Gustavo Menezes put on a spectacular show for the appreciative home crowd in last weekend’s 1,000 Miles of Sebring – round six of the fiercely-disputed 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – but mechanical woes ultimately denied the talented young American a popular podium result.
Gustavo Menezes made history at Silverstone last weekend (17-19 August), becoming the first American driver ever to win a race outright in the fiercely-disputed FIA World Endurance Championship courtesy of a scene-stealing back-to-front charge through the field.
Competing for Rebellion Racing, Menezes – the 2016 FIA WEC Champion and Le Mans winner at LMP2 level – is swiftly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with this season in the headlining LMP1 class of sportscar racing’s premier global series. Following consecutive third-place finishes at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans, the talented young Californian travelled to the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ – a circuit at which he has always excelled – fired-up to maintain his rostrum run. Menezes duly set the fastest lap time of the six Rebellion drivers in free practice – his team-mates notably including overall Le Mans winners and World Champions Neel Jani and André Lotterer – and in FP1, he even outpaced three of the factory Toyota drivers for good measure, Formula 1 hero Fernando Alonso amongst them.
The highly-rated Santa Monica native subsequently partnered Mathias Beche in qualifying to put the No.3 Rebellion-Gibson R-13 prototype fifth on the starting grid for the six-hour showdown, as he once more circulated quicker than any of his stablemates – this time, to the tune of nearly eight tenths-of-a-second.
Mere moments into the race, however, Beche found himself turned around by Stéphane Sarrazin in one of the SMP Racing cars – for which the Frenchman received a drive-through penalty – sending the Rebellion plummeting down the order to the very foot of the field. In front of an enthusiastic crowd of more than 60,000 spectators, the Swiss ace immediately initiated what would turn into a spectacular recovery drive, and when he handed over to Menezes at the end of an action-packed opening hour, the crew were up to fifth. His 23-year-old team-mate continued to chase down the sister Rebellion in third and the SMP in fourth, consistently closing the gap as he produced a series of scintillating lap times rapid enough to rival those of the race-leading Toyotas. All of that good work looked to be for nought, though, when an ill-timed safety car intervention shortly before mid-distance dropped the No.3 entry almost a full lap behind its two adversaries, and it required a herculean effort from Beche, Thomas Laurent and Menezes to haul the car back into podium contention.
After Laurent shook off the SMP threat, 2016 FIA WEC ‘Revelation of the Year’ Menezes returned to the cockpit for the final hour, and he had more than halved a 1m12s deficit to Jani when the latter was forced into the pits with 15 minutes remaining to fix a defective rear light, prompting a switch in positions.
The Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé went on to take the chequered flag third, but when both Toyotas were later disqualified following technical checks, Rebellion became the first privateer team to win an FIA WEC race outright since 2012 – vaulting its No.3 driving trio to within two points of the World Championship lead.
In evidence of the key role he played in the result, Menezes completed four of the nine stints himself and posted a best lap time almost half-a-second out-of-reach of anybody else – making him the fastest Rebellion driver weekend-long in another supremely impressive performance.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” enthused the former Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner. “I haven’t felt this happy for so long. It’s my first win since COTA last year, and it feels very special. Having spent a while living in the UK during the earlier stages of my career, Silverstone is something of a ‘home’ track for me and it’s a great feeling to take my first LMP1 victory there.
Obviously it wasn’t the ideal way to do it, but ultimately, winning a race is winning a race, no matter how it comes and we will grab this result with both hands. All the boys at Rebellion have worked so hard to get the whole LMP1 project off the ground and to develop the car to the stage where it is now, and they really deserve this one-two finish. I’m immensely proud of everybody involved in the programme.
The race certainly wasn’t without its dramas and setbacks for us, from the contact at the start to the safety car appearance midway through that threatened to derail our podium challenge altogether. That was hugely frustrating. I was in the car at the time and making inroads into the battle for third, when the leading Toyota went by to lap us literally seconds before a Full Course Yellow was thrown, which left us virtually an entire lap behind the two cars ahead. After that, I had no choice but to get my head down and push like hell, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
The pace was really good in my first two stints, and the team asked if I would be fit to get back into the car for the race’s final hour. It’s always an honour to be offered the opportunity to bring it home, so I said, ‘let’s give it a shot’. In the meantime, Thomas had cleared the SMP and slashed the gap to third place from more than 1m40s to 1m12s, which remained a tremendously tall order but I knew I just had to dig as deep as I could and see what was possible. The R-13 felt incredible, which allowed me to quickly settle into a really strong rhythm and I’d got the difference down to only 26 seconds when Neel hit trouble.
The Equivalence of Technology regulations still evidently aren’t where they need to be, but all we can do is keep performing to the best of our ability and hope the FIA and ACO address the situation. As a team, there’s no question that we’re more competitive than we’ve ever been, with all three drivers working together extremely well. Ultimately, we know we gave it absolutely everything at Silverstone, and to have fought through the field from the back of the pack to win the race is nothing short of mind-blowing…”
Jaden Conwright is remaining level-headed as he prepares to make his debut in the inaugural F3 Asian Championship certified by FIA at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia this weekend (13-15 July), after lapping an encouraging second-quickest in the official pre-season test.
The first driver to commit to the all-new series back in May, the American teenager will compete for Absolute Racing behind the wheel of a high-performance, 270bhp single-seater, with a grid of 17 drivers representing ten different teams confirmed for the fast-approaching curtain-raiser. Conwright – a former World Speed Motorsports Rising Star Award recipient, rookie class podium-finisher in the fiercely-disputed Italian F4 Championship and Carlin Academy member – tested for Absolute Racing in Shanghai last winter, impressing the multiple race-winning outfit with both his strong work ethic and pace.
The 19-year-old carried that eye-catching form over to this week’s group test at Sepang, lapping inside the top four more often than not and placing an excellent second in the final session – arguably the most representative given that all competitors were on new tyres at the same time. The only driver to go quicker was Jake Hughes – a man with race-winning credentials in both the GP3 Series and FIA Formula 3 European Championship – leaving Conwright feeling quietly confident ahead of the opening round.
“It was good to finally be back at a race circuit as a driver, and now I can’t wait to return to the cockpit for the weekend,” the Californian enthused. “I’ve always followed Asian motorsport closely, and I’m really happy about what the FIA has managed to pull together in just a few months. The car looks amazing and the championship itself is going to be very competitive. The overall level of the teams is very high and most of the drivers have a lot of experience, with some of them arriving from really prestigious series.”
“That is a great source of motivation for me and for Absolute Racing. We share a common goal – since my first test with them, I had no doubt this was the best team for me at this stage in my career. They are ultra-professional and extremely structured and efficient, and we felt a great chemistry and synergy straightaway.
It’s still too early to fully assess where we are at the moment, but the team have been working like crazy to put the cars together so I’m pleased we didn’t encounter any issues during the test and now the guys can rest a little before the weekend. I literally cannot thank them all enough for the support they have given us. We spent the two days learning the car and seeing how it behaves in different weather conditions. There were some ups-and-downs, but at the end we managed to produce some good performances, which is obviously positive. It was cool to see my name in second position between drivers like Jake Hughes and Raoul Hyman, but this is only testing and we need to keep our feet on the ground.
I will enter the first race weekend aiming for a strong result, but not expecting it. The championship will be very strong and very close, so remaining focussed and continually looking for ways to improve will be the best approach. There are a lot of uncertainties with a brand new series and a new car, but the objective has to be to hit the ground running from day one.”
The 2018 F3 Asian Championship will take in 15 races spread across five rounds – to be held at Sepang as well as China’s Ningbo International Speedway and Shanghai International Circuit between now and the end of November.
The region’s first F3 series to be officially sanctioned by world motorsport’s governing body will form part of the FIA’s new open-wheel ladder of progression, with the top eight drivers in the final standings all earning points towards qualification for a Formula 1 superlicence. In evidence of its stature, competitors will accrue the same number of superlicence points as their counterparts in the likes of the DTM, Super GT and World Touring Car Cup.
Having nurtured Conwright through the formative stages of his career in America and Europe, Williams-Harfield Sports Group Director Chris Harfield is convinced that his highly-rated young protégé has what it takes to make a real name for himself in the burgeoning new series.
“We were already considering a programme in Asia for Jaden in 2018, and when we heard about the inaugural F3 Asian Championship, we had no doubts this was the path to take,” he explained. “The new engine and chassis package is a big step forward for the series, and championship organiser Top Speed has demonstrated a solid understanding of the motorsport industry.
The FIA has pushed a lot with this project and we believe we will see more and more drivers and teams racing in this part of the world. The Asian market is currently booming and we haven’t yet seen its full potential.
Since we started working with Jaden, he has grown and developed both on and off the track and we cannot wait for this exciting new adventure to begin. During the last two years, Jaden focussed on the consistency of his performances, while always aiming higher. Collaborating with top-flight teams and organisations has given him the opportunity to compare himself against some of the best junior drivers in the world and he is ready for this next chapter.”
“A new championship always brings with it new challenges, but we are confident that both Jaden and Absolute Racing have the hunger and determination to make this season a success.”
The inaugural F3 regional Asian championship calendar includes 15 races – three at each of the five rounds – at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit, and China’s Ningbo International Speedway and the Shanghai International Circuit.
The season will kick start with an official test on July 9 and 10 in Sepang. Commenting on joining the team Jaden Conwright said:
“I can’t thank Ingo, Fabien, and the entire Absolute Racing team enough for the wonderful opportunity to compete in the inaugural F3 Asian Championship certified by FIA! From the first time we worked together there was great synergy and atmosphere. We all strived for the same goal. Absolute Racing’s professionalism allowed me to improve my driving in a very structured and efficient manner. There are a lot of uncertainties with a brand-new championship and a new car, but there’s no doubt that Absolute Racing and I will be ready to hit the ground running from day one at Sepang.”
Ingo Matter, Team Director, added,
“We are delighted to announce Jaden Conwright as our first Formula 3 Asian Championship driver. When he tested with our Formula Masters Series car in Shanghai, Jaden’s display and professional approached impressed everyone. With his speed never in doubt, our goal is to provide him with the necessary tools to be able to battle for the top positions in every race.”
Double R Racing has this morning, Friday, 8th December, completed its first driver signing for the 2018 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship with talented American competitor Dev Gore joining the former title winners for his sophomore season of car racing.
The 20-year-old, originally from Oklahoma City but now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, graduated from karts to single-seaters cars this year in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and is now making the step-up into Formula 3 with Woking’s Double R. Testing with the 2006 and 2016 British F3 champions at Silverstone earlier this week, Gore has now become the first confirmed driver for Double R’s three-car assault on the series next year and the American – who is managed by the Williams Harfield Sports Group – is relishing the opportunity.
“I really am so happy to have joined Double R for my first season of racing outside the US”, he commented, “Racing in Europe next year will really help me get a lot of seat time, testing and opportunities for development and that’s the reason we’ve decided to race in British F3 next year.
“It’s a fantastic car, lots of power and aero, and the plan is to develop myself as a driver and learn from the huge experience and success Boyo [Double R Team principal Anthony Hieatt] and the team has in Formula 3. I’d like to say a big thank you to my management, the Williams Harfield Sports Group, for helping to put this deal with Double R together so early. Bring on 2018!”
Starting out in karting in 2015, Gore competed in the Florida Winter Tour and the Rotax Grand Nationals in the DD2 category and the following season won the Rotax DD2 National title as well as the Rotax DD2 US Open Championship.
After becoming part of the MAXspeed Driver Advancement Program, which earned Gore a two-day Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda test, he graduated into single-seater car racing this year in USF2000 where he ended the season 13th overall in the championship and was also the 10th highest placed Rookie in the standings. Commenting on Double R’s first driver signing for 2018, team boss Anthony Hieatt said: “We are super excited to welcome Dev to the team and we’re looking forward to getting the full pre-season testing programme underway. We want to be seeing Dev on the BRDC British F3 podium in 2018, and we’re confident he has the potential to do just that.”
Oulton Park International Circuit in Cheshire will host the opening three races of the 2018 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship over Easter weekend, 31st March to 2nd April.
Weiron Tan is in contention to become Porsche China’s 2018 ‘Junior’ driver, after being selected as one of just seven finalists for a shootout designed to discover the legendary sportscar manufacturer’s next superstar.
Having steered his burgeoning career from single-seaters to sportscars this year, Tan has impressed with his turn-of-speed behind the wheel of Absolute Racing’s Bentley Continental GT3 in both the China GT Championship and fiercely-disputed Blancpain GT Series Asia. His eye-catching pace and prowess saw him secure pole position for half of the races he contested in the China GT Championship and set fastest lap at Zhuhai International Circuit, which brought him to the attention of Porsche China as it weighs up its options for next year’s Porsche Carrera Cup Asia campaign.
Porsche’s young driver programme is a well-proven talent development model in the high-octane world of motorsport, and over the course of its 20-year existence, ‘Juniors’ from the various different Porsche Carrera Cups have gone on to achieve tremendous success for the brand. Previous alumni Timo Bernhard, Marc Lieb and Earl Bamber, for example, can all now count Le Mans 24 Hours victories on their career CVs as Porsche factory drivers. Out of more than 300 applicants from across Southeast Asia, 22-year-old Tan was shortlisted amongst just seven candidates for the comprehensive evaluation process, which was held at Shanghai International Circuit earlier this month. It comprised a rigorous appraisal of on-track ability in a range of road-going Porsches and the race-bred Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Type 991), as well as physical fitness and media skills.
The road car assessment took place at the newly-built, on-site Porsche Experience Centre (PEC). Asia’s first PEC will only open to the public in January, which meant the seven finalists enjoyed an exclusive early preview of its test-driving course, skidpan, drifting circle and slalom facilities in the manufacturer’s 911 Turbo, 911 Carrera 2S, Macan GTS and 718 Cayman. The objective of the Porsche Junior Programme is to provide aspiring young stars with the guidance and tutelage they need to make the grade as professional racing drivers. As Tan bids to carve a career path to the very pinnacle of international sportscar competition, he is hopeful he has done enough to convince Porsche of his potential.
“Firstly, I’d like to thank Porsche China for giving me such an amazing opportunity to compete for the chance to become their Junior driver in 2018,” enthused the highly-rated Chinese ace, who is already the official test and reserve driver for FIA World Endurance Championship outfit CEFC Manor TRS Racing and a former member of the Caterham F1 Academy.
“The calibre was extremely high and we had a great panel of judges from Porsche to conduct a full and fair assessment over what were three very intensive days. I thought I did a pretty good job, and it was fantastic to finally be in a 911! Until the shootout, I’d never driven a Porsche before, but I’ve always been a fan and the 911 Turbo is undoubtedly one of the best road cars I’ve sampled to-date. We were also very lucky to be the first to try out the awesome new PEC.
The 911 GT3 Cup was a beast in its own right too, quite different from the GT3s I’ve piloted before. The car doesn’t have a lot of downforce, no ABS and no traction control, which means the driver has a major influence over its performance.
The fitness element was intense, and I’m glad my regular training prepared me for that. We were tested to our maximum capabilities in a manner not dissimilar to a standard military exercise, including running, push-ups, chin-ups and core strength. It goes to show how important fitness is in motorsport, because racing drivers need to have a high degree of strength and muscle endurance to withstand the extreme heat and long durations spent in the car.
Such a detailed evaluation underscores Porsche’s outstanding level of professionalism, and just how seriously it regards its Junior Programme. It is no coincidence that the brand has enjoyed more than 60 years of motorsport success all around the globe, and it would be a dream come true to be a part of that incredible story going forward. All I can do now is wait until December when Porsche announces the winner…”
Gustavo Menezes continued to home in on the top of the points table in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at Fuji last weekend (13-15 October), despite not even turning a wheel in a ‘crazy’ race punctuated by no fewer than six safety car periods, one Full Course Yellow and two red flag stoppages.
Fresh off the back of a scene-stealing performance at Petit Le Mans a week earlier – in which he had pulled off some spectacular overtaking manoeuvres to scythe through from fourth position into the overall lead – the talented young American returned to the track in Japan with his focus firmly on maintaining his positive run of momentum. In the legendary ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, it was somewhat ironic that virtually the entire weekend would be plagued by heavy rain, and Menezes and his Signatech Alpine Matmut team-mates Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão initially struggled to extract the best out of their 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype in the inclement conditions.
Lapierre and Negrão dug deep in qualifying to secure fourth on the grid amongst the nine high-calibre LMP2 category protagonists, before overnight set-up work transformed the N°36 entry ahead of the following day’s 6 Hours of Fuji, which was held in front of more than 50,000 enthusiastic Japanese fans and against the dramatic backdrop of the iconic mountain that gives the fast-and-flowing, 2.835-mile circuit its name.
The Frenchman took the start of the race, and despite losing ground on the opening lap when he had to avoid a spinning Nelson Piquet Jnr, he rapidly set about storming through the pack, lapping significantly quicker than his rivals to advance to second before proceeding to apply pressure on the class leader. An aggressive strategy enabled Negrão to seize the advantage on lap 85, and – unlike the majority of the LMP2 brigade – the Alpine was fuelled to reach the finish when the action was halted for good on lap 115, with rain and dense fog reducing visibility to nigh-on non-existent.
Like a number of other drivers in the field, that meant Menezes – who was scheduled to climb behind the wheel for the final stint – never got to take to the track. With the result declared before most of the LMP2 contenders had served their last pit-stop, the highly-rated Santa Monica, California native and his two team-mates were classified a frustrated second, right in the slipstream of the race-winner. To rub salt into the wounds, Lapierre’s fastest lap was comfortably the best in-class, while Menezes took the honour of the fastest Alpine lap of the weekend outright in FP1, meaning the defending FIA WEC LMP2 Champion and 2016 ‘Revelation of the Year’ had at least proven his pace in practice, even if he was denied the opportunity to demonstrate his ability in the race itself.
His fourth rostrum finish in swift succession nonetheless saw Menezes close to just 25 points shy of the championship lead in endurance racing’s premier global series, with 52 still in play over the remaining two outings of 2017 in Shanghai and Bahrain – and he is ready to fight.
“What a crazy race!” reflected the 23-year-old Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “That was the first time I’ve ever been on the podium without actually having driven the car! The conditions were really difficult all weekend, right from the word ‘go’. Initially we found it tricky to establish a good balance for the A470, however come race day, Alpine and the engineers did an amazing job and the guys created a rocketship!
Fourth on the grid placed us well in the ballpark to achieve a good result, and Nico demonstrated just how strong we were by recording the fastest lap of the race prior to handing over to André.
Although I unfortunately didn’t get to drive my stint due to the many delays and stoppages, I still experienced all the excitement from the pit garage. I also shared the frustration of the team, because we clearly had the car, the strategy and the speed to win and without the final red flag, I’m confident we would have done so as we had a pit-stop in hand over our closest rivals and were the fastest on the track. The end result was obviously disappointing, but safety has to be the number one priority and with such heavy rain and thick fog, the risk was just too great to re-start.
Our fourth consecutive podium enabled us to narrow the gap slightly to the top of the LMP2 standings, and while we should have closed up even more, there are still two races to go and we will keep pushing right the way to the end. We’ve really found the sweet spot with the Alpine A470 now and we’re keeping the pressure up, so bring on Shanghai!”
Ed Jones’ hopes of signing off the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a sixth top ten finish were dashed by mechanical misfortune at Sonoma Raceway last weekend, but the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace was nonetheless able to hold his head high at the end of an impressive maiden campaign at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition.
Having tested at Sonoma Raceway earlier this year but never previously raced there, Jones returned to the 12-turn, 2.385-mile northern California road course for the Grand Prix of Sonoma eager to produce one more eye-catching performance before the final chequered flag fell.
The 2016 Indy Lights Champion and former European F3 Open Champion logged 42 laps over the course of a pre-weekend test day held in changeable conditions, placing 13th on the timesheets amongst the 22 high-calibre protagonists, but practice and qualifying would prove to be more of a struggle, leaving him a disappointed 18th on the grid for the race. Undeterred, a bright start saw Jones advance five spots on the opening lap to settle into 13th position, subsequently progressing further to run 12th. The 22-year-old Brit looked set to finish inside the top ten behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Dallara-Honda single-seater, until a right-rear suspension failure just 16 laps from home spelt an early bath.
“Sonoma was a completely different experience to the previous race at Watkins Glen, going from a super high-grip track to one that falls off really quickly,” he mused. “It was also very hot compared to Watkins Glen, where it had been on the cold side, so polar opposites really.
When we tested there, we had a pretty decent car but the circuit conditions changed a lot between the open test and free practice. There were also cars from other series that had been on-track in the meantime, and the different types of rubber laid down made it more challenging and unpredictable.
Qualifying clearly didn’t work out the way we had hoped. We had been aiming to be in the fight for the ‘Fast 12’, but we tried something in an effort to overcome the difficulties we had encountered in practice and while that helped in some areas, there were a few downsides as well.
I had a good start to the race and gained quite a few positions. I attacked really hard because I knew that would be my best opportunity to make up ground, and we ran 12th for a long time with pretty decent pace. We were on-course to finish at least 11th and could maybe even have slipped into the top ten, so it was obviously frustrating to then suffer our first major technical issue of the season. Saying that, everything has gone so well this year that the law of averages dictates it was going to happen eventually.”
The failure to finish was a double blow – quite literally – given that double points were on offer for the Grand Prix of Sonoma, restricting Jones to 14th in the final standings. Nonetheless, after being presented with the prestigious ‘Sunoco Rookie of the Year’ trophy – and the $50,000 prize that accompanies it – the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé professed himself justifiably pleased with his achievements in 2017, capped by an outstanding third place in the legendary Indianapolis 500 back in May.
“It’s been a great year for us and it’s an honour to receive this award,” he enthused. “There are so many drivers in the past that have won it as rookies and moved on to be champions or won a lot of races, and I’m hoping I can be part of that story. I feel like as a driver, I got stronger as the season progressed. Early on, I had some great results and while I was driving well then, a lot of things also fell my way. Now, I think I’m better both as a driver and in terms of my bond with the team.
Coming through the Mazda Road to Indy was key to my success this year. Before 2015, I had only raced in Europe. Learning all the American circuits was very important for me, and to be able to do that in Indy Lights was really helpful. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to gain the experience I did, which is what makes the Mazda Road to Indy so relevant for young, up-and-coming drivers like myself.
I want to thank Dale [Coyne] and the whole DCR team for the opportunity they gave me this season, to work alongside a great group of engineers which has allowed me to progress quickly and secure some of the results we did. It’s been a fantastic year, and I hope we can do it again in 2018.”