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Lewis Hamilton’s absence looms large at ‘F1 Live London’

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Whether by bad timing or bad planning, Lewis Hamilton was the only active driver on the 2017 Formula 1 grid who wasn’t at today’s “F1 Live London” event in Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. And his absence loomed large over an otherwise successful debut event as organized by Liberty Media, F1’s new owners.

The three-time World Champion has had back-to-back tough races since winning the Canadian Grand Prix a month ago. He had his infamous contact with Sebastian Vettel at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, and then had to overcome a gearbox change triggering a five-spot grid penalty last week at the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg, recovering to fourth place in the race.

Following the Austrian race, Hamilton announced on social media he was planning to go on a two-day break prior to his home race, the British Grand Prix this weekend (weekend times here).

The announcement came at the same time as the “F1 Live London” event was announced on Tuesday, and although the event got announced last-minute, the optics looked bad because the remaining 19 drivers in the field were all there.

When Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull team bosses Toto Wolff, Maurizio Arrivabene and Christian Horner took the stage for a round of interviews before the car parade, Hamilton’s absence was an unfortunate elephant in the room.

“It’s quite nice for the drivers to be here… or most of them,” Horner deadpanned, clearly noting Hamilton’s absence.

Wolff explained the reason for Hamilton’s absence. “Lewis feels he is in such a tough championship fight he needed the days off after Austria…  but you can see him in Silverstone,” he said, with the crowd reacting in Trafalgar Square with a mix of mild applause and a smattering of boos.

It was interesting, then, to note the reaction of those fans interviewed in the crowd later. At least two Vettel fans were interviewed in the audience, one of them saying “Vettel’s my favorite… so much more than Hamilton,” before another fan echoed that assessment.

The 1996 World Champion Damon Hill also addressed Hamilton’s absence as well, but in a more circumspect manner hoping to rally his countrymen to cheer him on at the weekend. Hamilton has won the last three British Grands Prix and four overall, his 2008 win having been one of the finest drives of his career.

“Well there’s one person who’s not here… that hasn’t made an appearance,” Hill said. “I think that person might well be a potential holder of the trophy. If we all say, we believe, we think Lewis Hamilton will win the British Grand Prix.”

Even Nico Rosberg, who joined Hill as only the second son of a World Champion to also win one himself last November, chimed in on the absence, but again played to the crowd.

“Lewis is a fantastic driver… and I’m surprised to see so many Sebastian fans here, but fair play to all of you! May the better one win this weekend,” the 2016 World Champion opined.

After Rosberg spoke, 20 drivers were introduced to the fans. It was the remaining 19 drivers, plus Rene Arnoux deputizing as a third member from the Renault team, in throwback overalls.

For Hamilton, it’s a potentially fascinating scenario he faces in Silverstone.

He needs the win to reassert his championship prospects as Vettel’s beat him three out of the last four races. Silverstone is a place Hamilton usually thrives.

But will the fans be as willing to support him now that he wasn’t at a rare, new and well-executed fan-focused event in his home country? That’s the question mark heading into this weekend.

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