Max Verstappen tests Zandvoort track that will host Dutch GP

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images for Red Bull Racing

ZANDVOORT, Netherlands — Max Verstappen tested his home Formula One venue Wednesday, taking a spin around the Zandvoort circuit to christen a track that has undergone major renovations for this year’s Dutch Grand Prix.

He liked what he saw at a track hosting a Formula One Grand Prix for the first time since 1985, thanks in no small part to the popularity of Verstappen among Dutch race fans.

“Yeah, it was really cool,” Verstappen said after seven laps that had workers in orange high-visibility jackets applauding in the main stand. “I think the track was already very nice to drive before but I think … the changes they made to the track makes it even more special.”

The Red Bull driver finished third in the championship standings last season behind Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and is hoping to break through the German team’s dominance this season.

In the past, overtaking was tough on the old Zandvoort circuit, where Niki Lauda won the last time it hosted a Grand Prix. Adding banking to two turns on the track, which snakes through sand dunes on the North Sea coast west of Amsterdam, should give drivers the chance to pass.

“I think the changes they did to the track they will definitely help for that, but to be honest I’m not thinking about that yet,” Verstappen said. “I think as a team anyway we have to target to try and be first, so we don’t need to overtake.”

Verstappen’s laps at Zandvoort came hours after seven F1 teams co-signed a statement opposing a confidential settlement between Ferrari and governing body FIA following an investigation into the team’s engine last season.

The settlement came after questions had been raised by teams and drivers as to whether the Ferrari car’s fuel-flow meter was bypassing the regulatory amount of 100 kilograms per hour. They argued that this may have been influencing Ferrari’s notably superior speed on long straights, and its run of six straight pole positions.

Verstappen didn’t comment on the teams’ statement but said: “I think in every sport you want to a level playing field.”

Another issue hanging over the start of this Formula One season is the coronavirus outbreak.

The Chinese Grand Prix that was scheduled for April 19 in Shanghai has already been postponed due to the outbreak that has its epicenter in China.

Verstappen said it is up to the sport’s governing body to decide what measures to take.

“I trust I fully trust them and everything they decide,” he said. “So, yeah, we rely on them and we just wait for all the decisions to be taken by them.”

The few hundred orange-clad workers on hand to watch the laps Wednesday were a fraction of the tens of thousands expected to descend on this small seaside town over the race weekend to watch their hero.

Verstappen said he would not let the weight of expectation change the way he prepares and races.

“I mean, yeah, there will be a lot of people supporting you,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I will always try my very best at every single Grand Prix. So for me, that doesn’t change anything in terms of preparation for this one, but of course, you want to have a good result.”

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”