Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Road America post-weekend notebook

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Some final thoughts on the IMSA weekend from Road America, the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, are below:

FINALLY, A NON-CADILLAC WIN

The early rate of development, mileage and performance from the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs in September last year gave them a distinct advantage in the early races this year. By contrast, the Mazda RT24-P didn’t roll out publicly until November and Tequila Patron ESM’s Nissan Onroak DPi didn’t break cover until barely before Christmas. The several month lead-time the Cadillac had meant it was always a better sorted package out of the gate.

However, the other Daytona Prototype international (DPi) manufacturers are catching things up. Testing for what will likely be a revised Mazda – at least within the box and framework of the regulations – will start soon in Joest Racing’s hands, hence why they’ve withdrawn from the final few races. The Nissan, meanwhile took on an electronics update prior to Road America this weekend. A more reliable package followed and the car, with its GT3 engine taken from the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, delivered a “Patron perfect” finish in the race with first and third.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Pipo Derani remains fast as ever when the car’s right and seized his opportunity Sunday, taking over from the consummate professional Johannes van Overbeek who’d put the No. 22 car in that close-to-the-lead position with his opening stint.

Cadillac couldn’t run the table this year and with the race on to be the first non-Cadillac winner, it was Patron and ESM that prevailed.

With the two Nissan Onroak DPis in first and third and the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Ligier JS P217 in fifth, it was a great day for Onroak Automotive on Sunday.

CONTINENTAL RACE WAS CAUGHT BETWEEN ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Some races just don’t go according to plan and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge two-hour race on Saturday was a perfect example of that through a combination of factors.

Taking it from the start, a local 4:30 p.m. CT green flag time meant an already later start to the day, and followed the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America race which preceded it. Usually, the Lamborghini race comes at the end of the day with the Continental race taking place immediately after IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying. That wasn’t the case here. With rain coming later in the day, that start time then has a knock-on effect that you’ll be closer to darkness by end of day (yes, it wasn’t going to be night at 6:30 p.m. but it would certainly be moving into night).

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Secondly there’s the issue of lap length at Road America, at a season-long 4.048 miles. When a full-course caution is displayed, it slows an already long lap optimal time at around 2 minutes, 25 seconds under green flag conditions to almost 4 minutes per lap. Conservatively, at a 2 minute, 30 second lap average with no yellows, a two-hour race would only deliver 48 total laps at this track.

Once the second caution flew at just past the one-hour mark, with a red flag following shortly thereafter for lightning in the area, then heavy rain, it was always going to be doubtful to get a restart in purely down to the available time left. The red flag was displayed with 40 minutes left, and the race clock still ran. That meant there was realistically only about a 15-minute window to ensure lightning was out of the area for long enough, and that the field could restart with time to complete the full yellow flag procedure to make pit stops, change drivers and complete the yellow, and you might have had five to eight minutes for a restart – good for two, maybe three laps of green flag running without any further yellows.

The considerations and health/well-being of the fans, competitors, corner workers, camera crew, and photographers all around the course also needed to be noted.

Ultimately the clock ran out on such an opportunity and with the weather doing what it was, IMSA was stuck in a position where calling the race early was the only viable option given the extenuating circumstances. IMSA’s full statement on the race’s early conclusion is linked here, and below.

As for the ST class cars that ultimately finished in the top four positions? You can’t fault them for their strategy plays, by running long enough in the opening stint to move to the front, get track position, and wait to switch to their second drivers. That they benefited from the early end to the race was payoff for their gamble. Had the race been restarted, it’s likely they would have dropped further down the order. As they say, that’s racing, and what this did at least do was open up a running joke among many ST drivers to ask, “how many total laps did you get this weekend?”

The win was particularly special for Chad McCumbee, who wound up driving the entire race in the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 he shares with Stevan McAleer, and was racing with a heavy heart after losing a close friend last week.

CORVETTE’S NO. 3 CAR SOMEHOW KEEPS GTLM POINTS LEAD

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Corvette Racing’s reward for winning early races in recent years seems to be falling further down the perceived Balance of Performance “pecking order” for the rest of the year. And it then falls to their drivers to keep their nose clean and make something out of nothing to ensure the early season success doesn’t get washed away as other cars rise to the surface.

Any of BMW, Ford or Porsche has had the measure of Corvette on outright pace in the last several GTLM races – Corvette not having won since Circuit of The Americas in May. Despite all that, Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen still lead the points, and actually increased the gap from seven over BMW’s Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims to eight over Road America winners Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand of Ford this weekend.

Sims, whose No. 25 BMW fell back early in the race with a suspension issue, inadvertently helped the No. 3 Corvette car gain more points after tapping the sister No. 4 Corvette, which has had a luckless campaign, into a spin at Turn 3 near the finish.

Garcia and Magnussen held off Mueller, incidentally, for the 2013 American Le Mans Series GT title in the last year with the old Corvette C6.R through a combination of guile and determination, not outright pace. It might be a case of history repeating itself if they do so again in 2017.

PERFORMANCE TECH SEALS PC CROWN, NOW SEEKS PERFECTION

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Another race, another win for Performance Tech Motorsports, and this one sealed the driver’s championship for James French and Pato O’Ward a race early. Not that it was really in doubt, but stranger things had happened.

French finally has a professional win at his home track, after the hundreds of thousands of miles the Sheboygan native has logged here. O’Ward received a welcome entry into victory lane after his Pro Mazda season began to unravel here last year, when teammate Aaron Telitz delivered a perfect weekend.

It’s been an odd year because the team’s executed flawlessly all year but hasn’t had the level of competition the PC class has had before. It shouldn’t detract from their efforts though, and that was something O’Ward was keen to emphasize Sunday.

“The problem has been this year there’s not many cars, so yeah we’re winning, but there’s only three cars. I wish there was more competition. But all the times set last year and the year before, we shattered all those,” said the talented teenaged Mexican driver, who has adjusted well to his first season in sports cars. “I feel it would be more fun with more cars and competition; but we’ve maximized everything we have.”

A win with third driver Kyle Masson at the Motul Petit Le Mans in October would complete the team’s perfect season of winning all eight races in the category’s sign-off.

VARIOUS GTD NOTES

Photo courtesy of IMSA

There wasn’t really a dominant theme in GT Daytona this weekend so here’s some quick thoughts about the most populous class in the field:

  • Top six in GTD, manufacturers: BMW, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari, Lamborghini. Can’t get the balance across the eight manufacturers in class much better than that.
  • A roller-coaster year with a rotating driver lineup is never something you want but it’s something Turner Motorsport has had this year. Having two factory affiliated drivers in what’s meant to be a pro-am class doesn’t hurt though, and Jens Klingmann and Road America newcomer Jesse Krohn did both BMW and themselves no harm with a flawless weekend in the team’s No. 96 M6 GT3.
  • Seeing “Dyson” on a Porsche GT car forces one to do a double take – you’re wondering where Dyson Racing and its fleet of sports car legends are – but the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R car lived up to the name of the legendary team with the vacuum cleaner sponsor on board, and Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey coming home second, one spot ahead of the lone Audi in the field from Stevenson Motorsports.
  • Consistency keeps fueling the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3’s championship lead – another workmanlike fifth place from Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan extended their run of top-six finishes to eight in a row, all without a win. Closest title rivals in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 finally ended a rough four-race patch of results with fourth.
  • After a weekend dominated by controversy and rumors, Paul Miller Racing pressed on after its post-qualifying penalty assessed to finish sixth in class with Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers in the team’s No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
  • CORE autosport posted its best 2017 result, seventh, with Colin Braun and Jon Bennett in the No. 54 Porsche 911 GT3 R. The team hasn’t forgotten how to win, but the adaptation for driver and team into GTD has proven one of the year’s biggest tough surprises.
  • In its first race back with Porsche, the No. 50 WeatherTech entry of Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette was ninth in class, third among four GTD Porsches and behind the No. 33 Riley Mercedes-AMG it had shared a tent with all races except here this year.
  • Lexus again failed to convert impressive qualifying pace into a result, ending eighth and 10th with a switched-up driver lineup. At least it was a better weekend for them than Acura, who switched up its liveries and then wrote off one of its two cars.

OTHER NOTES FROM THE WEEKEND

  • Your overall winners from the weekend in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama were Kelly-Moss Road and Race Jake Eidson (Friday’s Watkins Glen Race 1 makeup race), then Moorespeed’s Corey Fergus in both Saturday and Sunday’s Road America scheduled races. Eidson still leads Fergus, 191-157, in points with three weekends remaining.
  • Another banner weekend for Jeff Mosing occurred in the GT3 Platinum Masters’ class; the likable Texan won his class both days (Sunday’s in a final lap, up the hill pass for the win), and added a third in the Continental Tire Challenge race Saturday where he drove all race to extend his and Eric Foss’ points lead.
  • Prestige Performance’s Trent Hindman and Riccardo Agostini swept both Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America races overall, building their winning streak to three straight races overall.
  • Of note, Shea Holbrook and Pippa Mann finished fourth in their class (Am) in both Saturday and Sunday’s Lamborghini races, and one spot higher overall on Sunday than on Saturday. Facing bad weather, limited track time and limited car experience, Mann describes how the friends got on as teammates this weekend in her most recent Sportscar365 blog.
  • Risi Competizione has announced its return to action starting with the next round at VIRginia International Raceway. It’ll be nice to see that Ferrari 488 GTE with Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander back on the grid.
  • Top gesture of the weekend goes to Porsche GT Team for having the team sign a bonnet for outgoing Porsche Motorsport North America President Jens Walther, who served in his last race in this role this weekend. Dr. Daniel Armbruster takes over the role from Sept. 1, while Walther will become the new Director of Sales and Marketing for Porsche Leipzig.

IMSA is off until VIRginia International Raceway at the end of this month, for a GT-only weekend. However, both the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda and Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama series race in Canada this weekend on the streets of Trois-Rivieres.

MRTI: New oval test awaits Indy Lights, Pro Mazda in Gateway

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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An unknown variable to two of the three Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series comes with this weekend’s races at Gateway Motorsports Park, the first and only oval for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the third oval for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires this season (this race airs August 28 at noon ET on NBCSN).

NEW TRACK ON TAP

The only running for these two series here has been testing, first on the old surface earlier this year and then on the repaved surface a couple weeks ago.

Indy Lights has been to Gateway with both of its prior two iterations, under the Indy Pro Series nomenclature in 2002 and 2003 (won by Ryan Hampton in 2002 and Jeff Simmons in 2003) and four times before that under the old Indy Lights banner in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001.

Those winners included Lee Bentham (now Ed Carpenter’s spotter and the Ed Carpenter Racing driver coach), Shigeaki Hattori, now NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell and the late Dan Wheldon, respectively.

Bell holds both the qualifying and race lap records at Gateway, 157.205 mph and 28.625 seconds (qualifying) and 157.043 mph and 29.113 seconds (race), set in 2000, but those records should be smashed on the repaved track and with the new car this weekend.

Pro Mazda makes its debut at the track this weekend with a 55-lap race. Indy Lights will go 75 laps around Gateway. Both races are Saturday evening, at 4:55 p.m. and 6 p.m. CT and local time.

TITLE TILT BREAKDOWN

Kyle Kaiser has chance to win Indy Lights title in Gateway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

As the series heads into Gateway, the championship battle could end in one series while it’s all poised to continue in another one.

In Indy Lights, Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing had a nightmare weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course but even so, is well-positioned to lock up this year’s title and the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship that goes with it. He has a 42-point lead over both Colton Herta and Santiago Urrutia, 297-255, and will clinch the championship with one race still to go at Watkins Glen provided he leaves Gateway with a 34-point lead.

The maximum swing in points in a 15-car grid is 27 points from first to last, if a driver secures the maximum 33 points (30 for winning with one bonus point apiece for pole, most laps led, and fastest race lap) and the 15th-place finisher scores six points.

A top-five finish for Kaiser will ensure he has at least a 26-point lead over the field, regardless of what others do – he’d have 314 points and the most anyone else could get with the maximum would be 288. So, the odds still remain in his favor barring some extraordinary events.

If Kaiser does clinch this weekend, he’ll be the first to do so in Indy Lights prior to the season finale since Josef Newgarden in 2011, who did so by starting at Kentucky in that year’s penultimate race – he finished second to Stefan Wilson that day. Tristan Vautier and Sage Karam (Fontana), Gabby Chaves (Sonoma), Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca) have all won the last five titles at the last race of the year, all in California.

Herta and Urrutia’s tie for second (255 points) sees them in a tightly bunched six-way battle for the runner-up spot. With Matheus Leist (249), Zachary Claman De Melo (243), Nico Jamin (242) and Aaron Telitz (233) could all stake their claim for second.

Anthony Martin leads Victory Franzoni at Mid-Ohio. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Quite by contrast, Anthony Martin leads Victor Franzoni by only four points in Pro Mazda (259-255) and the battle between the Cape Motorsports and Juncos Racing driver figures to rage over the final three races. Pro Mazda has the oval this week, then two races at Watkins Glen to sort out that battle.

John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations, sized up how the MRTI season has gone to date as the series heads into its final two weekends.

“You have ebbs and flows in the season. All three championships are far from being decided,” Doonan told NBC Sports. “The competition level is so intense. The new Tatuus USF-17 has woken some people up internationally as an option.

“Meanwhile I was saying to someone not long ago, the Pro Mazda car is 13 years old and the car has remained relevant that long. To see that car have a sweet swan song with two guys battling out for the title in this car has been great to witness.

“Indy Lights has been ridiculous too. Kaiser has a lengthy points lead, but it’s not done yet. With an oval and Watkins, with multiple races, it’ll be a battle down to the end.”

LOOKING BACK AT RECENT OVALS

Matheus Leist poses at the yard of bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Indy Lights has its third oval this season and Leist, who hadn’t driven on an oval until this season but has instantly clicked with Carlin’s engineering team, somehow has the chance to sweep all three of them. The Brazilian teenager dominated at the Freedom 100 in Indianapolis and continued his midsummer run of form with a win from 10th on the grid at his first short oval in Iowa.

Looking back to last year, Kaiser won his first Indy Lights race on the Phoenix 1-mile oval, a track that’s been recently repaved, and a track he thinks will provide a proper comparison to Gateway. Otherwise it was Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport, Indianapolis) and Felix Serralles (Carlin, Iowa) who won last year.

In 2015, the first year of the Dallara IL-15 Mazda, there were also three winners in three ovals: Jack Harvey (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Indianapolis), Serralles (Belardi Auto Racing, Milwaukee) and Max Chilton (Carlin, Iowa).

Pro Mazda has not raced on an oval since Lucas Oil Raceway in May 2016, Pato O’Ward delivering the win for Team Pelfrey in dominant fashion. Weiron Tan swept the two Pro Mazda races in 2015 for Andretti Autosport at Lucas Oil Raceway and Iowa.

It’s been since 2014, when Spencer Pigot won for Juncos at Milwaukee, that Pro Mazda last raced on a track one mile or longer. Lucas Oil Raceway and Iowa are both under one mile. For the car that launched into then-Star Mazda in 2004, this race at the 1.25-mile Gateway track is the longest oval this car has ever raced on.

WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – JANUARY 12: Chad Boat, driver of the #84 Billy Boat Motorsports Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway on January 12, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Chad Boat, in a fourth Belardi Auto Racing entry, will at long last make his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race debut. He was meant to at the series’ last short oval race in Iowa but was ruled out, not medically cleared after an accident earlier that week.

Boat’s presence in the field makes it a 15-car Indy Lights field, which in turn opens up the option – however slim – that if Kaiser was to finish last and Urrutia, one of Boat’s three Belardi teammates, won and scored maximum points, could close the 42-point gap down to 15 points leaving Gateway.

For Boat, the 25-year-old son of past IndyCar veteran Billy Boat, the goal will be to gain experience as a short track, dirt track and part-time NASCAR veteran making a welcome entry into the series. He has tested at Gateway in advance of his debut.

While Boat increases the Indy Lights field by one, the Pro Mazda grid dips from 14 its last race at Mid-Ohio down to 10 cars.

IMSA: Michelin GT Challenge provides second GT-only showcase in ’17

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Three race weekends remain in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, but not three races for all four of its classes.

While the Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes are off until Monterey and Road Atlanta, respectively, this weekend’s two-hour, 40-minute Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway provides the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona their second of two GT-only standalone showcase events this season (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET).

Like last race at Road America, variety has been the spice of life among GTLM winners. Risi Competizione, Porsche North America and Corvette Racing have won at VIR the last three years with the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia, No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR and No. 3 Corvette C7.R, respectively.

Each of those three car numbers is somewhat intriguing to note this weekend for different reasons.

Photo: Risi Competizione

Risi’s No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE is back after a several-race hiatus, the team having withdrawn temporarily after an expensive, crash-laden first half of the season through Le Mans. Out of the championship and with nothing to lose, the capable duo of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella can properly play spoiler.

Engineer Rick Mayer describes the challenge of picking the best Michelin tire compound for VIR depending on the temperatures: “Michelin tire selection might come into play here as the track is dark and if its sunny will get very hot, maybe favoring one tire compound over another. All GTLMs have Michelin options that span the temperature window. Predicting weather and the best tire compound could be important if the track temperature is variable.”

The No. 911 Porsche, driven this year by Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner, remains on the fringe of title contention in GTLM at 22 points back in fifth place and look to complete a sweep of the two GT-only races this year, having delivered the new mid-engined car’s first overall win at Lime Rock Park a month ago.

“I have fond memories of this storied racetrack deep in the heart of America. In 2015, we celebrated one-two finish there with Porsche. It’s an old school circuit with many fast curves where you can’t afford to make one mistake. If you end up on the grass, you might as well drive straight back to the pits to get the radiator cleaned,” Pilet said.

Meanwhile it’s No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen that, having weathered the storm of a few tough races where the Corvette has not had the Balance of Performance in its favor, maintains the points lead and looks for an encore of its win here last year. Magnussen has matched Garcia as one of the series’ best GT drivers really since this race last year. With Corvette having been given a bit of BoP help this weekend (a 0.5 mm air restrictor increase and an increased fuel flow restrictor), it should help the team get back to its usual race winning contention.

Two sets of pairings – Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand (No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT) and Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims (No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM) – remain within striking distance in points at eight and nine points back (239-231-230) of the lead. The second Ford pairing of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook needs a bit more help at 14 points back.

Consistency has kept the Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3) pairing atop the GT Daytona charts despite not winning a race yet this year. At 15 points clear (254-239) of closest rivals Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating (No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3), it’d take a poor finish in the 16-car GTD class to see them lose their grip.

Paul Miller Racing won this race last year, the first and thus far only IMSA win for the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 in the hands of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow, but its post-qualifying technical violation has all but killed any championship hopes here.

Elsewhere Patrick Long is back alongside Daniel Morad in Alegra Motorsports’ No. 28 Porsche 911 GT3 R, as he was at Lime Rock, while the WeatherTech team continues with its Porsche for a second straight race, 3GT Racing keeps its revised Road America lineups, Michael Shank Racing keeps its revised Road America liveries (albeit with a new frame needed to replace the damaged No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 after accident) and Lone Star Racing continues with its Mercedes-AMG GT3, hoping to start its second race after being unable to with various mechanical niggles at Road America.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

“The layout at VIR is an excellent track that makes you feel like you’re really driving somewhere when you’re going around,” explained Mike Skeen, one of Lone Star Racing’s drivers, in this week’s Continental Tire pre-race advance. “It feels like someone just meandered through some fields on a tractor to plan the layout. The result is a great combination of technical corners and flowing, high-speed sections with over 130 feet of elevation change.

“There is plenty of runoff area for the drivers to work with, but all of that beautiful grass proved to be an issue last year for many people that went off course and then had to pit to clean out the grill to avoid overheating. There are also many curbs that we have to use to improve lap times, but they can cause problems if taken too aggressively when the air pressures in our Continental tires are too low.”

Cautions are generally a rarity here with only eight total caution laps over the last three years. Additionally, Lime Rock went caution-free, so it’ll be interesting to see if that cleanliness keeps up.

OTHER NOTES

  • While Tequila Patron ESM with its Nissan Onroak DPi (Pipo Derani) and Team Penske with its Acura ARX-05 (Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron) have kicked off the IMSA driver market silly season, Mazda Motorsports’ John Doonan provided an update on the Mazda Team Joest status in this week’s Sportscar365 podcast, linked here.
  • In the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, a 31-car field heads to VIR for this weekend’s race as well. The GS class points standings are particularly tight with points leaders Dylan Murcott and Dillon Machavern just four points ahead of Cameron Cassels and Trent Hindman, and eight clear of Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer. Miller, who with Danny Burkett took CJ Wilson Racing’s first GS win at this race last year, and his new teammate will have a revised Andy Blackmore Designs livery this weekend with new partner Unit Nutrition adorning the team’s No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
  • Military appreciation at race tracks is always a good thing, and will be part of this weekend at VIR. Operation Motorsport is partnering with the USO of North Carolina this weekend at the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, with the organization hosting 11 wounded soldiers and veterans from the surrounding Raleigh, Ft. Bragg area and embedding them within a few teams so that they can be part of a motorsports experience as a recovery activity. The organization’s website is linked here.

Vandoorne re-upped with McLaren for 2018

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Heading into his first home Grand Prix, Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne will continue with McLaren Honda into 2018. Perhaps more notable was the continued inclusion of Honda as well within the confirmation.

Vandoorne made his Grand Prix debut at Bahrain 2016 and scored a point filling in for Fernando Alonso. He now scored his first 2017 point last race in Hungary, ending 10th as he did in Bahrain.

The Belgian was always expected to continue and it’s been confirmed the team won’t waffle on that.

“I’m delighted that the team has now formally announced that I will continue to race for them next year, because I’ll be able to approach the second half of my rookie season with total focus on the job in hand: namely getting the very most I can out of my car, my engineers, and everything and everyone around me,” Vandoorne said.

“I’ve already learned such a huge amount in the first half of my first season in Formula 1 – from my engineers, from my mechanics, from Eric [Boullier], from Zak [Brown] and from Jonathan [Neale], and also from Fernando [Alonso], who is a brilliant driver and also an excellent team-mate.

“Last but not least, I want to say thank you to McLaren’s partners and fans for their loyalty and enthusiasm – they are the best in the business – and also to McLaren’s Executive Committee Principals, [Shaikh] Mohammed and Mansour [Ojjeh], who continue to put their faith in me.”

Boullier added, “When we announced at the end of 2016 that Stoffel would be a McLaren Honda race driver for 2017, we indicated that our plan was that he’d race for us for a number of years.

“That plan hasn’t changed, and I’m very happy therefore to be able to confirm that he’ll continue to race for us next season.

“Like all rookies, he’s had to learn a lot in the first half of his first Formula 1 season, but we have great confidence in him, and he’s getting better and better all the time. His team-mate is a tough opponent – that’s an understatement in fact, because he’s arguably the best driver in the sport today – but Stoffel’s robust talent and fierce ambition make us sure that he’ll achieve great successes with us in the future.”

Brown confirmed the multi-year number without putting a specific number down on it.

“Echoing Eric’s words, I’d like to add only that I regard Stoffel as a super talent – a future Formula 1 world champion in fact – and that’s why I’ve always been adamant that he should race for us on a multi-year basis,” he said.

“Before anyone asks me any questions about duration, we don’t want to go into that kind of confidential contractual detail, but let me put it this way: when we signed Stoffel, we intended that he would race for us for a significant number of years, and that remains our firm intention.

“We all know Stoffel’s potential, and when we have a package fast enough to win grands prix again – and we will – Stoffel will be in the right place to score his first Formula 1 victory.”

Alonso’s future, of course, remains a hot button topic set to be decided in September at the earliest.

Toro Rosso extends contract for technical director James Key

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Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key will continue with the team for the foreseeable future, following a contract extension announced on Tuesday.

Key joined the team in 2012 and has seen the Faenza-based squad solidify its role in the upper midfield, with occasional surprise finishes that have pushed the team near the top three or four teams on the grid.

“I am delighted to continue with Toro Rosso and remain part of the Red Bull family,” he said. “This is a team which I have great respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed working with for the past 5 years; now I look forwards to continuing our project into the future.

“STR is unique, facing the challenges of being spread over two countries and fulfilling the roles of both a team in its own right and an important part of the Red Bull driver program: they are challenges that the team takes in its stride and, whilst doing so, continues to grow and improve year on year.

“Most importantly, the people I have had the pleasure to work with at STR are second to none: professional, ambitious and focussed, they have all worked incredibly hard to improve the team’s performance and will continue that hard work with the same dedication and optimism in the coming years too. I would like to thank Franz Tost and Red Bull for their continued support and confidence. We have more work to do, and I look forwards to taking the next steps with Toro Rosso towards our goals.”

Team principal Franz Tost added, Formula 1 is a team sport, but one in which an individual can still make a difference. So far, in his time with us, James has proved that he can indeed make that difference, leading the technical side of the operation.

“Not only has he been adept at producing chassis-aero packages that are well regarded throughout the paddock, he has also shown the management skills necessary to get the most out of all the various departments that work together both here in Faenza and in Bicester. I am therefore delighted that James will be with us for the foreseeable future to continue this fruitful process.”