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2017 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Rolling Updates

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SEBRING, Fla. – We’ll have updates as they come from the 65th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, below.

8:20 p.m. ET (9:40 into race): The race had a caution for the No. 27 Dream Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 stopping on course, and it presented an opportunity to watch a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. No, seriously, it did.

Now that an actual rocket has been launched, it’s time to watch the theoretical rocketships on track compete in the last two hours and change of this race.

6:40 p.m. ET (Hour 8): Two-thirds of the race complete, and the next round Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points for the race get awarded. The race is now under its fourth full-course caution for the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 stopped on course at Turn 14, ending a stretch of more than two hours since the last caution.

Here’s the top three in each class at the two-thirds distance mark:

  • P: 1-No. 10 Cadillac, 2-No. 5 Cadillac, 3-No. 85 Oreca
  • PC: 1-No. 38 Performance Tech, 2-No. 8 Starworks, 3-No. 26 BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-No. 68 Ford, 2-No. 911 Porsche, 3-No. 67 Ford
  • GTD: 1-No. 33 Mercedes-AMG, 2-No. 63 Ferrari, 3-No. 11 Lamborghini

Potentially interesting times lie ahead as the track will start to cool once the sun starts to set. The next two hours are about getting into position for the finish and then the next two hours might be mental.

First and second place are on the lead laps in P and PC. There may be a battle for third between the No. 85 JDC-Miller Oreca and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac once the two cars are on the same lap.

The overall lead battle nearly ended once Alex Lynn, in his first U.S. race, had quite a moment at seven hours, 42 minutes into the race trying to lap through GT class traffic going into Turn 7, the hairpin. Lynn got on the grass but corralled the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac in a straight line, and didn’t lose control.

Meanwhile the top six are on the lead lap in GTLM and the top five are on the lead lap in GTD.

With further yellows come the opportunity for further wave-bys and a chance to get back a lap.

4:40 p.m. ET (Hour 6): We are halfway home. And the race definitively settled into a rhythm before Nick Catsburg appeared to have a failure on his No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM that sent him into the Turn 1 wall with six hours and 23 minutes remaining, to end a near three-hour run (two hours, 57 minutes) of green-flag running before the third caution of the race.

At Hour 6, halfway, here’s the top-three in each class:

  • P: 1-No. 5 Cadillac, 2-No. 10 Cadillac, 3-No. 85 Oreca
  • PC: 1-No. 38 Performance Tech, 2-No. 8 Starworks, 3-No. 26 BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-No. 67 Ford, 2-No. 68 Ford, 3-No. 62 Ferrari
  • GTD: 1-No. 11 Lamborghini, 2-No. 33 Mercedes-AMG, 3-No. 29 Audi

Some notes thus far on a race that hasn’t been a classic, but has still seen some interesting moments:

  • The race is again Cadillac’s to lose and is shaping up as another fight between the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing and No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.Rs. The rest of the Prototype field doesn’t have the outright pace or driver lineups to match at this stage and with attrition having taken a heavy toll (see the below notes), the pair of Cadillacs appear well-poised for a neck-and-neck fight.
  • Tough day for the Patron ESM team, which just had the No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi retire with a mechanical after the No. 2 car had been delayed earlier in the race and is just out circulating. The team’s primary sponsor is an appropriate drink of choice to soothe what has ailed them on-track.
  • Additionally, with both Mazdas (water coolant and accident) and the Rebellion (starter cable) and Visit Florida (starter motor and throttle) cars having issues, Sebring has proven way more of a brutal test for the new DPis and LMP2s than did Daytona. The temperatures are higher here than they were at Daytona all race, although the change will come this evening when the cooler temperatures return when the sun sets.
  • A shout has to go to the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, which in the first six hours posed a good threat to the Cadillacs at the front of the field. Chris Miller, the less experienced third driver for the team, did an outstanding job to stay as close to Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac as he did. Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg have done well too.
  • So far, PC hasn’t PC’d – which is to say cause a bunch of incidents. I may regret writing that sentence later on if they do. Performance Tech and Starworks are still on the same lap, Starworks doing particularly well with a lineup that wasn’t even confirmed until Thursday and two drivers making their Sebring race debuts (Garett Grist, Max Hanratty).
  • GT Le Mans has been a Ford show thus far, the GTs well clear of the Porsches, Corvettes and Ferraris, while BMW’s rough start to 2017 rolls on.
  • GT Daytona? As always, if you stay close, you’ve got a chance. After a forgettable Daytona, the Lamborghini Huracán GT3s from Change Racing and GRT have put up a good fight while Audi (Land Motorsport), Mercedes-AMG (Riley Motorsports), Ferrari (Scuderia Corsa) and Lexus (3GT Racing) also seem in it. Don’t count out the Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 either if that car stays on the lead lap. Acura is fighting with a car that isn’t quite there on pace this week. Stevenson’s charge may have just been halted by a stop-and-hold plus four minutes, six second penalty for an improper wave by.

And some quotes thus far:

“I never expected Johannes van Overbeek in the Patron car to go to pit lane when I was on the inside,” said Eric Curran, driver of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, who had contact with the aforementioned JVO at Turn 17. “He got caught up in some GT traffic and I was on the inside, usually when you are going to pit lane you give some notice as opposed to just coming across, I was already on the inside when he turned into Pit Lane. I was already there and we hit. Then the car wouldn’t fire up. We got it behind the wall and the guys push started it and we are back in the race. Our team works so hard, I can’t believe my luck lately. Long way to go. We will see where we end up.”

“Obviously not the day we hoped for with the No. 2 car,” Patron ESM’s Scott Sharp said earlier in the race. “We started to have multiple issues, some of which were the same from qualifying. Ultimately, it was a mechanical failure that put us out.”

3:00 p.m. ET (4:20 into race): At the four-hour mark, the first round of Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points for the race get awarded (Hour 4 Results).

Here’s the top three in each class at the one-third distance mark:

  • P: 1-No. 5 Cadillac, 2-No. 10 Cadillac, 3-No. 85 Oreca
  • PC: 1-No. 38 Performance Tech, 2-No. 8 Starworks, 3-No. 26 BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-No. 67 Ford, 2-No. 66 Ford, 3-No. 3 Corvette
  • GTD: 1-No. 33 Mercedes-AMG, 2-No. 63 Ferrari, 3-No. 50 Mercedes-AMG

Not a ton more to report at the moment as the race has sort of settled into a rhythm? It’s always nervous typing that because then things start to happen.

Case in point: the No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG-GT3, which was running third at the four-hour mark, had a left-front suspension break and is in the process of limping back to the pit lane. The No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 also had a spin at Turn 17. And the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 has right rear quarter panel damage.

Of note, temperatures are a bit warmer than they were at the start, per Michelin. At race start, temperatures were 59 degrees Fahrenheit ambient and 65 on track, while now they’re 77 and 115, respectively.

1:40 p.m. ET (Hour 3): We have completed three hours. Here’s your leaders:

  • P: No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
  • PC: No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
  • GTD: No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3

Some quick notes:

Contact between Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac and Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi resulted in a synchronized spin in Turn 17, Curran having then lost two laps upon restarting and bringing the car back to the pits. It brought out the second full-course caution of the race.

Two issues for two of the LMP2-spec cars. Rebellion had a power issue with its Oreca 07 chassis and the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson also went behind the wall after getting up to third.

Good news, bad news for Mazda Motorsports. The No. 70 car has returned to the track following repairs after Joel Miller’s accident… but the No. 55 car has gone behind the wall with coolant issues.

And we have another class where we won’t have a repeat winner, in GT Le Mans. The No. 4 Corvette C7.R was the race’s first official retirement with a water temperature issue, which takes Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler out of the race. After winning both Daytona and Sebring last year in a dream start to 2016, 2017 has thus far offered up a nightmare.

1 p.m. ET (2:20 into race): We have completed two hours in the race. Leaders by class at the two-hour mark are as follows:

  • P: No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
  • PC: No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
  • GTD: No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3

Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points are awarded at Hours 4 and 8 in the 12-hour race.

Rebellion Racing has been delayed with the engine cover off on its most recent stop, after its Oreca 07 battled with the Cadillacs for the lead of the race. This has brought the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson up to fourth as best of the rest behind the Cadillacs.

Joel Miller is OK as his Mazda Motorsports team makes repairs to his No. 70 Mazda RT24-P after its accident at Turn 17.

The No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi will not repeat its win of a year ago, when it had an Ligier JS P2 Honda, as it has now gone behind the wall once again.

11:40 a.m. ET (Hour 1): The first hour of the race is complete, with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R of Dane Cameron out front at Lap 31 by 10.533 seconds over the sister No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac driven by Christian Fittipaldi. The polesitting No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson fell back to fourth after the first round of pit stops.

Gustavo Yacaman (No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09) leads from James French in PC, French looking to deliver Performance Tech Motorsports a “36 Hours of Florida” sweep with co-drivers Pato O’Ward and Kyle Masson.

Dirk Mueller has led from the off in GTLM in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT over the No. 3 Corvette C7.R and No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. Despite missing the grid at the start, the No. 67 Ford has risen up to fourth.

American standout Connor De Phillippi leads in GTD in the No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS from fellow ex-Pro Mazda driver Corey Lewis in the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

Two cars with issues – apparent power loss for the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi with that car having gone behind the wall, and the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM with a driveline issue. The BMW is back out but the Nissan is not.

Just after the first hour of the race the first full course caution flew, with a brake issue pitching Joel Miller straight into the tire barriers at Turn 17 in the No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Miller got out of the car under his own power but it was a heavy impact.

11 a.m. ET (20 minutes after green flag at 10:40 a.m. ET): The green flag is out for today’s race. Live TV coverage kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on FS1, with FOX Sports Go doing the whole thing from the start and IMSA Radio carrying radio coverage flag-to-flag.

Here’s the start:

A couple quick notes from the start:

The No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi and No. 4 Corvette C7.R were both moved to the back at the start of the race owing to Sporting Regulation violations, while the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R changed tires and also moved to the back.

Two of the class polesitters, the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (GT Le Mans) could not fire to get going and had to go into the pits on the first lap, but resumes with starting driver Ryan Briscoe at the back of the field. Teammate and co-driver Scott Dixon tweeted the update below:

The GT Daytona polesitter, the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, also missed the pre-grid owing to a fuel leak sustained in the morning warmup. That left Tristan Vautier to take the start at the back of the field.

Both those two cars plus the No. 27 Dream Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 went into the pits on the first lap.

Jonathan Bomarito had to pit the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P with a flat left rear tire on Lap 2, but resumed shortly thereafter at the back of the field.

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.