Photo courtesy of IMSA

Sharp, Patron ESM enter “immensely different” second WEC season

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The 2016 season couldn’t have started any better for Tequila Patron ESM, with overall wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.

Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani spearheaded the driving lineup, along with solid performances from Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek with Ed Brown also completing minimal laps in the team’s No. 2 Ligier JS P2 Honda.

Things will be a tad different once they head from North America into the FIA World Endurance Championship, for the team’s second season in the LMP2 class.

The Ligier JS P2s that they ran from Spa onwards last year are now a tried-and-true package, after a scramble to build the cars to even ensure they were ready for Spa. The Ligiers were the third different chassis the team used last year, after the HPD ARX-04bs at Daytona and previous generation HPD ARX-03bs at Sebring and Silverstone.

For 2016, the team has Nissan engines replacing Hondas, a primarily French crew from OAK Racing (Onroak Automotive) on board and a slightly altered driver lineup. Sharp, van Overbeek and Brown will continue in the team’s No. 30 car with Derani, Ryan Dalziel and Chris Cumming in the No. 31 car.

“It’s gonna be really competitive. I’m excited with the moves we made,” Sharp, also the team owner, told NBC Sports at Sebring. “I think the Nissan engine is the one to run in the WEC from a weight perspective.

“The big move for us is collaborating with Onroak and their car, with the success they’ve had already to go testing in (Motorland) Aragon. It’s so smooth and orchestrated, it should be a solid season.”

The team has tested there and at Circuit Paul Ricard for the Prologue in late March.

As Sharp explained it, despite those differences, familiarity in knowing the tracks and process should make things better this season.

“It’s immensely different. It was a such a cluster for us last year,” Sharp said. “Three different chassis. Going to all these new tracks.

“As a driver with a lot of experience, I’d been to the tracks here so many times. Elkhart (Lake, Road America), it’s like I’ve been there 20 times. For us it was almost like a young driver going to tracks against guys that know it so much better. That’s what we did last year.

“It was so frustrating, because you’d spend all week learning and understanding and playing catch-up. Now it’s like, you want to hit the rewind button and be like, ‘Can we start over now?’ For us, it should be so much easier this time around.”

Sharp also said Patron ESM has played by the rules with proper gentlemen Silver-rated drivers, in Brown and Cumming, while other teams have opted for the “fake Silver” to fill out the car’s lineup to the regulations.

“There’s five or six really strong combinations at least. One factor people are talking about is we have two legitimate Silvers, whereas some cars have a Silver in, and a lot of organizations wouldn’t rate them a Silver.

“But here we’ve got two different things completely compared to the U.S. We’ve got different engines and tires on the car, and we’re stoked to get it going.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).