Off season? What off season? 2017’s racing year starts next week

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The motorsport off-season is an ever-shrinking phenomenon.

While we’ve all enjoyed our fill of food and drink over the holiday period and enjoyed the other festivities that come with this time of year, those involved in racing will have been conscious that the new season is just around the corner.

And by ‘just around the corner’, I actually mean ‘next week’.

It doesn’t really feel like we’ve had much of a break from racing. The Formula 1 season came to a close in Abu Dhabi at the end of November, with the two weeks that followed then being consumed by the fallout from Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement.

Mercedes was then good enough to confirm that there would be no announcement until the new year, giving the media some respite over the holidays by removing the worry of Valtteri Bottas being named as Rosberg’s replacement while we were tucking into turkey.

But news has still been filing through in the meantime. Ferrari is already planning for 2017 by signing Antonio Giovinazzi as a third driver and confirming a date for its new car launch. Pirelli also got in on the act by confirming its tire picks for Australia and China.

Throw in announcements for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, more drivers signing up for the Race of Champions and even an IndyCar baby arriving, and you can see that December has still been a busy month for racing despite there being nothing of note on-track.

And so with January comes the start of another racing campaign, starting on January 2 with the fearsome Dakar Rally. Taking place in South America over a 12-day period, this battle of endurance will kickstart 2017 in motorsport.

Speaking of endurance, next weekend also marks the start of the American racing season with the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. The traditional three-day test ahead of the Rolex 24 will allow the field to dial in ahead of the twice-around-the-clock classic at the end of January.

Formula E also breaks from its winter slumber next weekend with the inaugural Vegas eRace, a unique event that will see the 20 regular drivers from the series go up against 10 of the world’s best sim racers for a prize pool totaling $1 million.

Besides the Rolex 24, the end of January will also see the Race of Champions take place in Miami, with drivers from a variety of disciplines going up against each other in a number of challenges for both individual and national honors.

Last year saw Sebastian Vettel take the drivers’ title in London, while Team GB was victorious in the team event. However, with a strong American presence from IndyCar, NASCAR and even rallycross in Miami, expect to see the star-spangled banner somewhere on the podium, if not the top step.

The European racing season may not truly burst into life until April, given the chilly climate, but the first major event takes place on the January 21-22 weekend with Rally Monte-Carlo, the curtain-raiser for the FIA World Rally Championship.

Following Volkswagen’s shock exit from the series, World Champion Sebastien Ogier has jumped ship to Ford’s M-Sport team. With new regulations and a number of rising stars in the series, the Frenchman will have a serious fight on his hands in his bid for a fifth title in 2017.

So as you can see, the off-season isn’t really ‘off’ at all. There’s always something going on – but would we have it any other way?

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.