Morad (left) and Dalziel (right). Photo: PWC

PWC: New lease on life in Daniel Morad’s ‘State of Moradness’

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As he prepares to race in the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend, it’s a welcome relief for 27-year-old Toronto native Daniel Morad that he’s rolling with opportunities that a few years ago seemed remote at best.

Morad and fellow open-wheel convert Ryan Dalziel share the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT Pro/Pro division of the championship, which are 60-minute races with a mandatory driver stop.

How Morad even got the ride was a bit surprising to begin with – he beat out numerous talented others in consideration – and then he beat one of Mercedes, and sports car racing’s most talented drivers in Jeroen Bleekemolen in identical equipment to secure his first win in his first weekend.

Photo: PWC

“CRP and I had talked for months; Ron Fellows had recommended me to the team after Daytona,” Morad told NBC Sports. “I told Nick Short, the team owner, I was so prepared to do my best if I got the job. We’d had about two hours worth of talking and that was all we went on, but it must have been a good impression!

“Between Ron endorsing me and Dave Empringham also having a say, I got the call Friday before the race and it was ‘Hey, the ride’s yours.’

“So I get announced Monday on my birthday… then Tuesday or Wednesday I’m already doing media with the car, having not driven it! It was pretty cool the fact my name was on top of the car.”

Morad and Dalziel were unfortunate to lose a win in the first SprintX race of the weekend, owing to a pit lane timing infraction that also caught six other GT class cars out.

As a recompense because of confusion about how so many teams were caught out by the 60-second combined pit lane time between the 30-second mandatory pit stop time and additional 30-seconds on pit lane, PWC series officials added a two-second joker time to ensure there wouldn’t be infractions in the second race.

“Saturday for us was strange and disjointed,” Morad explained. “Initially the pro/pro class was going to have an open pit time, and that would have been a bit dangerous if some teams did 25-second stops versus 15 seconds – you’ll never make that up.

“And some cars are easier to get in and out of than others. Bentley, for instance, is right-hand drive so it can go straight in. The Ferrari looked easy. Cadillac? They had to take the wheel off. For us it’s a tight greenhouse and entry point. The Porsche, by contrast, had a sliding seat. So since every car is unique, the only way to police it was a 30-second pit stop plus a 30-second delta. But it only took 23 for the pit lane!

“On Saturday, we had an 11-second lead before a safety car. I started opening up the gap to (Jorg) Bergmeister, then we had a drive-through because we didn’t stop long enough… and so did seven or eight other cars. It was heat of the moment and without a proper system yet determined, it ruined a lot of team’s races.”

Morad bounced back in a big way on Sunday with a star drive as he led Bleekemolen and the rest of the field in his stint.

Pirelli World Challenge, Virginia International Raceway, Allton, VA, April 2017. (Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com)

“Sunday we rectified by winning convincingly,” he said. “I had a few tenths in the bag if not more (over Jeroen). Our car was so hooked up that day! Not only is the platform is great but balance is perfect. Jeroen was pushing really hard and I was not… so it looked closer than it was.

“For me personally it was a great chance to show that I can drive as well as anyone could out there. I was managing my tires, I drove the pace I needed to drive and to give Ryan the best car. I didn’t want to burn the tires before a safety car. I left everyone by 1.5 seconds afterwards. That’s what I wanted to say; the best way to silence any critics is to put the right foot down.”

Morad and Dalziel come from similar backgrounds in that they were talents on the open-wheel ladder before shifting to sports cars. Morad’s was a circuitous route after winning the 2007 Formula BMW Americas championship – ahead of Esteban Gutierrez and Alexander Rossi among others – through GP3, Atlantics, A1GP (below, in 2009) and Indy Lights, but timing and budget never presented itself for more.

TAUPO, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 24: Daniel Morad of Lebanon in action during the third official prctice session for the New Zealand A1 Grand Prix at the Taupo Race Track January 24, 2009 in Taupo, New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

Dalziel’s timing was similar. Talented enough to make it to Champ Car, Dalziel won races in Atlantics for several years but again fell victim to timing more than anything. So Morad always witnessed Dalziel’s development and success on track, but only has gotten to know him recently.

“Ryan is such a good teammate,” Morad said of the Florida-based Scot. “We’d crossed paths in the past but I’d never rally spoken to Ryan. He’s not much older – he’s 35 to my 27 – so he’s 8 years older.

“But it’s enough to the point, when he was in Champ Car, I was in FBMW. He did a really good job.

“I really respected him. When I heard I’d potentially drive with him I was stoked; you want to drive with the best and learn as much as you can. Ryan is one of the best out there. He’s such a good ambassador of the sport. He welcomed me with open arms, and he didn’t make me feel an outsider. You can see why he’s one of the best in the sport.”

On the whole, it was a call from Carlos de Quesada that Morad him back from the brink after a roughly four-year hiatus from racing and provided him an opportunity to race Porsches, where Morad has since starred. Between championships in single-make Porsche Cup series and a win at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with a Porsche 911 GT3 R, Morad has been the driver that de Quesada has built his team around.

Morad’s season is IMSA is evolving on a race-to-race basis – the team plans to race for at least another couple events before determining whether it can grow into a full season – but in PWC, he’s set for the four remaining SprintX weekends with Dalziel.

Coming to CTMP this weekend, it’s a chance for him to race on home soil. Morad has hailed Fellows and Empringham as mentors among others, and now he’s also joined his open-wheel rising stars James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens in making it years later after coming up through the ranks.

“Ron Fellows has been one of the biggest mentors for me,” he explained. “He guided me in Formula BMW and helped to suggest the sports car stuff in GT3 Cup. Scott Goodyear as well has been amazing. I worked with him at the Audi driving experience (in Canada); he was chief driving instructor. I learned more from him off the track, in how to be a professional; he’s the ultimate professional. He’s so polished.

“As Canadians, we’re all such a tight-knit community. We all stay in touch.

“Hinch and I are friends. Wickens and I though, it’s funny, we’ve grown up racing each other since we were 9. We had sleepovers when we were kids! He was in Guelph, an hour and a bit from Toronto. He’d play EA Sports NASCAR games or play hockey in the winter… because it’s Canada. We still stay in touch; I watch his DTM races when I can.”

And then there’s Morad’s other emerging passion – he’s a DJ, and quickly becoming better known for that along with his driving within the sports car paddock.

What started as a quick 10-hat pre-run at Daytona, wearing a standard hat with a stylized “M” logo, has now grown into a new brand to coincide with the DJ tracks he puts together on Soundcloud, after those 10 sold out quickly. There’s now more styles to the hat. Morad credits his girlfriend for her work ethic and dedication and helping this side of his career grow.

Morad joins Giancarlo Fisichella and Raul Boesel among other notable drivers who’ve added this component of work to their day jobs, and explained the inspiration.

“I started DJing when I was 19, as I got into it through a friend,” Morad explained. “It’s funny because I don’t like the party scene per se – or crowds – people stepping on foot or drinks!

“But DJing is such a thrill. There’s a lot of pressure to perform. If you don’t perform… the whole night revolves around you. But if you don’t do a good job, the night’s bad for people. I like the challenge of making a good show.”

For Morad on track though, making a good show has been one of the fun story lines to watch in the sports car world in 2017, and he’ll look to keep it rolling on home soil this weekend.

Lauda: Halo decision has ‘destroyed’ push to bring fans to F1

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Niki Lauda believes the decision to introduce the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection to Formula 1 for 2018 has “destroyed” efforts to make the sport more appealing to fans.

The FIA announced on Wednesday that all cars would be fitted with the Halo from next season as part of its push to improve safety standards and prevent head injuries.

The Halo was extensively tested through 2016, but has not featured since last year’s finale in Abu Dhabi, with the ‘Shield’ concept being trialled – albeit unsuccessfully – at Silverstone.

There was a large amount of outcry online from fans following the Halo announcement, and three-time F1 world champion Lauda has also condemned the decision.

“We tested the Halo, the Red Bull ‘Aeroscreen’ and Ferrari’s Shield as cockpit protection. None has convinced me 100 per cent,” Lauda told Auto Motor und Sport in Germany.

“You have to make the right decision in such a situation. The Halo is the wrong one.

“The FIA has made Formula 1 as safe as it gets. Also the danger of flying wheels is largely eliminated, because the wheels are always more firmly attached.

“The risk to the drivers has become minimal.”

Lauda stressed that introducing Halo would only serve to turn fans away from F1, despite the sport’s best efforts in recent years to try and draw them back in.

“We are just trying hard to get new fans for the sport with fast cars and getting closer to the spectators,” Lauda said.

“Now this is destroyed by an overreaction.”

Hamilton plans to see out Mercedes F1 contract to end of 2018

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Lewis Hamilton is planning to see out his Mercedes Formula 1 contract until at least the end of the 2018 season despite reports suggesting that he may consider quitting the sport at the end of the year.

Hamilton clinched his fifth British Grand Prix victory at Silverstone last weekend, drawing to within one point of F1 drivers’ championship leader Sebastian Vettel in the process.

Hamilton’s contract with Mercedes is up at the end of next season, but speculation had emerged suggesting that a move to Ferrari could be of interest for the Briton as he nears the end of his career, or that he could even opt to retire from racing.

Hamilton said in a press conference after the race that he “can’t really say what’s going to happen six months from now”, as per Reuters, but he was quick to clarify that he expected to see out his contract with Mercedes.

“I just think in life you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hamilton said.

“Right now I love driving and then in six months I might… it’s very unlikely because I think I’m always going to like driving, I’m always going to like doing crazy stuff.

“I’m still enjoying it and I still have a contract with the team for at least a year so I plan to see that out at the moment.

“Even in getting another championship, it will never be: ‘OK, now it’s time to hang up the gloves’. I’ll always want to win more.

“Even when I do stop, something inside me will say I still want to get more.”

Q&A: Andy Meyrick on McLaren GT4, Ligier LMP3 European balance

Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing
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As the international sports car season rolls on, occasionally we’ll check in with drivers who have raced largely in North America but have since set up shop with European programs (Sean Rayhall and Will Owen, who race with United Autosports, are two good examples).

Today we’ll check in with Andy Meyrick, who was with the DeltaWing outfit from 2013 through 2016.

The Englishman is balancing a dual role this year with a McLaren 570S GT4 with the new Bullitt Racing team, established in Spain, run by veteran team manager David Price and co-driving with Stephen Pattrick in the GT4 Series Northern Cup, and also with a Ligier JS P3 in the Michelin Le Mans Cup with Motorsport 98 and co-driver Eric De Doncker, a Belgian sports car veteran who is that team’s owner.

Meyrick helmet. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Thus far there’s been four races in the McLaren with five to go – three more in the Northern Cup and two in the south – and more races to come in the Ligier after late start for races in Monza and Le Mans, the latter as part of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race week. Meyrick heads to the Red Bull Ring this weekend for the next round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup season.

For a driver who hasn’t too regularly been in pro-am lineups, Meyrick is now balancing two pro-am roles simultaneously and loving going back and forth between prototypes and GT cars in two of the emerging categories on a worldwide stage.

MST: It’s certainly been a change for you this year with a hectic schedule and two programs. How has it all come together?

Andy Meyrick: “To be honest, it’s been fantastic. There’s no restriction on testing in either series, so with multiple programs, we’re out all the time, especially in the McLaren.

“For me, it’s a completely new arena really. I’ve very done little pro-am racing to be honest. I’d been with Aston, Bentley and DeltaWing with pro-pro lineups. It was a new experience to do the pro-am stuff. I was a bit unsure of how to approach it in the first place. I’d done a bit with Gulf in a McLaren.

“But I love it as both programs are growing. When I sat down with the team that I’d do the GT4 program with them, they hinted GT4 is gonna explode, it’ll be the next GT3… and I wasn’t too sure it’d be the case. But I’m gobsmacked at the level GT4 is at, with how often you can go racing, how good the championship is and how well it’s run. It’s good to be in this market.”

Meyrick and Pattrick’s No. 33 Bullitt Racing McLaren 570S GT4. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: With a guy like Stephen in the McLaren, how have you helped and aided his development?

AM: “It’s been pretty amazing. Stephen, before the season, I’d known him since he was a guest in 2011 when I was with Aston Martin. He’d done track days but hadn’t really never done anything else. At the Red Bull Ring, he led outright and a double podium for us, so he’s shown flashes of really fantastic speed, not just for gentlemen but for anybody!

“Sometimes you have to stop and tell yourself, look this is only your third or fourth race weekend! We can go racing, but we also have to accept he has a lack of experience, the speed he’s shown so far, the ability to absorb the information! He’s been thrown deep into the program but he’s shown he’s enjoying and learning it all.”

Bobby Rahal with Dave Price at 2016 Petit Le Mans. Photo courtesy of IMSA

MST: You and ‘Pricey’ have a great relationship. Has it been a natural with him running the McLaren program?

AM: “This one here we entered with a turnkey car, but the team was brand new at the end of 2016. ‘Pricey’ was a huge motivation to want to be there, because I’ve been a big fan of him and with the two of us, it just clicks. He doesn’t need to say what he’s thinking – I just know what he wants. We have such a good relationship. He was a big thing for me to want to be involved with it. But it’s great to build something from scratch.

“The team are based near Ascari in south of Spain, so at least once or twice a month we’re there testing. It’s an easy flight from Manchester. It’s easy to forget we’re only a handful of weekends into the team between Misano, Brands Hatch, Red Bull Ring and Slovakiaring. There’s a fair way to go but we’re accomplishing our goals for the team and the races thus far have been phenomenal.”

The No. 98 Motorsport 98 Ligier JS P3 of Meyrick and De Doncker at Le Mans. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: Of course you also have the LMP3 program as well, also a new outfit…

AM: “Yeah and this one was a bit of a surprise to be honest! I’d known Eric from his driving a Group C car I’d driven a few years back. We talked about LMP3 and I said yeah let’s do something for 2018 after testing this year… and Eric wanted to do it now! We tested April 18-19, he bought the car April 21 and our first race was 12-13 of May! So it put us at Monza and we rolled it straight out of the truck from Ligier and finished fifth! Save for a drive through we would have been on the podium the first race. Eric’s very experienced and it’s been a pleasure.

“We went to Le Mans and we’d started the second race from the back owing to a probelm, but went from 49th to 9th in the second race at Le Mans. We’ve shown tremendous pace given how little we’ve done with the car. We have the Red Bull Ring this weekend, and it’s coming back to where I got two podiums in the GT4 a few weeks ago.

“The DeltaWing’s a prototype but not in the traditional sense, so before that the last prototype I’d been in was the old Lola Aston and the AMR-ONE, both in 2011. I’ll admit a few years ago when I read about LMP3, you’re sort of rolling your eyes at another class, series, that can cloud the market. But to be honest it’s brilliant and fantastic. It’s cost-effective for what it is but cheap for prototype and endurance racing. You get such good service out of it.”

The No. 98 Motorsport 98 Ligier JS P3 of Meyrick and De Doncker at Le Mans. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: When you do have such disparate cars as an LMP3 Ligier and a GT4 McLaren, how do you jostle between the two of them?

AM: “I think that’s one of my biggest strengths, jumping from car to car, as you don’t see too many doing it anymore. I think it’s a big skill. The GT3 Bentley and DeltaWing couldn’t get any further apart! You’re going from a GT3 with ABS, TC and some weight compared to a very light prototype. But you make the adaptations quite quick, otherwise you spend the first laps of every weekend trying to get up to speed with the groove of each car.

“If you’re a driver, part of marketing yourself is being in as many cars as possible to get the most track time. I’ve always looked up at a guy like Stephane Sarrazin for example, who goes from rally to LMP1 car, and you’re constantly learning. If you’re in different environments and packages, you’re open to different engineers and approaches.”

Meyrick and Pattrick’s No. 33 Bullitt Racing McLaren 570S GT4. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: How close were you to any U.S. programs this year and should we hope to see you back Stateside racing soon?

AM: “I was very close to two programs in the U.S., one in IMSA and one in PWC, but unfortunately neither came together. That said, I enjoy racing in the States so much more than Europe.

“I pinch myself every time I go to a race in America when you think, ‘Mate, I get paid to do this, fly across the Atlantic and driver a race car.’ I love the environment of the States, the circuits, as it’s not just a circuit, but the variety. You go from the streets of Long Beach to the flowing Road America which is just stunning.

“I want to be back over there and perhaps attend one race tail end of this year. Those two championships are both looking amazing as usual.

“Otherwise it was cool to see my mate Jack Harvey racing in the Indy 500 this year. As he was teammates with Fernando Alonso that was so cool! It was ace to see, as he’s had a rough couple years and he’s a huge talent, and one of the nicest guys around the paddock. He’s done a fantastic job and committed to his craft.

“Ideally we’re both back racing in the U.S. sooner rather than later.”

Wehrlein: Sauber F1 set for big C36 upgrade in Hungary

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Sauber is set to bring a sizeable update for its C36 Formula 1 car to the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend, according to driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Sauber has been battling at the back of the grid throughout 2017 after years of financial difficulties, limiting the development of its new car.

The team is racing with a 2016-spec Ferrari power unit, putting it on the back foot compared to its rivals, but it currently sits P9 in the constructors’ championship ahead of McLaren.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Wehrlein confirmed that Sauber would be bringing a sizeable update package to Budapest, and was positive about the boost it may offer.

“For Budapest we are set for a big upgrade. Almost all the car, or all the aero side, will be new, so that should give us a good performance boost,” Wehrlein said.

“If what the data shows really can materialize we could be on a good go.”

Wehrlein has endured a rocky season so far, missing the opening two races through injury before leading Sauber to eighth place in Spain, as well as taking another point in Baku.

“It is no secret that my start to the season was very difficult. The injury matter was pretty tough,” Wehrein said.

“Going to Australia and not driving was hard and having to skip China was another notch on the ‘horror scale’.

“The start to 2017 in Bahrain was not bad. It felt like I had never been away, never been injured. The first qualifying took me to Q2 and I nearly finished in the points with P11, with the Sauber car!

“Since then it is going smoothly and pretty much in the right direction. Twice I scored points, with the clear highlight of Barcelona, which was exceptional for us finishing in P7, even if with the penalty it was finally P8.

“But imagine: P7 with the Sauber! Yes there have been difficult races since then, but we knew that this would happen.”