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Vettel doubts extra Pirelli testing gave him major tire advantage

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Sebastian Vettel doubts that his extra test running with Pirelli last year to help test the 2017-spec Formula 1 tires has given him a notable advantage over his rivals at the start of the new season.

Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull worked with Pirelli through 2016 using ‘mule cars’ to help develop the Italian tire supplier’s new compounds after a redesign of F1’s tires to make them 25 per cent bigger.

Vettel completed the most testing of any driver, and was one of the few to offer no complaints about managing the ultra-soft compound in Australia at the F1 season-opener.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton decided to pit early from the lead in Australia as he struggled with the ultra-softs, allowing Vettel to move into the lead and trigger a strategy that saw Ferrari win for the first time in 18 months.

While Vettel’s extended testing with Pirelli was cited as a reason for his victory in Australia, the German doubts he gained a huge amount from the running, but was happy to have been involved.

“I’m not sure. I think maybe the right answer is ‘no’,” Vettel said when asked if he had a better understanding of the tires as a result of his test running.

“The reason why I’m generally happy to do it is because I love driving. So, when there’s an opportunity to test, even though testing can sometimes be a bit dull and boring.

“But still, you’re driving the car and that’s much better than sitting on the bike for a couple of hours or whatever training to be fit enough to drive the car. I think that generally track time is limited so every opportunity you get.

“That’s personal, but I can’t understand why you would reject it and as I said, I’m happy to drive the car and I think there’s always something you learn.

“So for sure the days I did last year with Pirelli to help them get feedback for the tires etc., for sure they also helped me.”

Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg also said that he doubted there was a huge amount to be gained in the private tests, particularly as the cars used varied from the 2017 models that are now racing the tires.

“Obviously it was these mule cars which were not fully representative and the tires were also not, I believe, the exact spec that we have now,” Hulkenberg said.

“But, you know, there’s always something that you can learn, and pick up, that you can use for your advantage. But that’s in the past. It’s history.”

GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA