Hembery: F1 drivers need higher profiles like those in NASCAR

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Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery has become the latest paddock figure to call for widespread changes in Formula 1, saying that drivers should enjoy the same kind of profile that they do in NASCAR.

Following the change to a V6 turbo engine formula in F1, many have called for the sport to become more aggressive and make radical changes for the 2017 season.

F1 is also dealing with a financial crisis at the moment, with the Marussia and Caterham teams collapsing during the 2014 season. Another three – Force India, Lotus and Sauber – are also known to be struggling.

Speaking to The Observer in the UK, Hembery said that big changes need to be made in F1 to give fans greater value for money and a better on-track spectacle.

“It’s not for us to tell people what should change, and how it should change, but change is needed,” Hembery said. “We’re anxious to understand what’s going to happen in 2017, when we will be looking at a new contract.

“We’d like to see what the plan is. We are in the entertainment business. Some people get ruffled by that idea, but if we don’t entertain people don’t watch us, and then the sponsors won’t come, and the cycle continues.”

Hembery suggested in the interview that F1 could hold a shorter sprint race on Saturdays to give fans more on-track action, moving away from the one-race model that has always been used in the sport.

“I thought qualifying on Friday night was a good idea, so you can actually win something, and the promoters have something to sell,” Hembery said. “Maybe a sprint race on the Saturday, an extra product, so Saturday fans actually see a result and podium places.”

The Pirelli chief also drew an interesting comparison with NASCAR, believing that the drivers are treated like superstars and racing heroes in a way that the F1 field is not.

“In NASCAR, the driver is the king,” Hembery said. “Even the guy at the bottom is a superstar with a multi-million dollar contract.

“I would love to see our drivers held in that esteem. In F1 the driver has to become an international superstar, like David Beckham.

“But we’ve got drivers who don’t understand why it’s crap to change a helmet every race, and moan and bitch about it.”

The idea of having racing ‘heroes’ is one that the sport’s supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, also recently touched on in an interview with the official F1 website. The 84-year-old believes that Lewis Hamilton is perhaps the only driver in the sport to truly embrace the fame that comes with being world champion, and would like to see more follow his lead.

“[Lewis] is visible – he is living the life of a true champion,” Ecclestone said. “He is no stranger to the red carpet which makes him a good ambassador for the sport, as he is world famous.

“And look at what he is doing on the track! I would go so far as to say that he will win his third title this year. I am positive about that.”

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

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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.”