© GP2 Series

Matsushita secures McLaren F1 test and development role

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Honda youngster Nobuharu Matsushita has been named as McLaren’s test and development driver for the 2016 Formula 1 season.

Matsushita moved into GP2 last year after winning the Japanese F3 title in 2014, and claimed one race win with ART Grand Prix alongside McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne.

With Vandoorne moving into Super Formula after his championship success in 2015, Matsushita is expected to lead ART’s charge this year in GP2.

However, the 22-year-old will have to balance his on-track commitments with an increased role at McLaren that will see him offer support to race drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.

“This season I am ecstatic to be joining the McLaren-Honda F1 team as a test and development driver,” Matsushita said. “To step into the world of Formula 1 fulfils a boyhood dream, and is a huge step forward in my career.

“I will do the utmost to help the race team on the track, by gathering data to feed back into the development and set-up of the car through simulator work.

“Last year’s GP2 Series season was a steep learning curve for me. It was my first year racing in Europe, but, thankfully, my experiences with Honda’s young driver programme meant I was well prepared for the task ahead.

“As a GP2 Series driver, my sole focus for 2016 is to win the championship. I believe that I have the best package around me to succeed and reach my ultimate goal of becoming a Formula 1 driver.”

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier was pleased to welcome Matsushita on board, believing that he has plenty to offer the British team throughout 2016.

“Nobu’s first season racing in Europe showed great promise – he produced some extremely impressive performances, and with experience and consistency, will surely build on that potential in 2016,” Boullier said.

“His position as a McLaren-Honda test and development driver will be extremely important – he’ll underline and corroborate the learning we acquire at the track, and will play a key role in improving our performance throughout 2016.”

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994