Photo: Team AKKA-ASP

Serralles, Marciello land AKKA-ASP Mercedes seats in Blancpain GT

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Two drivers who’d come close to reaching their respective top levels in open-wheel – Felix Serralles and Raffaele Marciello – have instead gone the sports car route for 2017 having been confirmed at Jerome Policand’s Team AKKA-ASP for the upcoming season in the Blancpain GT Series.

The two drivers will be split in a pair of Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars for both the Endurance Cup and Sprint Cup races, Serralles with Dani Juncadella in the No. 88 car and Marciello with Michael Meadows in the No. 90 car. Tristan Vautier (No. 88) and Matthias Lauda (No. 90), both of whom have full-season appointments in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship, respectively, are the third drivers for these two PRO class entries at Endurance Cup races.

Serralles enjoyed a particularly busy offseason with his first test in both an IndyCar with Andretti Autosport at Sebring International Raceway, and in an Oreca 05 Nissan LMP2 car with G-Drive Racing (with Jota Sport running the operation) at the FIA WEC end-of-term rookie test in Bahrain.

After two years in Indy Lights, first with Belardi Auto Racing and then with Carlin, Serralles won a few races but was ultimately in the eye of the storm at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season finale when he pulled aside to allow Ed Jones through to score enough points for the title. The Puerto Rican needed to sort his own future for 2017, and now has.

Marciello was at a similar open-wheel crossroads after his stint in Ferrari’s Young Driver Academy ended. Three seasons in GP2 where he struggled to properly contend for a championship saw him score only one win and finish at best, fourth in the standings. Marciello also had a handful of race weekends as third driver with Sauber F1 Team in 2015, but never competed beyond a practice session.

Juncadella has previous touring car experience in DTM and also did a handful of free practice sessions in F1 with Sahara Force India. Meadows has both single-seater and GT experience. Interestingly, Juncadella beat Marciello to the 2012 Formula 3 Euroseries title.

The full Team AKKA-ASP roster is below. Testing takes place in Paul Ricard March 13-14 with the seasons opening at Misano April 1-2 (Sprint) and Monza April 22-23 (Endurance).

Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup

PRO category
#90 Raffaele MARCIELLO (ITA) – Michael MEADOWS (GBR) – Matthias LAUDA (AUT)
#88 Felix SERRALLES (PRI) – Daniel JUNCADELLA (ESP) – Tristan VAUTIER (FRA)

Pro-AM category
#87 Jean Luc BEAUBELIQUE (FRA) – Mauro RICCI (ITA) – Jules GOUNON (FRA)
#89 Daniele PERFETTI (SUI) – Alex FONTANA (SUI) – Ludovic BADEY (FRA)

Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup

PRO category
#90 Raffaele MARCIELLO (ITA) – Michael MEADOWS (GBR)
#88 Felix SERRALLES (PRI) – Daniel JUNCADELLA (ESP)

Pro-AM category
#87 Jean Luc BEAUBELIQUE (FRA) – Jules GOUNON (FRA)
#89 Christophe BOURRET (FRA) – Jean-Philippe BELLOC (FRA)

Blancpain GT Sport Club

#72 Anthony Pons (FRA)

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”