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Smith: Verstappen’s Malaysia win just the start of his roaring 20s

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Whatever you were you doing the day after your 20th birthday, it’s unlikely to have been as cool as what Max Verstappen was up to.

Try and cast your mind back. You’ve got 30 seconds.

After a season full of frustration and underperformance, F1’s blinding-bright star reminded us once again of his incredible talent with one of the most convincing victories we have seen this year in Malaysia.

While his maiden victory on debut for Red Bull at the age of 18 at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix may have been down to a dose of good fortune, this was the opposite. On Sunday, nobody was in the same league as Verstappen at the front.

It is a daunting sign of things to come from F1’s next big superstar. If this is how he has started his twenties, how will he finish them?

Right, time’s up. What were you doing the day after your 20th birthday? Nursing a hangover? Attending college? Let’s put it in different terms: can you remember which F1 weekend was the first of your twenties?

Mine was not that long ago. I turned 20 one week before the 2015 Spanish Grand Prix, which also happened to be the race where I first really spoke with Verstappen, who was then just 17.

The hubbub around the Dutch youngster had been brewing for some time, with the concerns about his readiness for F1 evaporating within his first two races as he became both the youngest race starter and the youngest points scorer in the sport’s history.

Spain was my first race of the season that year, and after missing Verstappen at testing where everyone wanted to speak with him, I found myself only with a couple of other journalists for his regular media session at Toro Rosso after qualifying.

What struck me from the outset was how mature and confident Verstappen was when talking. He was able to switch between the finer technical details of his car setup to more general color questions easily, seeming more comfortable than many of his peers who find it something of a chore.

Verstappen was even happy to joke around as a leading F1 political writer tried to pin down his nationality – despite racing under the Dutch flag, Verstappen was raised and resides in Belgium – with the most telling of tests: by asking him how he ate his pomme frites. I noted he was sporting a shorter, streamlined haircut, which he said was part of Toro Rosso’s major update package for the start of the European season.

It’s simple, but this encounter was an early glimpse of Verstappen’s personality. He’s a breath of fresh air; a millennial for a sport that is desperately working to try and capture the millennial generation.

To think of where Verstappen may be at the time he turns 30 is quite scary. He is already in a top team and a proven race winner, not needing to spend those awkward few years trying to prove himself as others have tried (and often failed) to do. Red Bull appears to be on the rise, and even if concerns about a future Honda supply prove founded, Ferrari and Mercedes will surely be interested in his services.

The great names of F1’s recent era will soon start to disappear. Kimi Raikkonen will likely be the first, followed by Fernando Alonso. Lewis Hamilton will go after that, before finally Sebastian Vettel. Afterwards, Daniel Ricciardo will likely be the oldest driver at the front of the field, maybe followed by Valtteri Bottas.

Thereafter, we are firmly into the youngsters of today: the Esteban Ocons, the Stoffel Vandoornes. And, of course, Max – and you can be sure he is going threading right the way through all of these eras.

Naturally it all depends on the car and the experience of title fights in F1 (Verstappen still lacks the latter), but it does not seem to be a question of if he is world champion; instead when and how many times over.

Lewis Hamilton recently broke Michael Schumacher’s pole position all-time record and appears to stand the best chance of even getting close to his tally of 91 wins. He has always been racing for a top team and never had a winless season, but only debuted at 22. Verstappen has two years to get further ahead of the game.

If we’re looking for a driver to depose Schumacher as statistically being F1’s greatest of all time, it is hard to find a better candidate right now than Verstappen. The same is true for a driver to really represent the future of F1.

Verstappen will not be alone, though. There was a nice media session in Malaysia where Ferrari youngster Charles Leclerc was asked who he thought the ‘big three’ drivers in F1 would be in 10 years’ time. He said he hoped himself, currently 19, McLaren junior Lando Norris, 17, and of course Verstappen.

All three are very switched on and very relatable for young people today. They are all very active on social media, but very courteous and engaging in person. They know the importance of being personable. And of course, they are all extremely talented.

Sustained success through a long career is a rarity in F1. There will be challenges for Verstappen. He will lose titles and race wins; and, let’s not forget, he is still growing up and learning about the world in general. His race-craft is ever-evolving and still has a way to go, and he is not blameless for all of the on-track clashes this season. But he is showing all of the right signs to make the next decade of his life truly extraordinary.

Quite where F1 will be in 2027 is impossible to predict. But perhaps the biggest certainty is that Verstappen will still be around with his army of orange-clad Dutch fans in tow. One imagines they will have plenty to celebrate in the coming years.

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