Junior announcements aplenty in GP2, GP3, Formula Renault 3.5

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It has been a busy few days in the world of junior motorsport, with a number of driver announcements being made across the racing ladder.

Earlier today, we received confirmation that GP3 runner-up and former F2 champion Dean Stoneman has joined Red Bull’s junior programme for the 2015 season, securing a seat in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship with DAMS as a result.

What makes Stoneman’s story all the more incredible is the fact that he was fighting cancer just four years ago – a fight he won to resume his racing career. He is joined in the Red Bull junior programme by European karting champion Callum Ilott and the returning Pierre Gasly.

Besides Red Bull’s junior movement, here’s a quick run-down of the other announcements from the past few days:

GP2

  • Rene Binder (pictured) returns for a second full season in GP2, moving from Arden International to Trident where he will race alongside Ferrari junior Raffaele Marciello. “We met Rene at the end of the 2014 season and we appreciated the efficiency of his driving style, which is clean and aggressive,” Trident owner Maurizio Salvadori said. “The lap times set were extremely interesting.”

GP3

  • Campos Racing will make its debut in the GP3 Series in 2015, and has wasted little time in confirming the first of its drivers. Alex Palou and Zaid Ashkanani will both make their debuts in the series this year. Palou, 17, raced in EuroFormula last year, whilst Ashkanani won the Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East Challenge in 2014.
  • Alex Bosak of Poland will race for Arden in GP3 this year, as confirmed last week.

Formula Renault 3.5

  • As above, Dean Stoneman joins defending champions DAMS for the new season, racing alongside McLaren junior Nyck de Vries.
  • Meindert van Buuren joins Lotus for the new 3.5 campaign, racing alongside the returning Mathieu Vaxiviere.
  • Nicholas Latifi completes Arden’s line-up for 2015, joining Egor Orudzhev.
  • Alfonso Celis Jr. will be a busy boy in 2015, racing in both Formula Renault 3.5 and GP3. He was confirmed at AVF for the new season yesterday.
  • Roy Nissany, son of one-time F1 test driver Chanoch Nissany, will race for Tech 1 Racing in 2015.
  • Bruno Bonifacio graduates to Formula Renault 3.5 in 2015 with International Draco Racing, forming an all-Brazilian line-up alongside Pietro Fantin.

FIA F3 European Championship

  • Lance Stroll of Canada continues in the Ferrari Driver Academy, moving up into a seat at Prema Powerteam in the FIA F3 series after winning the Italian F4 title last year.
  • Callum Ilott graduates to single seaters with Red Bull backing, racing for Carlin.

Keep an eye out for some of these names as a few will undoubtedly be gracing F1 at some point in the future.

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.