Dennis: McLaren will cut the gap to Mercedes in Malaysia

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McLaren CEO Ron Dennis has said that he is expecting the team to make a gain of around half a second at the Malaysian Grand Prix in nine days’ time, sending out a warning shot to current front-runners Mercedes.

Following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix last weekend, McLaren drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button finished in second and third place respectively. Despite moving to the top of the constructors’ championship, the team was still a long way behind pace-setters Mercedes as Nico Rosberg won the race by over 20 seconds, enjoying an estimated one-lap advantage of around half a second, with Lewis Hamilton’s retirement being the only low point for the German team.

However, Dennis – who returned as CEO at the beginning of the year – is confident of cutting the gap to the German team at the next round in Malaysia (March 28-30).

“I’m very pleased with the changes that have been made over the last couple of months and the outcome I think is very positive, so let’s see where we are in a month or two,” Dennis explained to reporters, reflecting on the team’s worst season in over 30 years in 2013 that sparked a number of changes at Woking, such as the departures of Sergio Perez and Martin Whitmarsh.

“We’re confident that we will be half a second quicker at the next grand prix for a variety of reasons,” he added. “That’s not going to be enough to achieve our goal but that will keep the pressure on the teams that are chasing us.”

The result in Australia saw McLaren beat its best result from 2013, having failed to reach the podium across the course of the season. It marked a highly impressive first race for Danish youngster Kevin Magnussen, who scored the best debut result since Jacques Villeneuve in 1996 with second place.

Although the MP4-29 car may not quite be on par with the Mercedes W05, the team is certainly ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull. However, such a huge improvement in pace may be difficult to produce, but we will see in Sepang whether Dennis’ faith has been well-placed in the new upgrades.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”