Formula 1 2017 team preview: Scuderia Toro Rosso

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Scuderia Toro Rosso continued to battle away in Formula 1’s midfield last year and offered glimpses of a team that could move up the pecking order – but once again ailed to P7 in the standings.

Carlos Sainz Jr. remains one of F1’s brightest young talents, while Daniil Kvyat managed to recover from his Red Bull demotion and mid-season plight to bounce back later in the year.

With a young, dynamic driver pairing and a car with noted similarities to the offering from defending champion team Mercedes, can Toro Rosso move up the field this year?

DRIVERS

26. Daniil Kvyat (Russia)
55. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spain)

CAR

Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12

ENGINE

Renault R.E.17 (may be rebadged)

TEAM CHIEFS

Franz Tost (team principal)
James Key (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: Scuderia Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost, Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz of Spain and Scuderia Toro Rosso and James Key, Technical Director of Scuderia Toro Rosso unveil the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 in the pitlane during previews to F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 26, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Despite winding up seventh in the constructors’ championship and missing out on the elusive top-five dream, Toro Rosso had a pretty decent 2016 by most accounts. Following the decision to switch to year-old Ferrari power units, (wrongly) believing them to be better than current-year Renault offerings, to only score four less points than 2015 was good going. Carlos Sainz Jr. was a shining star yet again, and was unlucky not to hit the podium. Daniil Kvyat bounced back after his mid-season demotion and looked more collected come the end of the year, back to his former self.

What went wrong in 2016: Yet again, Toro Rosso failed to break into the upper end of the grid. The team seems to head into every year targeting a top five finish, and always falls short. It was the third year in a row the team had finished seventh, despite having a solid design team and two quick, young drivers. It was a good effort from what is a B-team, yet still some way off what is really possible.

What’s changed for 2017: The most noticeable change for Toro Rosso is the livery. Gone are the traditional dark blue and burgundy colors that made it a challenge at times to tell the cars apart from the Red Bulls. Instead, a slick blue, silver and red livery has been introduced, which has proven to be a real hit. Toro Rosso has kept a hold of technical guru James Key, who noted that his STR12 design was similar to that of Mercedes’ W08 car, while Sainz and Kvyat return once again.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: The same thing the team looked to accomplish last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year befo- you get the idea. Yes, a top-five finish will be the target this season. The return of on-year power units from Renault means that Toro Rosso will no longer fall far behind in the later stages of the season, so this should give Sainz and Kvyat more of a chance to fight at the front. For Sainz, the battle will be to impress the top teams so he can get a bigger seat; for Kvyat, his mind will probably be on survival once again with Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 08: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 on track during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 8, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: If the mantra of a pretty car being a fast car is true, then Toro Rosso should sweep to both titles this year. Somehow, I think that won’t be the case. Toro Rosso can definitely get in the mix in the midfield, perhaps even with the likes of Force India and Williams. The STR12 looks good, and the comparison to Mercedes of massive interest to the paddock. With the right car, Sainz has a chance to make his name this year much as Sebastian Vettel did with Toro Rosso in 2008 – and maybe Kvyat can remind the world that he has the makings of a very competent grand prix racer.

Tony DiZinno: The livery’s flashy, the lineup’s solid, and the James Key-penned car looks sorted for most everyone’s favorite B-team in Scuderia Toro Rosso. With the livery shift and the retention of the ridiculously good Carlos Sainz Jr. along with the experience of Daniil Kvyat, there’s a festive flair around Toro Rosso that they’re finally poised to emerge from Red Bull’s shadow. I could see an outside shot of a podium happening at least once, with a handful of top-fives and consistent top-seven or eighth-place finishes helping propel the team into the top six, potentially top five, on the grid.

Kyle Lavigne: Scuderia Toro Rosso appear to have a solid chassis, though reliability with Renault’s power unit is a big question mark. Still, one the big storylines with this team is its driver lienup, as Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat retain their seats, but both could be on thin ice. Toro Rosso has a history of moving on from young drivers who are underperforming. While Sainz Jr. did well to finish 12th in the 2016 driver’s championship, buoyed by two sixth-place finishes in the final four races, he would do well to consistently challenge to be in Q3 of qualifying along with being a regular points scorer. For Kvyat, he’ll need to rebound from a terrible 2016 season that saw him demoted from the Red Bull ‘A team’ to its ‘B team’ five races in. If he struggles in the same he way he did in the second half of 2016, Kvyat’s days as a Formula 1 driver could be numbered.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1. The WTR car was forced to retire and finished ninth overall (sixth in DPi).

“I’m simply devastated with the ending,” Albuquerque said in a release. “I really think we were doing a perfect race and unfortunately the last pit stop wasn’t great for our side. Obviously, when you start on pole and up front, you always have a little bit of an advantage. Traffic always benefits the guy leading, and it got me big time there. Passing a GT car and I don’t think he saw me and the level of risk was high. We touched and my car was damaged and it was over for us. It was a bit inglorious to finish like that.”

Said teammate Ricky Taylor, who started third but had to pit on the second lap after a spin in qualifying damaged his tires: “I couldn’t be more proud to be teammates with Filipe. He gives everything and we wouldn’t be in this position in the championship without him. We take risks and I don’t even think what took us out was even a risk. He was fighting for the win and I had no doubt that he was going to pass the 60 car if he had the chance.”

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

Said Jarvis in a release: “Full credit to the entire team and for Meyer Shank to come away with victory and the championship, that’s something really special. We won the two that counted most and the championship. This race definitely was not easy and there were moments where I thought this could end badly, but the car really came alive at night. Tom did an amazing job at the end of the race there.”

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Congratulations to Mike Shank for winning the drivers’ and teams’ championships,” team owner Wayne Taylor said in a release. “What can I say. We thought we had it, but didn’t. Everybody gave it their all.”

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”