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GP2, GP3 titles set to be decided in Abu Dhabi

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While the battle for the Formula 1 drivers’ championship between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will take center stage in Abu Dhabi, two other titles are also set to be decided this weekend.

Both the GP2 and GP3 Series, the first and second rungs below F1 on the single-seater ladder, will crown new champions at Yas Marina as their seasons come to a close.

The battle for the GP2 title has been one of the closest in recent years, with Prema Racing teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Pierre Gasly set to lock horns at Yas Marina.

Giovinazzi heads into the final round with a seven-point lead over Gasly, with 48 on offer across the Feature and Sprint races at Yas Marina.

Red Bull junior Gasly had been in the running for a seat in F1 with Toro Rosso for 2017, but was passed over in favor of retaining Daniil Kvyat.

The Frenchman is expected to remain part of Red Bull’s plans, with a move into the Japanese Super Formula series being mooted for 2017.

Giovinazzi could become the first rookie since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009 to win the GP2 title, but his future is also unclear. The Italian is not affiliated with any F1 team, although he did recently enjoy a run in Ferrari’s simulator at Maranello. His next move, for now, is hard to predict.

An outsider for the championship is ex-Ferrari junior Raffaele Marciello, but the 39-point gap to Giovinazzi means the odds are stacked well against the Italian.

Both the feature and sprint GP2 races are live on the NBC Sports app this weekend.

GP2 Abu Dhabi – Live Stream Times

FEATURE RACE Saturday 11/26 10:40am ET – LIVE STREAM/NBC Sports app
SPRINT RACE Sunday 11/27 6:20am ET – LIVE STREAM/NBC Sports app

In GP3, Ferrari youngster and Haas development driver Charles Leclerc could wrap up the series title on Saturday thanks to his 29-point advantage heading into the final double-header round.

Leclerc has enjoyed an impressive year spearheading ART Grand Prix’s domination in GP3, taking three wins. His nearest rival is teammate Alexander Albon, while Trident’s Antonio Fuoco also stands a chance of winning the title in Abu Dhabi.

O Canada! Why plaid has been rad for Pfaff Motorsports at Daytona

Courtesy of IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In Canada, plaid is beautiful.

In the 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona, it’s also extremely fast.

Pfaff Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT3 R has been one of the most colorful sensations this January at Daytona International Speedway. The Toronto-based team has been a checkerboard blur of black and red in the GTD division, winning the pole position with Zacharie Robichon and leading the first four hours Saturday.

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But it also is turning heads with its stylish paint scheme and firesuits, all of which are in a classic plaid pattern.

The “Plaid Porsche” has a nice ring to it, and the team embraces the label even if its outfits might seem more appropriate for a grunge rock band or a lumberjack convention than an elite motorsports event.

“It’s great for people to call us that,” Robichon said. “You’re laughing about it, because it’s funny, but that means you’re talking about it.

“A lot of teams and car liveries, they all blend in together, and it’s a good way to stand out and a fun way to stand out. If you spend some time with the Pfaff Porsche team, you’d see a lot of guys are there and all happy to be there and everybody’s having fun. So having something that’s kind of funny and joyful associated with the team, I think is really good.”

The No. 9 team celebrated after Zacharie Robichon won the GTD pole at Daytona (courtesy of IMSA).

Car liveries typically offer a prominent display of a sponsor’s colors, and the team was able to incorporate the silver branding for new sponsor Motul on the lower rear of the car. “It was kind of best of both worlds,” Robichons aid. “They loved it because people talk about it.”

It’s the second consecutive year that the team has sported a plaid paint scheme at the Rolex 24. Last year, it took delivery on its car with only a week before the Roar before the Rolex test session.

The team was scrambling to assemble the car on Boxing Day in Canada (two days after Christmas) when Pfaff marketing director Laurance Yap was struck by a bolt of inspiration.

“All the crew guys at the shop, they were there over the holidays, and they were were wearing plaid because it’s just kind of what you do at home,” Robichon said. “In Canada it’s quite popular. I’ve got like six or seven plaid shirts, and I’m not embarrassed to say that. You go on a ski hill in the winter, and half the people, that’s what they’re wearing.

“It’s just something that a lot of people wear. We were trying to figure out what to do for the livery, and Lawrence said well, why don’t we just wrap the car in plaid. It was a joke, and we ran with it because we didn’t have any other ideas. And it was really only for Daytona, but everybody loved it, so we just had to stick with it for the whole year.

Zacharie Robichon

This year, Pfaff decided to up the game with plaid firesuits – and bringing the team in line with others that hail from the Great White North.

“The Canadian ski team has plaid jackets,” Robichon said. “Even curling in Canada, the guys wear plaid. If you’re not from Canada, you don’t necessarily make that association, but anybody who is Canadian immediately makes that connection, which is what we’re going for.”

Robichon, who hails from Ottawa and lives in Montreal, is the team’s only Canadian. But teammates Lars Kern (Germany), Dennis Olsen (Norway) and Patrick Pilet (France) have bought into the “plaid is rad” conceit.

“We adapted pretty quick,” Kern said. “We are not Canadian, but we feel like the Canadian national team, so it’s cool as a German to be on the Canadian national team.”

It would be even cooler for the Pfaff drivers if they can match their plaid garb with a Rolex watch.

Robichon liked the team’s chances after a strong week continued into Saturday’s green flag. After crashing and finishing 16th in class last year, he and his teammates managed to maintain pace and the lead through the first four hours.

“My job was to keep the car clean and out of trouble and play it safe with the traffic, and luckily we did that,” Robichon said after his first stint.

The No. 9 of Pfaff Motorsports started on pole in the GTD division of the 2020 Rolex 24.