Porsche LMP1 team prepares to begin FIA WEC title defense

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It’s an interesting year ahead for Porsche as it prepares to defend two titles within the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Porsche Team, of course, won the final six races of the 2015 season – including the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the team’s third car of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber scoring a surprise but welcome overall win.

None of the three will have the chance to win overall this year – Hulkenberg is at the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan while Tandy and Bamber will be in separate Porsche 911 RSRs in GTE-Pro.

It’s the team’s World Championship-winning trio of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley, though, who will look to get off to a better start this year than last in their No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid. Their first win didn’t come until the 6 Hours of Nürburgring in July.

“We have had good tire testing, good endurance running and have improved constantly,” Bernhard said in Porsche’s advance release. “To me, Silverstone stands for heritage and driving fun. There couldn’t be a better track to kick off the season. In 2014 and 2015, our car missed out on a tiny bit of luck there, which hopefully will change now.

“Mark has won in every race category in Silverstone, so now it’s time he also gets a win there at the wheel of a prototype. Also Brendon has a great Silverstone tally. Let’s go now.”

Webber, as Bernhard noted above, has secured some famous wins at Silverstone in the past – notably his “not bad for a number two driver” crack after winning the 2010 British Grand Prix for Red Bull.

“The number one looks gorgeous on our Porsche,” Webber said. “It is the fruits of everything we have done last year, and we will have to work incredibly hard to keep it in our team. We’re super respectful of the opposition.

“Silverstone is a track on which you really can let fast cars like our prototypes go. I’m expecting a good crowd again for the season’s opening round, because the British fans like sports car racing a lot.”

In the second car, the No. 2 Porsche, Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb look for a more consistent challenge from a results standpoint.

Team principal Andreas Seidl outlined the technical changes to the revised Porsche 919 this year. A reduction in fuel consumption has posed challenges to the manufacturers, but they’ve all sought to get on top of them – times were close to last year’s pace at the Prologue test and only figure to improve from here.

“We have kept the car’s concept and thanks to this stability were able to develop the 919 in detail,” Seidl said. “Weight reduction and performance improvement from various components have made the 919 even more efficient. Suspension and aero development have meant better handling.

“For the first time we have a high downforce aero package in place for Silverstone circuit’s fast corners. In the previous years we had no resources to do that, because we focused so much on Le Mans. Since the 2015 WEC finale in November we have covered almost 23,000 kilometers [14,290 miles] of testing with the 919 in different specifications.

“It was partly endurance and partly performance testing. Also as a team we have improved over the winter. We are ready for the new season and excited to see were we stand compared to our competition.”

Porsche also has the GTE-Pro crown to defend, albeit with the Dempsey-Proton Racing team rather than a works run effort. Still, expect Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen to do well throughout the course of the season in their No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR in the seven-car class.

The Dempsey-Proton Porsche is the lone Porsche of seven; there’s two Ferraris, Fords and Aston Martins apiece.

Porsche also has three cars entered in GTE-Am. They’re listed below:

  • No. 78 KCMG Porsche 911 RSR, Wolf Henzler, Joel Camathias, Christian Ried
  • No. 86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR, Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker, Adam Carroll
  • No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR, Khaled Al Qubaisi, David Heinemeier Hansson, Klaus Bachler (substituting for Patrick Long)

While the Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche has a more traditional pro-am pro-Silver-Bronze lineup, the Gulf and KCMG efforts have deployed arguably questionably rated Silvers (rising pro stars without pro Gold or Platinum ratings) to fill out the lineups. Camathias and Barker wouldn’t be mistaken for amateurs as they’re decent shoes, with Barker in particular a young Englishman on the rise.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”