Photo: CORE autosport

CORE autosport steps up to Prototype in 2018 with Oreca 07

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After a single year in the GT Daytona class with a Porsche 911 GT3 R, CORE autosport will return to its Prototype roots next season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and compete in the series’ highest level of competition.

The team announced Thursday an entry into Prototype for the 2018 season with an Oreca 07 chassis and the same driver lineup of Jon Bennett and Colin Braun. Prototype could well be in the mid-to-high double digit range at this juncture.

This will mean CORE autosport as a team will have run in Prototype, Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona, and also been involved in GT Le Mans as the operating arm of the Porsche North America program for its Porsche 911 RSRs.

CORE’s full release and quick video are below.

Five-time Prototype Challenge Champions CORE autosport will move to the Prototype Class for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with an ORECA 07 LMP2 and drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun.

CORE makes the switch to the P category after six seasons in the PC class (2011 – 2013 American Le Mans Series; 2014 – 2016 IMSA) and the current IMSA season in the GT Daytona class.

“Our start at CORE was with prototypes in 2010,” driver and team owner Bennett said. “It feels good to get back to our roots and progressing as a team.

“We’ve spent the past season watching with interest how the competition and budgets would shake out in the re-vamped Prototype category. We are encouraged to see the growth and competitiveness in this premier class and look forward to our debut at the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona.”

The Prototype class features both P2 and DPi-style cars racing together. The ORECA 07 LMP2 falls into the P2 group. CORE already has a successful history with ORECA, running the ORECA FLM09 chassis in all six years of its PC program.

“We are of course really happy to have CORE autosport joining the ORECA family in LMP2,” Hugues de Chaunac, President Group ORECA said. “Actually, it feels like the team is coming back home because of the long-term relationship we have since the involvement in Prototype Challenge. Jon Bennett, Morgan Brady and the whole CORE autosport team have done such a great job in IMSA that we are looking forward to working together with the ORECA 07.”

Both Pro-Pro and Pro-Am driver lineups are allowed in the Prototype class, which races at all the 2018 IMSA venues except for the GT-only events at Lime Rock Park and VIRginia International Raceway.

CORE will finish the 2017 season in GTD with the No. 54 Porsche 911 GT3 R, including this weekend’s Monterey Grand Prix and the Petit Le Mans season finale in October. The team expects to take delivery of its ORECA by the end of the year.

“We’ve enjoyed our experience in GTD with Porsche and expect the Prototype class to be no less competitive,” CORE COO Morgan Brady said. “The potential to win races like Daytona and Sebring, overall, is something we’re all looking forward to. No doubt this transition will be a lot of work, but everyone at CORE has proven time and again that they are up to the challenge.”

The 2018 IMSA season begins with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 25 – 28, at Daytona International Speedway.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.