Red Bull braced for F1 season of two halves in 2016

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LONDON – Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner anticipates a season of two halves in 2016 as the ex-world champions wait on progress from power unit supplier Renault.

2015 saw Red Bull ail to its worst F1 season in seven years as problems with the Renault power unit limited drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat to just three podium finishes in total.

Red Bull will race with Renault power units once again in 2016, albeit rebadged as TAG Heuer, and Horner expects progress to be more noticeable as the season wears on.

“We’re going into the year hopeful that we can make progress from where we were in Abu Dhabi,” Horner told reporters at Red Bull’s livery launch in London on Wednesday.

“I think it will be a year of two halves. I think the second half will be more competitive for us than the first half.

“Teams like Toro Rosso are going to make a big performance jump just by the change of power unit that they’ve adopted for this year. But we’re expecting steps to be made throughout the year.”

Relations between Red Bull and Renault soured dramatically in 2015 due to the issues with the power unit, but Horner believes the French manufacturer is addressing the right areas for the new season.

“I get the feeling that they have a much better idea of where their performance deficiency has been and what they need to do to address that,” Horner said.

“There seems to be a lot more confidence and focus, and I think with the bit of restructuring that they’ve done there, they’ve got some quality consultants in there now with plenty of experience.

“They’ve got Bob Bell back involved who obviously brings a lot of experience from Mercedes-Benz and obviously from a previous successful stint at Renault. So I think they’re addressing the right areas now.”

However, with a contract only lasting until the end of 2016, Horner confirmed that Red Bull would be exploring all possible avenues for future power unit supply.

“We have a contract to the end of 2016 and then everything’s open for ’17 and beyond,” Horner said.

“I’m sure we’ll monitor the situation with interest of how the engine is developing and what the other options are.”

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”