Ricciardo: Red Bull can take hope from Ferrari’s recent turnaround

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Daniel Ricciardo will head into the new Formula 1 season with few expectations and no assurances over the updates provided to Red Bull by engine supplier Renault following a difficult 2015 campaign.

Ricciardo scored just two podium finishes last year as Red Bull spent much of the year struggling to match its rivals for pace, largely thanks to the issues with its power unit.

Renault will continue to supply Red Bull this year, albeit with power units rebadged as TAG Heuer, and expectations at the team are for a better quality of engine that can propel both Ricciardo and teammate Daniil Kvyat up the grid.

When asked by MotorSportsTalk if Red Bull could take hope from Ferrari’s turnaround in fortunes and progress with its power unit between 2014 and 2015, Ricciardo said the team could, but with some caution over the promises made by Renault.

“I think we can. I guess the question is when. I’d like to think by the time we get to Europe we should be pretty competitive,” Ricciardo said.

“Getting a lot closer to Ferrari and ahead of Williams, but it’s one of those things.

“Last year we were supposed to have updates pretty regularly and they didn’t come on time, and when they did come they weren’t really giving us what we wanted.

“For that, I’m going to be quite reserved with my expectations. I think realistically it has to be better and I think it will.”

Ricciardo did tentatively set his sights on taking a fourth grand prix victory across the course of the 2016 season, feeling that Renault has more room for improvement than its rivals.

“At the end of the season, a victory,” Ricciardo said when asked what he hoped for in 2016.

“I’d love to say more but one would be a good start. Last year we just got two podiums. One victory should then mean a few podiums along the way. Victory in Monaco would be alright.

“Don’t get me wrong, a win is what I’d hope for. I say that thinking the season is long. If it comes, I don’t think it’s going to come straightaway. I think it has to be better, it’s just how much better again.

“First few races, I think it’ll be more or less like last year, but once we get into the European season we should start to really develop more. There’s a lot of room for improvement with the power unit, more than I believe Mercedes or Ferrari have.

“For that, if we can get the right sort of ingredients behind it, we should see a bigger step. I think it will come. We’ve obviously had a few years now of these power units so whatever got misunderstood last year, I think there’s been enough time to understand it for this year.”

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.”