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

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.