Giammaria
Roar Time: 1:47.986 (22)

Outlook: The Enrico Bertaggia-led team makes its Daytona debut after skipping this race last year prior to the rest of its first full season. The five-driver lineup includes a number of talents, but the field is likely too deep and the team too inexperienced to make a major move up the grid.

No. 48 Paul Miller Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Bryce Miller, Andrea Caldarelli, Dion von Motlke
Roar Time: 1:47.928 (19)

Outlook: Miller’s going for the tried-and-true strategy in 2017 with all the same components, bar Rolex 24 debutante Caldarelli, returning from this time 12 months ago. Von Moltke also comes back as an extra ace in the hole. Given the progress Sellers and Snow, along with Lamborghini made over that time period, this is as good a bet as any for the class win. That’s provided they avoid the bizarre such as last year, when Bryce Miller collided with another Lamborghini.

No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 54 CORE autosport
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, Nic Jonsson, Patrick Long
Roar Time: 1:47.746 (17)

Outlook: CORE’s been undone by poor reliability in the usually reliable PC class the last two Rolex 24s, with a late fire and an early engine woe putting pause to their efforts. The veteran pairing of Braun and Bennett are the two full-season drivers for the Morgan Brady-led team’s new Porsche effort. Jonsson joins up alongside them, and trades in his usual endurance race sidekick Tracy Krohn for the slightly faster American factory Porsche ace Patrick Long. Even with the newness here, CORE has prepped for this since announcing their PC withdrawal, and will be a force to be reckoned with.

No. 73 Park Place Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, Matt McMurry, Norbert Siedler
Roar Time: 1:47.395 (9)

Outlook: Little is changed for the defending Rolex 24 polesitting entry, with Siedler having delivered the top spot in miserable conditions last year. Like many others in class, this is a good lineup, with few flaws to pinpoint other than pretty horrid luck at the Rolex 24. Since the IMSA merger in 2014, the No. 73 car has finished 13th, 16th and 17th in class, and that’s killed its season-long title hopes.

No. 991 The Racer’s Group
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Wolf Henzler, Jan Heylen, Mike Hedlund, Santiago Creel, Tim Pappas
Roar Time: 1:47.389 (8)

Outlook: There’s something right about Buckler, TRG and Porsche back together at Daytona once again, even if the number is 991 rather than the traditional 66 as it was when the team scored its famous overall win in 2003. As it is, Buckler’s propensity for assembling good lineups is on display once again, with factory ace Henzler – a past TRG veteran – leading a five-driver entry.

No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 14 3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Scott Pruett, Sage Karam, Ian James, Gustavo Menezes
Roar Time: 1:48.196 (24)

Outlook: Many things to note here. One is the all-pro lineup featuring so-called “Super Silvers” in Pruett and James, even though they’re the experienced veterans compared to youngsters Karam and Menezes, the latter of whom is fresh off an FIA WEC LMP2 title and an LMP1 test. The team name and car are completely new, and the last time Paul Gentilozzi ran a GT program, it was the less-than-storybook run with the Jaguar XKR effort in the ALMS GT days. Taken on paper the individual pieces of this entry are all very good, but the collective gelling of all pieces will take time to properly blossom. A finish must be the first goal, with anything beyond that a good bonus.

No. 15 3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Jack Hawksworth, Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, Dominik Farnbacher
Roar Time: 1:47.975 (21)

Outlook: Whereas the No. 14 Lexus is high on sports car experience, this one is higher on youth and potential. Farnbacher’s only 32 but is the most experienced member of this quartet; the others, Hawksworth, Alon and Cindric, are 25, 26 and 18, respectively, and the trio have really only dabbled in sports car racing prior to now. Add in the new car and new team bits and you have the recipe for a car that will succeed by surprising, with a lower bar to eclipse than others in this field.

No. 93 Acura NSX GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 93 Acura NSX GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 86 Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
Drivers: Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Roar Time: 1:48.131 (23)

Outlook: The newness of all the components here collectively outweighs their individual achievements heading into the Rolex 24. Segal has managed to quietly capture Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans wins in the last three years to add to his resume. Negri is a past Daytona polesitter and overall winner with Shank. Dyer is the underrated “Super Silver” and RHR’s IndyCar accomplishments are many, although he’s been a bit unlucky in his past Rolex outings. But while Shank runs a great team and all the drivers have racked up the personal stats, the new NSX will sink or swim based mainly on reliability in its highly anticipated race debut.

No. 93 Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
Drivers: Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins, Graham Rahal
Roar Time: 1:47.929 (20)

Outlook: Like the No. 86 Acura, the sister Acura has a lot of good among its collective parts. Interestingly, Legge is the only one of these four drivers without a Rolex, with Lally (numerous GT wins), Wilkins (PC in 2014) and Rahal (overall/DP in 2011) all having visited Daytona’s victory lane. Reliability will tell the tale for this car, as it will the other car.

No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell
Roar Time: 1:46.916 (3)

Outlook: The number is new – or old, as it’s a Stevenson classic reincarnated – but the hopes are the same for Stevenson with its only entry at this year’s Rolex 24. The team is in a better position to contend this year after making its return to IMSA’s top level last year, having made solid progression during 2016.

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa
Car: Ferrari 488 Italia GT3
Drivers: Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen, Matteo Cressoni, Sam Bird
Roar Time: 1:47.705 (16)

Outlook: After last year’s tried-and-true run in the 458 GT3’s swansong, this year the twice-defending GTD season-long class champions have a tried-and-true 488 GT3 making its Daytona race debut. It’d be hard to bet against a driver lineup, car and team that have quickly established a track record of success.

No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 96 Turner Motorsport
Car: BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Jens Klingmann, Maxime Martin, Jesse Krohn, Justin Marks
Roar Time: 1:48.467 (25)

Outlook: Despite a late lineup confirmation and being the only BMW M6 in a stacked GTD class, the trio of BMW veterans and past Rolex 24 class winner Marks make for one of the best quartets in class. Will Turner’s team usually finds a way to contend even if the odds are long, and a solid top-five result can’t be ruled out here.

EXPECTED PART-TIME OR DAYTONA-ONLY ENTRANTS

No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Outlook: More than in recent years, there’s an onslaught of European extra entries into the GT Daytona class and among these 11 cars that will either run a partial season or may grow into a full-time effort, there’s plenty of possible under-the-radar spoilers.

The two American teams listed – Alegra Motorsports and Alex Job Racing (pictured above) – will doubtless contend. Job’s late deal comprises past Rolex 24 and defending Le Mans winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, talented Silver-rated Frankie Montecalvo and Audi factory ace Pierre Kaffer with a team that knows how to get it done. Alegra, meanwhile, combines the talents of IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup champions Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Michael de Quesada with help from Porsche factory ace Michael Christensen. Expect at least one of these two teams to be in sneaky podium contention as the race nears its end.

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Grasser, Konrad and Manthey will run at Daytona after also competing in this month’s 24 Hours of Dubai. ADAC GT Masters champions Land Motorsport (pictured above, leading Spirit of Race) make their Rolex 24 debut with American star Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies joined by fellow talented youngsters Jules Gounon and Jeffrey Schmidt. And in Spirit of Race (AF Corse) and Aston Martin Racing, you have two dedicated endurance veteran teams with excellent lineups.

Ignore these entries at your own peril, because there’s a very solid chance at least three to five of them could make some serious noise this week.

No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Ezequiel Companc
Roar Time: 1:47.411 (10)

No. 61 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Milos Pavlovic, Roberto Pampanini, Christoph Lenz
Roar Time: 1:48.619 (26)

No. 18 DAC Motorsports
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Emmanuel Anassis, Zachary Claman De Melo, Anthony Massari
Roar Time: 1:48.975 (27)

No. 21 Konrad Motorsport
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Marc Basseng, Marco Mapelli, Lance Willsey, Luca Stolz, Franz Konrad
Roar Time: 1:47.566 (13)

No. 46 Ebimotors
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Fabio Babini, Emanuele Busnelli, Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo
Roar Time: 1:47.466 (12)

No. 23 Alex Job Racing
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer
Roar Time: 1:46.973 (5)

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Christopher Mies, Connor De Phillippi, Jules Gounon, Jeffrey Schmidt
Roar Time: 1:46.957 (4)

No. 28 Alegra Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada, Carlos de Quesada, Michael Christensen
Roar Time: 1:47.142 (6)

No. 59 Manthey Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Reinhold Renger, Harald Proczyk, Steve Smith, Sven Mueller, Matteo Cairoli
Roar Time: 1:46.810 (1)

No. 51 Spirit of Race
Car: Ferrari 488 Italia GT3
Drivers: Peter Mann, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon, Maurizio Mediani, Rino Mastronardi
Roar Time: 1:47.698 (15)

No. 98 Aston Martin Racing
Car: Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Marco Sorensen
Roar Time: 1:47.850 (18)

No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

NHRA: John Force Racing won its 2,500th Funny Car round at Gainesville

Front, from left: Co-crew chiefs Jason McCulloch and Jon Schaffer, John Force, crew chief Mike Neff. (Photo Credit: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery)
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It wasn’t just a career-best elapsed time run and a final round victory for John Force at last week’s NHRA Gatornationals and Gainesville. It was also the John Force Racing team’s 2,500th Funny Car round win, as well.

The full release is below:

John Force’s Funny Car victory Sunday in the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., was memorable for many reasons, including yet another milestone over the team’s 40-year existence in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

After winning all four rounds, and coupled with Robert Hight’s first-round victory, the team achieved the 2,500-round victory threshold for Funny Cars. Force’s final-round win over rookie Jonnie Lindberg sealed the deal.

JFR’s first round victory was June 1, 1979, when Force defeated Tom McEwen at the Cajun Nationals in Baton Rouge, La. Force himself has accounted for just over half of those 2,500 Funny Car round victories, as he now stands at 1,269, with six round wins this season. He defeated Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, and Tommy Johnson Jr. before beating Lindberg on Sunday.

Even more impressive is that JFR’s 2,500 NHRA Funny Car round wins account for more than 20 percent of wins all-time in the class.

“It was the reign of terror that started it all, with Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly and John Medlen,” Force said. “It was really about a group of guys – it wasn’t about me. I just wrote the checks, but I got to drive one of the baddest hot rods on the planet. We won just about everything.

“But those days are gone now. John Force wants to stay in the game, and now we’ve got Robert Hight, my daughter Courtney, young Austin Prock is coming,” he continued. “I’m really excited about this. We put the band back together. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones said life’s a drag, but today, life’s not a drag – it’s a drag race, and we won.”

Winning races and elimination rounds is one of the things John Force has done best. Overall, nine drivers have won Funny Car rounds with JFR. The total includes:

  • John Force 1,269
  • Robert Hight 375
  • Tony Pedregon 292
  • Courtney Force 134
  • Mike Neff 118
  • Gary Densham 108
  • Ashley Force Hood 105
  • Eric Medlen 95
  • Phil Burkart Jr. 4

Hight added to his total Sunday, besting Bob Tasca III in the first round with career-bests in time and speed, and has two round wins this season. Courtney Force won her first three rounds of the season at Pomona, making it to the final round.

“It’s amazing, but what’s really amazing is when you look at who has most of those wins,” Hight said. “John Force’s records – he’s so far out in front of everybody else – it’s not even achievable. With the competition level and everything else there is today, these records we keep getting will never, ever be broken. I was lucky enough to get the 200th victory for John Force Racing at Topeka (2011), and that was pretty exciting.”

To do it at Gainesville, Hight said, was special. In the 1990s, for example, Force participated in 37 rounds out of a possible 40, and won 33 of those 40 rounds. He just kept winning … and winning … and winning.

“He’s had good luck at Gainesville,” Hight said. “But I take away from this that all three of our Funny Cars are running good, and we’re not searching for faster cars but right where we want to be. We just need to get a little consistency. I’m just happy to be a little part of those 2,500 round wins. We have three good cars now, and we’re going to get a lot more wins.”

The milestone is more than just a number. It represents tireless efforts by drivers, crew chiefs, team members, fabricators, shop workers, and office staff who have worked with Force since the 1970s.

“If you look at the Tony Pedregons that drove for me, the Eric Medlens, the Gary Denshams, Robert Hight, my girls – if you go down that list, they were all part of that. It wasn’t just about me,” Force said. “I’ve done well in the sport, because I’ve lived it and loved it. I give 110 percent to my sponsors, never 100 percent. We overdeliver, you have to.

“With the cast of characters we have, we’re going to keep hitting them with all we’ve got.”

The team earned its 2,500th round victory across all NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series classes last year. Including the team’s Top Fuel dragster – piloted by Brittany Force and sponsored by Monster Energy – the team’s round victory total stands at 2,593. Brittany Force added another Top Fuel round victory Sunday, and stands at 93 in her career.

The fourth round of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the NHRA Nationals, is March 31-April 2 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Nevada. John Force Racing has won five races at the spring race in Las Vegas, most recently with John Force running the table in 2015.

F1 on NBC crew previews the upcoming 2017 season

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It’s a new season of Formula 1 that kicks off this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix. All times and streaming details for the new year can be found here, to be watched on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

As NBC Sports Group prepares for its fifth season of coverage, all of the broadcast team have made various rounds previewing the season to come (here’s a link to the group’s upcoming live theater presentation at Sellersville Theater next week).

Lead lap-by-lap announcer and host Leigh Diffey spoke to Autoweek in a Q&A, linked here. A quick take on the excitement of the new season is below:

“These cars are faster, will be harder to control in the corners, and will place a high physical demand on the drivers. I can’t wait to see what these cars do these drivers after 58 laps around Albert Park. That’s how I would sell fans on what we’re going to see this season,” Diffey said.

Analysts Steve Matchett and David Hobbs have also previewed the seasons, with both their interviews linked below.

Matchett’s interview with Todd McCandless for Formula1Blog.com is linked here. Hobbs’ interview with Steve Zautke on 105.7 FM The Fan’s (WSSP-Milwaukee) The Final Inspection Show is linked here.

F1 on NBC pit reporter and insider Will Buxton checks in with The Marshall Pruett Podcast, linked here.

Coverage this weekend begins with a live stream of free practice one airing at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday night via the NBC Sports App, which will air at midnight on Friday on NBCSN leading straight into live coverage of free practice two at 1 a.m. ET on NBCSN. The full time breakdown is below.

Hinchcliffe’s DTM test with Mercedes an ‘amazing blast of a lifetime’

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The second half of the James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens “ride swap” took place last week at the Vallelunga circuit in Italy, as Hinchcliffe stepped aboard Wickens’ usual No. 6 HWA AG Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM car for his first few laps in the tin-top beast.

After shaking off a tough end to what had been a dynamic weekend for both himself and the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda team at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener in St. Petersburg – he’d led early but was caught out on a yellow flag timing and dropped back – Hinchcliffe arrived in Italy on Wednesday to prepare for his run in the DTM car. Wickens tested Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar prior to the St. Petersburg season opener.

The ordinary challenges of getting acclimated to a new car – getting a seat made and adapting to the different driving position – were erased because of a quick and easy fit right into Gary Paffett’s seat.

“It’s funny when we saw the three-week gap between St. Petersburg and Long Beach we thought there’d be down time, and that clearly hasn’t been the case,” Hinchcliffe laughed when speaking to NBC Sports.

“I flew over to arrive a day early, meet the team, and get the lay of the land for the following day. Luckily I fit right into Gary Paffett’s seat. There were very few adjustments needed and it was pretty straightforward. It led into an amazing blast of a time the following day, to rip around Vallelunga.”

The two-hour session that followed saw Hinchcliffe learn a lot, in what is a rare opportunity for North American drivers to have a chance to race in a DTM car.

Hinchcliffe has had some closed-top car experience, but limited outings in either Mazda’s previous Lola Multimatic chassis or Mazda RT24-P prototypes and the Mazda RX-8 aren’t quite comparable to what he saw in the Mercedes.

“Yeah I’d done the RX-8 back in ’12 and the prototype off and on, so it was a very different feel,” he explained. “The seating position is very unique, sitting back in the center. The visuals are very different. Very wide. I think I missed most apexes in right-hand turns the first couple laps, getting used to it.”

But with Wickens as his de facto engineer and driving coach, Hinchcliffe quickly got the hang of it for what would be an intense couple hours.

He’d have a mix of running qualifying simulations, long runs to see how the tires degrade and just general pushing once he got the hang of it. Hinchcliffe being a professional race car driver, it didn’t take long.

“They’ve done such a good job here; you there’s a lot of money spent to make the car magic, and that’s what they’ve done,” Hinchcliffe said. “The tires were very different. We had tire warmers, then did quali sims, did a long run and saw what the (tire) deg could be like. For only two hours of running, it was a pretty nice test.”

“We wanted each other to have a blast,” he added of Wickens’ input and advice. “At Sebring, I gave him some pointers, and we did a track lap in the rental cars. He did the same thing here.

“He’d just been there testing. He did a baseline run in the morning to dial the car in. He was great. He was my engineer for the test, to be honest. He’d pull out the laptop and show data comparisons; look for what to do different and better. It was a lot of fun.”

Hinchcliffe had always tried to keep DTM on his radar from afar, watching the races he could while trying to get to at least one per year. The same goes the other way for Wickens, who tries to make it to at least one IndyCar race per year too, and fully enjoyed his own day in Hinchcliffe’s car.

“When it got announced, I had a bunch of guys say they’d had a chance to test a DTM car. I understand now why it’s one of the most fun series,” he said.

“I’ve followed it more closely with Robbie driving. Having had a taste of the machinery, now you get it even more.”

Formula 1 2017 team preview: Sauber

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Rounding out MotorSportsTalk’s team-by-team preview ahead of the new Formula 1 season, we look at Sauber, the minnow team which bounced back from years of instability to find some strength in 2016.

The arrival of new owners Longbow Finance gave Sauber the chance to rebuild and recruit after a number of losses in the preceding years, while Felipe Nasr’s charge to ninth in Brazil offered a boost in prize money as the team jumped above Manor to P10 in the constructors’ championship.

Sauber now heads into 2017 looking to continue its recent gains, with the new faces at Hinwil eager to make an impact. The goal is now to thrive, not survive.

DRIVERS

9. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden)
94. Pascal Wehrlein (Germany)

CAR

Sauber C36

ENGINE

Ferrari 061

TEAM CHIEFS

Monisha Kaltenborn (CEO/team principal)
Jörg Zander (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 08: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 8, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Sauber may have only scored two points, but it both survived the year and was able to secure some much-needed financial backing that kept the team in business. The on-track performances were what we’d expect from a backmarker team, filled with a number of highlights. Marcus Ericsson’s performances through the year were of particular note in the latter half of the season, despite the Swede going under the radar.

What went wrong in 2016: Sauber’s struggles still left its drivers unable to compete on-track, particularly in the run-up to the takeover when updates for the car were hard to find. Sauber failed to get anywhere near the midfield runners in the dry, but again, it perhaps could not have been expected to given the circumstances.

What’s changed for 2017: A number of new faces are at Sauber following an extensive recruitment process. Ex-Audi LMP1 technical chief Jörg Zander has joined the team, while former Haas strategist Ruth Buscombe arrived last fall and is a big, big asset on the pit wall. Pascal Wehrlein has also been signed from Manor, replacing Nasr after his backing fell through, but the team will be racing with the 2016-spec Ferrari power unit. That won’t help come the end of the year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: In all honesty, it’s hard to see Sauber finishing anywhere but last this year. The rest of the field simply has resources that are too deep to give the Swiss team much chance. Early gains can be made in the first few races when the impact of a year-old power unit will be felt less; some points would be good. But really, this is again a year to battle on and continue to fight for a better future.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: Sauber can’t really expect much this year. It’s great that the team is on its feet again, and some of the personnel it has on board gives it strength. But the rest of the pack can simply outspend it. The only team it can get close to this year is Haas, I think, and that’s only if the American team gets things seriously wrong this year. P10 in the constructors’ championship with a couple of points – let’s say picked up by Ericsson early in the year – is the ceiling for Sauber.

Tony DiZinno: It’s hard to think of Sauber as the underdog and last team because they’ve been here 25 years, their reputation is of overachieving and they’ve given so many young drivers their start. Yet with Manor’s absence, it’s Sauber that enters as the 10th place team from 2016, but determined to advance from that this season. Marcus Ericsson has become that dependable, career midfielder as the Swede looks to his fourth season. More pressure is on Pascal Wehrlein, the Mercedes junior passed over by his manufacturer to replace Nico Rosberg and by Force India to replace Nico Hulkenberg. Ericsson may not be as easy a target to beat as Wehrlein might think. A couple points finishes should occur for this team and if they can get to eighth or ninth in the constructor’s points, it’ll have been a much better year.

Kyle Lavigne: With a year-old Ferrari power unit, Sauber should have strong reliability. Whether or not the car has the pace to bring them up the grid is another matter. They languished near the bottom of the time sheets on multiple days of testing, but they didn’t seem to experience reliability problems. That trait could prove very beneficial. As hard as it is to believe, McLaren is likely their closest rival as 2017 begins. And, with McLaren struggling with a car that is both slow and unreliable, Sauber has a chance to leapfrog them, so long as their car keeps going.