As Alonso nears the Ferrari exit, Bianchi awaits his chance

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Marussia’s Jules Bianchi has said that he is ready to step up to a full-time race seat at parent team Ferrari if star driver Fernando Alonso leaves the Italian marque at the end of this season.

Speculation about Alonso’s future has been rife for some time, with a move to McLaren being hotly tipped after five seasons with Ferrari that have failed to yield a third world championship for the Spaniard.

Although McLaren is by no means a front-running team at the moment, the return of Honda as an engine supplier in 2015 is thought to be a big lure for Alonso, with the Japanese manufacturer highlighting him as the perfect driver to lead its return to F1 after six years away.

During a press briefing on Thursday ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, Alonso said that he would do what is best for Ferrari when making a decision about his future.

“I will do the best for Ferrari,” he said when asked about a move to McLaren for 2015. “I always put the interest of the team and the Tifosi [Ferrari’s fans] as well as this big brand that is bigger than any of us in front of my own interests. If there is something to talk about in the future and something better for Ferrari, then I will do whatever.

“I’ve been in this [team] five years, giving everything in the track and the numbers speak for themselves. Outside the track – sometimes it was public sometimes it was not – my priorities are always in the best interest of Ferrari.”

He went on to say that he was aware of the rumors surrounding his future, and that they were making him feel uncomfortable.

“I’m not living out of the world, so I’m aware of all the rumours every day that come out,” he said. “It’s not helping, as I said in Singapore, we are in the middle of a fight with Williams in the constructors’ championship and I would like to help Ferrari to the maximum.

“This is the first priority for me – on the track side to help the team – and my second priority will be my future if there is anything to talk about.”

According to veteran journalists Leo Turrini and James Allen, the relationship between Alonso and the team has soured drastically in recent weeks, with both parties looking for a change. As a result, Alonso could be released from his contract one year early, thus opening the door for a possible move back to McLaren for 2015.

For Ferrari, losing Alonso may appear to be a blow, but it is in fact part of a plan to make a fresh start for 2015. After six years without a championship, there have been a number of changes at Maranello in 2014. Team principal Stefano Domenicali was the first major casualty back in April, but the biggest departure has been that of the marque’s president, Luca di Montezemolo, who confirmed after the Italian Grand Prix that he would be resigning. His exit may have been the final nail in the coffin for the Ferrari-Alonso partnership.

So in a complete change of wallpaper, Bianchi – who has been a member of Ferrari’s driver academy since 2009 – could be set for the chance of a lifetime by moving up to the Scuderia alongside Kimi Raikkonen for 2015.

“Of course I feel ready,” Bianchi said. “I have been working on that since I joined the academy in 2009.

“Now I have done nearly two seasons in Formula 1. I have good experience and feel ready for that. It looks like the logical step for me if something happens.

“Obviously at the moment both drivers have a contract so it’s not a question but if there is an opportunity I think it will be good for me and I feel good.”

As Allen suggests in his article, another option for Ferrari could be Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel as the German driver becomes increasingly uncomfortable at Milton Keynes. However, it may be that they look to draft in the four-time world champion upon the expiration of his current deal with Red Bull, which coincides with the end of Kimi Raikkonen’s contract at the end of 2015.

Silly season has raged on across the course of the summer, but we may be approaching the crescendo that answers all of our questions.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.