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Without a Shank seat, Allmendinger opts out of Rolex 24 pursuit

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AJ Allmendinger is one of the notable drivers absent from this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, after being a regular in the race for the better part of the last decade.

The Californian, now 35, raced for Michael Shank Racing from 2006 through 2016 at the Rolex 24, and was a key cog in the team’s overall race win in 2012 with Ozz Negri, John Pew and the late Justin Wilson.

But with Shank’s team having earned the right to run Acura’s factory program within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class, there was a different focus on who the extra drivers for the Rolex 24 would be.

Beyond Shank’s four full-season drivers in the pair of Acura NSX GT3s, Tom Dyer and Mark Wilkins have been added as the full-season endurance race extra drivers, while IndyCar stars Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay have received the nods as fourth drivers for Daytona.

That’s a move Allmendinger understands, and without a shot at driving with one of his best friends in racing, he opted not to pursue an alternative for 2017.

“Most of it was the fact he got that Honda deal, which was awesome for Michael Shank,” Allmendinger told reporters during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte.

“All the years, he’s been working by himself. John Pew was huge for 10 years. (Getting) Honda was special. They wanted their IndyCar guys in, which I totally understand.”

Pew retired from full-time driving at the end of 2016, although Shank told NBC Sports in December that a seat is aways warm for him in any car Shank fields. The team has desired to return to the prototype ranks at some point, although the Acura deal is a multi-year program.

For Allmendinger, whose bout with Starworks Motorsport’s Ryan Dalziel and Allan McNish in the 2012 race marked his most memorable sports car drive of his career as he fought against full-time sports car stars, it’s the less-fun things that go with the challenge of Daytona he’ll appreciate missing.

“I was a bit beat up the end of last year,” Allmendinger said. “Part of doing that race is doing it with Michael Shank for 10 years.

“So I didn’t know (anything else). It would be strange not running with him.

“I’ll miss it until 4 a.m., until I’m sleeping, because getting the knock to wake up isn’t good!”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.