Vautier, Rosenqvist add sports cars to their plate in 2016

Photo: Team AKKA-ASP
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Tristan Vautier and Felix Rosenqvist – one driver who hopes to have some sort of Verizon IndyCar Series presence this year and another driver who was confirmed earlier this week for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season – will add sports cars to their plate in 2016.

The two will share the pro class entry Mercedes-AMG GT3 for the Team AKKA-ASP squad in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, as part of the Jerome Policand-led team’s three-car effort.

“The new element will be our pro crew, which will bring together two top drivers. Tristan Vautier, well-known to the team as he has raced with us in the Blancpain on a few occasions, will be joined by the reigning FIA European Formula 3 Champion, Felix Rosenqvist,” Policand said in a team release.

“These two drivers, both with brilliant single-seater careers, will face a heavy challenge up against the GT specialists. Tristan Vautier, an Indy Lights Champion and an IndyCar driver, has never hid his pleasure at racing in GT, and is already delighted to pick up this new challenge.

“His team-mate, Felix Rosenqvist, has an impressive single-seater career record at the age of just 24. He is the only driver to have won the major F3 events, namely the Macau Grand Prix (twice), the F3 Masters in Zandvoort (twice) and the Pau Grand Prix. These two young wolves should have great potential together.”

Vautier will have the month of May available for any Indianapolis 500 opportunities, should it arise. Last year, he was due to miss the race for a Blancpain GT commitment with AKKA-ASP, but wound up qualifying one Dale Coyne Racing car and racing another one.

For Rosenqvist, it will make for a particularly busy year, and fortunately for him there are no Indy Lights conflicts.

The 24-year-old Swede will have the full season with Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights – an 18-race campaign – and then the five-round Blancpain GT Series commitment, plus the testing and reserve role with Mercedes’ DTM program.

Rosenqvist is just off an Indy Lights test at Phoenix yesterday. Here was his initial comments:

Here’s the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup schedule:

  • April 8-10: Misano, Italy
  • May 7-8: Brands Hatch, England
  • July 1-3: Nürburgring, Germany
  • August 26-28: Budapest, Hungary
  • October 1-2: Barcelona, Spain

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

Rolex 24 Meyer Shank
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car.

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021). Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.