Manor makes breakthrough with first 2015 on-track running in Malaysia

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After surviving administration and the sale of most of its assets over the winter, Manor Marussia F1 Team claimed a significant victory in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix today by completing its first on-track running of 2015.

The ex-Marussia operation was revived in the off-season thanks to fresh investment and the efforts of the management at Dinnington to get the team back on the grid in 2015.

Despite traveling to Australia for the opening race of the 2015 season two weeks ago, Manor did not participate in any of the race weekend sessions as it continued to work on rebuilding its cars and readying them for running.

However, the team made an early statement in Malaysia by heading straight out at the beginning of the first free practice session, and went on to complete 34 laps in total on Friday.

“We are thrilled to be back on track again, finally seeing all the hard work and determination paying off,” team principal John Booth said.

“I’m very satisfied with what we have achieved today. On what has essentially been a shakedown and practice day – which the other teams completed a couple of months ago – we’ve achieved 34 laps of reliable running and that is a really good effort when one considers the problems teams typically encounter on the opening day of running a car.”

Booth also believes that drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi will have no problem in qualifying for the race on Sunday. Both drivers must record a lap time that is within 107% of the quickest time in Q1 to secure a place on the grid on Sunday.

“We were also encouraged by our early pace in relation to the 107% rule and solid performances by both drivers on their first day in the car,” Booth said.

“Of course, there is a huge amount of work still to be done, both here in Malaysia and ahead into the season, but we’ll take some reward from the day nonetheless. Most importantly, we are back doing what we do best – racing.”

Stevens was pleased to get behind the wheel of an F1 car for the first time since last November’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he made his debut in the sport for the now-defunct Caterham F1 Team.

“It’s really nice to be back in a Formula 1 car and to get down to the business of racing,” Stevens said. “The day ran very smoothly versus our planned programme and I’m particularly pleased that my times in both sessions were inside the 107%.

“Considering how little running we have done, today is a really good step and my thanks to the team for a tremendous effort. We’re not under any illusions about the challenges that lie ahead though and we have a busy night in front of us to work through the data to try to improve and set ourselves up for the best showing possible tomorrow.”

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”