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Once Massa leaves, F1 faces search for next Brazilian driver

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In the 68-year history of Formula 1 since 1950, only four countries have had representatives on the grid for at least 60 of those 68 years. The United Kingdom has had one all 68, the only country to do so, while Germany (64), France (63) and Italy (62) are next (a great overall grid, via the F1 Reddit page, is linked here).

Meanwhile the country that leads the way among all nations outside Europe, and fifth overall, is Brazil with 53 years represented on the grid.

Brazil has had at least one driver on the grid since 1970, with 1969 the last year there wasn’t a Brazilian racing in the sport. That 48-year active streak is second only to the U.K. among all nations.

Felipe Massa’s retirement in two races (which should be for real this time) will leave a gap to the next Brazilian driver, and it remains to be seen who will take up that mantle for the country that has given so much to the sport.

The country has provided eight total World Championships, third all-time only behind the U.K. (17) and Germany (12). The late Ayrton Senna won three titles, as did Nelson Piquet, with Emerson Fittipaldi winning two.

Massa’s famous last lap loss of the title at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix despite winning that race stands as the closest a Brazilian has come to matching the three legends from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as a champion.

Of course Massa and Rubens Barrichello enjoyed long careers of their own, each sort of taking up the mantle as the next primary Brazilian in the sport. Barrichello was thrust into carrying the torch after Senna’s passing in 1994, and then Massa flew the flag following Barrichello’s departure at the end of 2011. Fittingly, both have 11 career wins, Massa in 267 starts (270 entries) over his career that’s spanned from 2002 through 2017 (off in 2003) while Barrichello is F1’s all-time starts leader with 322 and 326 entries from 1993 through 2011.

The best hypothetical candidate would have been Massa’s similarly named countryman Felipe Nasr, but he faded out of F1 after a pair of tough seasons with Sauber in 2015 and 2016. He will now race full-time in North America next year, with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Options do exist to take up the mantle after Massa, but aren’t on the immediate horizon for 2018.

Pietro Fittipaldi might be the best hope, the grandson of two-time World Champion Emerson, with his success in the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship with Lotus coming only a few years after ending his NASCAR hopes. The 21-year-old, who was actually born in Miami, holds a 10-point lead over Russian driver Matevos Isaakyan before that series finale in Bahrain in two weeks’ time alongside the FIA World Endurance Championship. The younger Fittipaldi has six wins from 16 starts this year and could follow Emerson, Wilson and Christian as Fittipaldi F1 racers if he makes it, but he seems at least two years away at best.

The only active Brazilian in Formula 2 is Sergio Sette Camara, who completes his first season in the series this year. He ranks 12th in points, driving for MP Motorsport, with one sprint race win at Spa-Francorchamps. Sette Camara has tested an F1 car, with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2016, but was dropped from Red Bull’s Junior Team after 2016.

GP3 is also short on Brazilian drivers. The only active one there is 20-year-old Bruno Baptista, but his best finish is only 10th on two occasions. He ranks 19th in points, last among any who have scored this year.

Nelson Piquet’s son Pedro Piquet, the half brother of Nelson Piquet Jr., raced this year in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. The 19-year-old finished 14th in points with a best finish of second at the Norisring. That sort of result doesn’t scream a Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon or Lance Stroll, in terms of leaping from F3 to F1.

Like Italy before it, Brazil faces a potential drought on the F1 grid for at least 2018 and potentially years to come if none of these drivers can work their way into the F1 arena, likely as test or development drivers or via junior programs.

Italy, like Brazil, put a driver on the grid from 1970 onwards, but saw its representation fall off after 2011 at the end of Jarno Trulli’s career. It was only this year, when Antonio Giovinazzi made two starts with Sauber filling in for Pascal Wehrlein to kick off the year, that Italy was back represented behind the wheel.

Brazil now faces a similar shortfall and without a star with which to welcome home next year, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any adverse effect among Brazilian interest and at the Brazilian Grand Prix in years to come.

IMSA: Heavy news week leading into Thanksgiving holiday

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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After the weekend and before the Thanksgiving holiday this week, IMSA has rolled out a number of announcements itself, while IMSA could be set for further announcements in the weeks to come starting next week.

Here’s a roundup:

QUALIFYING AT ROAR SET FOR PIT POSITIONS, GARAGES AT ROLEX 24

Here are key notes from IMSA’s Monday release about how Sunday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 will take on a greater significance:

  • The pit boxes and garages each team will use during the Rolex 24 will now be allocated based on fastest qualifying times set during Sunday’s third and final day of the Roar. Each of the three WeatherTech Championship classes – Prototype (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – will have a 15-minute qualifying session on Sunday, Jan. 7.
  • The fastest-qualifying Prototype will receive the first pit box on pit lane starting at pit-in and also will be assigned to the first garage in the Prototype section of the WeatherTech Championship garage. The fastest GTD car will receive the second pit box on pit lane and the first garage in the GTD section, with the fastest GTLM car receiving the third pit box and the first garage in the GTLM section.
  • New for 2018 – P and GTLM will pit together under a full course yellow. Therefore, to give class separation in the pits, P and GTLM teams are assigned pit boxes to ensure they are separated by a GTD Team.

This, coupled with the addition of the first IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda one-hour, 45-minute race with two drivers, will make this a more shaken up Roar.

REGS, REGS, GET YOUR REGS

IMSA has released the Sporting and Technical Regulations for 2018 this week. The aforementioned note about P and GTLM teams pitting together is a change from P and Prototype Challenge (PC) class cars pitting together, with GTLM and GTD together as it was this year.

Restart procedures changed will see P cars moved to the lead ahead of GT cars; this created confusion at times throughout 2017 as sometimes another class leader in PC, GTLM or GTD had been the first car behind a pace car.

Each team will be limited to one car change in-season only, subject to “force majeure.”

On the off chance a driver is racing in two cars, his or her maximum drive time will be counted cumulatively between the two cars.

There are other tweaks, of course, but most are largely procedural or within the fine print.

RATINGS REVEALED

The good news with IMSA going down from four classes to three for 2018 is that only one designated pro-am class remains in the form of GT Daytona, which requires at least one Silver (or Bronze) full-season driver alongside the designated pro. Those sneaky “Super Silvers” remain an invaluable asset for using his or her results to their benefit.

The FIA released the initial driver ratings for 2018 this week with a few changes, some young pros going up from Silver to Gold and others getting their request to get downgraded from Gold to Silver approved. Drivers have a couple weeks to appeal if they so desire.

Here’s your friendly reminder of what drivers can be in what GTD cars for the first two races at Daytona and Sebring:

  • Daytona (5 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) or five (5) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.
  • Sebring (4 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.

MAZDA KEEPS ON TESTING, CLOSES ON ANNOUNCEMENTS

The Los Angeles Auto Show, held after Thanksgiving, is a likely landing spot for Mazda Team Joest to reveal, officially, its revised “Evo” version of the Mazda RT24-P and its driver lineup for the 2018 season. While most of the Prototype class lineups (DPi and LMP2-spec cars) have been revealed, Mazda’s has been an exception. In the interim, not long after its Daytona test late last month, they’ve also been testing at Sebring.

FROM SPACE CENTER TO DOWN UNDER

Jordan Taylor undertook testing of a different kind not long ago at, of all places, the Kennedy Space Center. One of this year’s Prototype class champions was undertaking a straight line test in his No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Taylor being Taylor, the moment couldn’t pass without him winning at social media (see third tweet).

Taylor goes from down a long runway to down under, visiting his first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship race this weekend at its season finale in Newcastle.

‘MAKING OF A CHAMPION’ PIECES ROLL OUT

The fourth installment of IMSA’s “making of a champion” series highlights Jordan Taylor, who co-drove with brother Ricky to the Prototype class championship this year. These two are part of four done by IMSA so far, along with Pato O’Ward (PC) and Christina Nielsen (GTD). More should follow in the coming weeks.

SPEAKING OF CHAMPS, HINDMAN, AGOSTINI, PRESTIGE WIN LAMBORGHINI WORLD FINAL

The Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Final was held last weekend at the Imola circuit in Italy and the American Prestige Performance team won the World Final overall, with co-drivers Trent Hindman and Riccardo Agostini.

The World Final brings together teams from North America, Europe and Asia that campaign the spec Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 in Super Trofeo regional competition. Hindman and Agostini got the weekend off on the right foot by winning the North American championship first, then followed it up at the World Final itself to topple all other domestic and international entries.

You might remember we profiled Hindman last month, as the 22-year-old’s star in the sports car world is clearly on the rise.

Somehow, someway, at the end of the day today we received the title 2017 Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Champions. Race 2 was not perfect and much more nerve racking than we would have hoped but fortunately in the end the job was done. I am honored to be sharing this with @rickyagostini as well as the entire @prestigeperfctr @waynetaylorracing team and I thank them for their incredible effort all year. With this result, we are the first ever American team to win the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Championship overall. 3/4 overall wins along with the Super Trofeo North America and World titles marks the end of a successful 2017 campaign. Back to reality tomorrow. Thank you all for following us along on this incredible journey.

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