Photo courtesy of IMSA

Back home, Patron ESM team readies for Rolex 24 title defense

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A year has passed since Pipo Derani’s epic drive spearheaded the Tequila Patron ESM team’s overall victory with the Ligier JS P2 Honda in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, shared with Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown.

The Daytona win followed a crushing near-miss at Sebring in 2014 and then a roller coaster of chassis changes in 2015, when the team’s new HPD ARX-04b suffered from a weight imbalance and was withdrawn after Daytona, before switches to the previous generation HPD ARX-03b and Ligier JS P2 Honda followed for the upcoming rounds.

Interestingly while ESM had the car and the lineup right last year, it wasn’t the first step towards a championship on North American soil.

Instead, the team carried out its second full-time effort in the FIA World Endurance Championship, while continuing to support the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship from team and promotional standpoints at the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races. ESM also won at Sebring to complete a rare “36 hours of Florida” endurance race sweep, the first in nearly 20 years.

Now, for the first time in three years, Sharp’s ESM squad is back in IMSA with two cars, full-season, for this year’s campaign. Ryan Dalziel, who had the quirkiness of racing against ESM in IMSA (drove for VISIT FLORIDA Racing) while racing with ESM in the WEC, leads the full-season lineup with Sharp in the team’s No. 2 car, while the longtime Brown/”JVO” pairing rolls on in the second No. 22 car. Derani (No. 2) and Bruno Senna and Brendon Hartley (No. 22) bolster the Daytona lineups. The cars roll off fifth (No. 22) and sixth (No. 2) today.

“It’s nice. We really wanted to be here last year,” Dalziel told NBC Sports. “Unfortunately we knew (at the start) the DP/P2 battle never really favored the P2 cars. We were a P2 team and it didn’t leave a lot of options to race competitively after ’14.

“When we committed to the WEC, it was a two-year program. We did our two years, and we knew DPi was coming for 2017. But I don’t think anyone has promoted (IMSA) more than Ed Brown and Patron.”

The aforementioned DPi – or Daytona Prototype international – formula debuts at the Rolex 24 alongside the new-for-2017 LMP2-spec chassis.

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

ESM has continued its relationship, forged in the WEC, with Nissan. The Nissan Onroak DPi has the physical appearance and engine you’d see on a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, but underneath, is entirely its own piece compared to the base Ligier JS P217 chassis, especially compared to the predecessor, the Ligier JS P2. After the previous Ligier and two HPD chassis, this is ESM’s fourth car at the Rolex 24 in as many years.

“Everything is new, from the suspension and the like. Really no carryover parts,” Dalziel explained. “Between the WEC-spec and our spec there’s a massive difference in powerplants. The differential, rear end, driveshafts; basically the whole rear end is mechanically different.

“Add in the different routing on the sidepods, which is a lot of the reason why the sidepods are different. It’s not so much styling cues as intercoolers, but radiators for the turbo motor. That said, it still feels fundamentally like the previous Ligier and it means they’re using what they’ve learned.”

The Nissan Onroak prototype only debuted publicly at Sebring in late December with a two-day test and as such, it’s likely to focus more on reliability for this first race than outright performance compared to the Cadillac and Mazda DPis, which got running earlier in the fall.

“Speed-wise we don’t really know what we have,” Dalziel said. “It might be a difficult month for us. Overall though I think the package is good. If we’re reliable, we’re fast.”

An improved team bond is one of the goals for ESM’s North American return, as well. The addition of Erin Gahagan, formerly team manager at EFFORT Racing in Pirelli World Challenge, to the same role at ESM should produce a positive effect, and there’s the comfort level she and Dalziel established from their time together at EFFORT in 2014 and 2015.

“We were racing abroad, but we were focusing on restaffing over here,” Dalziel said. “We had WEC, but we built up the IMSA team for ’17. We hired Erin Gahagan, Tommy Milner’s sister, and my team manager at EFFORT. She’s built a nice group of people around here.

“We’ve done good on staffing, although we’re a bit behind on the car. We’ll see what we get. We’re not fully prepared as we’d like, but we’ll do our best.”

Recapping the proper Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel rivalry (VIDEO)

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel are the two most decorated drivers currently on the Formula 1 grid, with seven World Championships between them (four for Vettel, and three for Hamilton).

However, their paths have rarely crossed on the track, and only in 2010 did both drivers battle each for a World Championship in the same year. They also battled Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber that year, with Vettel emerging on top to claim his first World Championship.

However, the 2017 season sees Hamilton and Vettel in the two best cars on the grid, and they have gone head-to-head multiple times already this year, with each claiming two victories through the first five races. Currently, Vettel leads Hamilton 104-98 in the world championship, and the two men are developing a strong on-track rivalry.

Monaco Grand Prix coverage continues with FP3 and qualifying on Saturday. Full times are linked here.

 

Take a look behind the scenes of Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 qualifying runs (VIDEO)

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In Friday’s NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special on NBCSN, we take you behind the scenes during F1 superstar Fernando Alonso’s qualifying runs for the Indy 500, including when he was on the pole for a brief period. He’ll eventually start fifth. 

Simulator ride tells what Fernando Alonso can expect in Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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On Friday’s NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special on NBCSN, Parker Kligerman and his backseat driver, Kyle Petty, took to the iRacing simulator to make a mock run around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

They look at the challenges of IMS, as well as the challenges two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will face in the first oval track race in his illustrious career. Alonso is among the favorites in the race and will take the green flag from the middle of Row 2 (fifth position).

Check out the above video.  

Legendary announcer Ken Squier gets you ready for Sunday’s big day of racing (VIDEO)

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Sunday is the biggest day of the year in motorsports, starting in the morning with Formula 1’s legendary Monaco Grand Prix.

Then, at Noon ET, it’s the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The final part of the tripleheader of racing is NASCAR’s longest race of the season, the 400-lap, 600-mile Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Newly-named NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 inductee Ken Squier gives you a great primer for what promises to be a memorable day around the world (see video above).