Photo: BMW Motorsport

De Phillippi joins BMW Team RLL; Auberlen shifted to endurance role

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American rising star in the sports car world, Connor De Phillippi, will be back racing on U.S. soil full-time for the first time in six years in 2018.

De Phillippi joins his third different German manufacturer, BMW, for 2018 as part of BMW Team RLL’s full-season lineup next year.

He’s been a Porsche Junior prior to that, and achieved his most notable GT racing success with Audi and Land Motorsport. He and Chris Mies won the ADAC GT Masters title in 2016 and this year, De Phillippi was part of the winning lineup at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and at Motul Petit Le Mans.

“To be part of the BMW family is something I am very proud of,” said De Phillippi. “Driving for BMW Team RLL is quite an achievement for me and I hope I can add to the success of the team next year.”

Bill Auberlen’s role as a full-time driver has ended, with BMW North America confirming he’ll become a brand ambassador and drive in the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule. Auberlen signed off his role as a full-time driver as a winner in his 400th race for BMW, at Petit Le Mans.

“I am honored to have been asked to become a BMW NA Brand Ambassador and look forward to additional opportunities with BMW of North America,” Auberlen said. “First and foremost I am a racing driver and am looking forward to four races with BMW Team RLL in 2018. My goal remains to get to the top of the list in all-time North American sports car victories and I want that achievement to be shared with BMW. We are only three wins away. We have not yet determined what else I may be driving but every opportunity in a BMW racing car is a good one.”

John Edwards was listed to return too and the 2009 Atlantic series champion now is set to run his third different BMW GT model, suddenly the team’s senior driver in terms of car experience only at age 26. He’s been a part of BMW’s previous Z4 and M6 programs before the M8 GTE, which just completed its first U.S. test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“The M8 GTE will be the third racing car I will have driven for BMW Team RLL and so far I believe it is the coolest,” said Edwards. “I look forward to continuing the ongoing development of the car and getting its first victory sooner than later.”

Martin Tomczyk and Alexander Sims made their debuts with BMW this past season and would figure to complete the four-driver full-season lineup beyond the pair of Americans, although Tomczyk was mentioned but Sims wasn’t in this particular release.

With Auberlen as one of its endurance drivers and Kuno Wittmer a free agent, BMW has anywhere from one to three potential vacancies for endurance drivers at Daytona (depending on if the team runs three or four drivers per car), although it has a number of viable candidates given its upcoming M8 GTE program in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Team MTEK and its link-up with Andretti Autosport’s Formula E program, called MS&AD this season in deference to its title sponsor. That Formula E lineup sees Kamui Kobayashi and Antonio Felix da Costa in the two cars starting with this weekend’s Hong Kong season opener.

BMW Motorsport is set to reveal the rest of its 2018 program on Dec. 15, 2017 during BMW Motorsport’s annual Season Review banquet.

Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”