FORMER KART CHAMPION GORE AIMS TO MAKE STRONG PROGRESS ON F3 DEBUT

FORMER KART CHAMPION GORE AIMS TO MAKE STRONG PROGRESS ON F3 DEBUT

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.

TAN ON SHORTLIST TO BECOME CHINA’S NEXT PORSCHE JUNIOR PROTÉGÉ

TAN ON SHORTLIST TO BECOME CHINA’S NEXT PORSCHE JUNIOR PROTÉGÉ

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…”

MENEZES CLOSES ON CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD AS ALPINE WEATHER FUJI STORM

MENEZES CLOSES ON CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD AS ALPINE WEATHER FUJI STORM

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!

JONES REFLECTS ON ‘FANTASTIC’ ROOKIE SEASON AFTER CALIFORNIAN INDYCAR FINALE

JONES REFLECTS ON ‘FANTASTIC’ ROOKIE SEASON AFTER CALIFORNIAN INDYCAR FINALE

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.”

TAN TURNS ATTENTIONS TO BLANCPAIN GT SERIES ASIA FOR REMAINDER OF 2017

TAN TURNS ATTENTIONS TO BLANCPAIN GT SERIES ASIA FOR REMAINDER OF 2017

Highly-rated young Chinese ace Weiron Tan will compete in the fiercely-disputed Blancpain GT Series Asia for the remainder of 2017, after Absolute Racing took the decision to divert its Bentley Continental GT3 programme from the China GT Championship.

Having steered his burgeoning career from single-seaters to sportscars this year, 22-year-old Tan has impressed during the course of his maiden full season in his new discipline, securing pole position for three races out of six, setting fastest lap at Zhuhai International Circuit and claiming a hat-trick of GT3 class podium finishes in the supporting GT Asia Championship for international teams alongside Korean team-mate Andrew Kim.

Following the switch, Tan and Kim will now complete the campaign in the Blancpain GT Series Asia, beginning at Shanghai International Circuit this coming weekend (23/24 September) and concluding at Zhejiang Circuit just under a month later (21/22 October).

 

It was a unanimous decision made by the team for both Bentleys to participate in Blancpain for the rest of the season, and I am very excited for our debut!” enthused the CEFC Manor TRS Racing official test and reserve driver and former Caterham F1 Academy member, who is managed by Williams Harfield Sports Group.

Blancpain is an extremely competitive series, but as we proved in China GT, I believe we have a strong enough package to compete at the front and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead.”

CONDITIONS CONSPIRE TO BLUNT JONES’ CHARGE AT THE GLEN

CONDITIONS CONSPIRE TO BLUNT JONES’ CHARGE AT THE GLEN

Ed Jones placed an unlucky 13th in last weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen – the penultimate outing on the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – as he was left to lament an unexpected change in conditions that denied him a better result.

Less than a week after being crowned IndyCar’s ‘Rookie of the Year’, Jones headed to the legendary, ultra-fast Watkins Glen International circuit in upstate New York in optimistic mood, having finished second there 12 months earlier en route to the Indy Lights title. Unlike 18 of his 20 high-calibre rivals, though, the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace had no prior experience around the physically demanding, 3.37-mile permanent road course in an IndyCar, putting him somewhat on the back foot heading into the weekend’s three 45-minute practice sessions.

Logging 56 laps behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Dallara-Honda single-seater, Jones wound up 18th in practice before improving to 15th in qualifying. With rain in the air ahead of the 60-lap race the following day, however, drivers and teams had some difficult decisions to make regarding car set-up. A wet race was subsequently declared, obliging the 22-year-old Brit to take the start on wet tyres but with the track rapidly drying, the majority of the field – Jones included – darted to the pit-lane to switch over to slicks at the end of lap one.

With some drivers adopting a different strategy, the former European F3 Open Champion slipped to 19th after his second pit-stop, but he dug deep and despite having to contend with a car set up for wet weather, he fought his way through to 13th at the chequered flag to maintain 14th position in the points standings during his maiden campaign at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition.

 

Following three back-to-back races, Jones now has a weekend off before returning to the fray for IndyCar’s 2017 season finale at Sonoma Raceway in California on September 15-17.

It was good to go back to a road course, and Watkins Glen is among my favourite tracks in the United States,” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé. “That said, I knew it would be very different in an IndyCar, and difficult with all the G-forces through the high-speed corners.

We had a decent morning on the first day, but we made some changes for the afternoon that didn’t pay off at all and we struggled a lot in the second session. Nothing felt right, so we worked hard and improved the car again for Saturday – although obviously, it still wasn’t quite enough. I think we were a step behind. If the car had been like it was in qualifying in free practice, we would have been able to take another step forward and maybe be a bit further up, but 15th wasn’t too bad.

We knew we could progress from there and move our way forward, but unfortunately, it was a tough race. The conditions didn’t go as we anticipated they would and being set up for rain, we were at quite a disadvantage, which made it tricky. I thought we would still be on for a decent result, but I ended up at the back of the field after my second pit-stop as some drivers were on a different strategy and it was an uphill battle from there. It’s a bit frustrating, but I feel like I drove pretty well and I had some good racing.”

JONES PRODUCES PACEY POCONO PERFORMANCE BEFORE MISFORTUNE INTERVENES

JONES PRODUCES PACEY POCONO PERFORMANCE BEFORE MISFORTUNE INTERVENES

Ed Jones ran as high as second in last weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – the 14th of 17 outings in the fiercely-disputed 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series – but the combination of a rare late-race error and little luck with the timing of caution periods conspired to deny the impressive rookie a top ten finish.

Reigning Indy Lights Champion Jones was making his debut around the 2.5-mile Pennsylvania oval – known as the ‘Tricky Triangle’ for the unique challenge it poses – whereas 18 of his 21 high-calibre IndyCar rivals had competed there before. Immediately on the back foot, his lack of experience at the north-eastern superspeedway was compounded by a spin and light contact with the wall in free practice as he got to grips with Pocono’s very particular characteristics.

Undeterred, the talented young Dubai, UAE-born ace produced an excellent performance in qualifying – in which grid slots were determined by the fastest cumulative times over two consecutive laps – to line up 11th at an average speed of 217.565mph behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Dallara-Honda. As strong winds resulted in a number of incidents, Jones didn’t put a foot out-of-place, outpacing championship leader Josef Newgarden and several other big names in the process.

In the 500-mile race the following day, the 22-year-old Brit conceded some early ground but swiftly set about fighting back. He was up to eighth – duelling with IndyCar heavyweights Ryan Hunter-Reay and Hélio Castroneves – by the time he made his second pit visit just past one-quarter distance. As is frequently the case at the pinnacle of US single-seater competition, the pecking order oscillated wildly as various issues and dramas brought out the yellow flags, sending drivers scurrying for the pits and playing havoc with strategy calls – and on this occasion, Jones did not enjoy the rub of the green.

Running competitively in the pack, the former European F3 Open Champion reached second place at one stage – picking off the likes of oval specialist Ed Carpenter and pole-sitter Takuma Sato along the way – but a mistake entering his pit box at his final stop relegated him to the tail of the field. Jones went on to take the chequered flag a disappointed 17th, and is fired-up to bounce back quickly at Gateway Motorsports Park this coming weekend (25/26 August).

 

Pocono Raceway certainly lived up to its nickname!” quipped the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé. “It’s fast and quite a difficult track, but DCR had been really strong on circuits like that earlier in the season, so I was confident we would have a good idea of what we needed when we got there and I was really looking forward to it.

Our plan was always to go conservative in qualifying, because looking at the bigger picture, there can be a lot of consequences for not a lot of gain – and it had been proved in the past that grid position is not necessarily one of the major factors at Pocono.

Eleventh represented a solid place to start from and I was optimistic of being able to move forward, but unfortunately, it was a difficult race. The approach we took with the set-up meant it was really hard to progress without errors from the cars in front, which made things challenging.

That said, it was fun in parts; some guys were quite aggressive and there were a few crazy moves, so I was adjusting to that and we had a good run, but we were pretty unlucky with the timing of the yellows. We were still looking alright towards the end, but then I made a mistake at my last pit-stop and that cost us. It’s just frustrating, because I feel we should have come away with a decent result.”

TAN SHOWCASES RAW PACE AGAIN IN CHINA

TAN SHOWCASES RAW PACE AGAIN IN CHINA

Weiron Tan proved that the podium is within reach in the latest outing of the fiercely-disputed China GT Championship at Zhuhai International Circuit last weekend, with an impressive performance around a track that was far from ideally suited to his Bentley Continental GT3.

After finding himself out-of-luck at the same circuit three weeks earlier, Tan returned to Zhuhai eager to continue his eye-catching rate of progress with Absolute Racing in what is his maiden full sportscar campaign.

Picking up from where he had left off, the 22-year-old Chinese ace – working in tandem with Korean team-mate Andrew Kim – snared pole position for both contests amongst the 12 high-calibre GT3 class contenders, meaning the #05 crew have claimed the top spot on the starting grid for half of the rounds in 2017 to-date. With the nature of Zhuhai International Circuit playing more to the strengths of some of Bentley’s rivals, however, Tan and Kim struggled to maintain that same level of pace in the races, battling hard before ultimately finding themselves forced to give best.

A gritty effort nonetheless earned the pair fifth place at the chequered flag in the first encounter and fourth in the next, just a handful of seconds adrift of victory after an hour’s flat-out competition. Notwithstanding the obvious disappointment of having come so close only to miss out by the narrowest of margins, the Williams Harfield Sports Group protégé and erstwhile Caterham F1 Academy member is bullish about his prospects for the remainder of the campaign, beginning in Shanghai on 8-10 September.

I was actually pretty pleased with the weekend, even though we didn’t get the results we deserved,” reflected Tan. “We secured a double pole position to make it three in a row, and with this being my rookie season in GT3, that’s a pretty big achievement for me.

We knew we had the speed, but we also knew that winning in Zhuhai wouldn’t be easy for the Bentley as the circuit just doesn’t suit our car over longer runs – it’s too small, our brakes overheat and the tyres degrade too quickly. We’re good for the first few laps, but after that it’s all about trying to hang on. It was especially tricky towards the end of stints.

Saying all that, I thought I executed the weekend very well.”

JONES RETURNS TO TOP TEN WITH ROAD AMERICA CHARGE

JONES RETURNS TO TOP TEN WITH ROAD AMERICA CHARGE

Ed Jones raced hard to secure his fifth top ten finish of an impressive rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series last weekend (23-25 June), with seventh place at Road America vaulting the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace back up the overall championship standings.

Although he had not previously competed around the picturesque four-mile, 14-turn Elkhart Lake road course in IndyCar – unlike 18 of his 21 high-calibre rivals – Jones did race there last year en route to lifting the laurels in Indy Lights, with pole position underscoring his pace and potential. The 22-year-old Brit had also tested there the previous week, and he duly came out-of-the-blocks in fine form in practice, placing seventh in the combined classification as he inched progressively nearer to the outright benchmark.

Despite struggling with tyre-warming issues in qualifying, Jones nonetheless advanced to the ‘Fast 12’ for the second time this season behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Honda single-seater, equalling his best starting position to-date in 11th. In windy conditions the following day, the former European F3 Open Champion began the 55-lap KOHLER Grand Prix well as he settled solidly into the top ten. He would maintain that positive momentum throughout – spending much of the race running in close company with 2012 IndyCar Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay – and after taking the final safety car re-start in ninth, he gained two more places before the chequered flag to cross the finish line seventh.

The result returned Jones to the top ten in the points table at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition. Buoyed by his strong performance in Wisconsin, he will travel next to Iowa Speedway for a test ahead of the 11th outing on the 2017 IndyCar schedule – the Iowa Corn 300 – on 9 July.

 

Road America is one of my favourite tracks in the United States,” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé, who wore a specially customised helmet for the weekend in tribute to late Chicago Bears NFL star and Dale Coyne Racing co-founder Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton.

It was good to go back to a road course, and we felt well-prepared after the positive test day there. The team was also competitive at Road America last season, so we had a decent starting point and we were confident we had a good package underneath us and that the circuit should suit us.

Practice went pretty well and we showed encouraging speed all day. The track changed quite a bit in the afternoon session, but we were still fast. The field was really close so we knew qualifying would be tough, but by the same token, there were several areas in which we could improve so I was optimistic of being able to push for the top five.

Unfortunately, the cooler temperatures on Saturday affected a few things, and I struggled to bring the tyres in, which meant it took too long to get up to pace. It was still good to make it into the second round of qualifying, but it left us with some work to do ahead of the race.

The car was loose but fast for qualifying, and it was really loose again on Sunday – I was hanging on throughout the race! Most people went for a similar strategy, but the DCR boys did a great job and some good pit-stops helped us to progress through the field. Everyone was aggressive and it was hard racing, but we came out with a seventh-place finish and moved up a little bit in the points, so we’ll definitely take that.”

MENEZES FIRED-UP TO DEFEND HIS CROWN IN BIGGEST RACE OF THE YEAR

MENEZES FIRED-UP TO DEFEND HIS CROWN IN BIGGEST RACE OF THE YEAR

Gustavo Menezes is ready to fight to defend one of the most coveted trophies in international motorsport later this month, following a positive and productive ‘dress rehearsal’ for the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours.

Menezes stunned the sportscar racing fraternity last year by speeding to LMP2 class victory at La Sarthe as a rookie, alongside team-mates Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi. The talented young American will be the only one of the race-winning trio to return to the cockpit of the N°36 Signatech Alpine Matmut entry 12 months on – now partnered by Romain Dumas, a man with two outright triumphs to his name at Le Mans, and newcomer Matt Rao – and his sights are firmly set on replicating his stellar 2016 result.

Behind the wheel of the 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype, Menezes, Dumas and Rao took it in turns to lap the ultra-fast 13.629km French circuit during the course of the official test day, with the highly-rated Santa Monica, California native completing 28 tours as he outpaced multiple grand prix-winner Rubens Barrichello amongst a whole host of fiercely competitive adversaries. In ideal weather conditions, the primary focus was on long runs, aerodynamic evaluations, tyre durability comparisons and race set-up. Whilst single-lap form was not a major preoccupation, the Alpine A470 did display consistently strong pace on both new and used rubber, as Nelson Panciatici in the N°35 sister car topped the timesheets with a new class lap record – at an average speed of an eye-watering 235.72km/h.

Menezes was denied the opportunity to challenge that benchmark by traffic – with the N°36 Alpine ultimately placing eighth amongst the 25 high-calibre LMP2 protagonists and 14th out of 60 overall – but the 22-year-old Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé was nonetheless greatly encouraged by both reliability and performance as preparations intensify for the 85th edition of the iconic round-the-clock classic on 17/18 June.

 

The test day went well,” affirmed the reigning FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) LMP2 title-holder. “It’s fantastic to go back to Le Mans and our speed looked good straight out-of-the-box. With everybody following their individual agendas, it’s tricky to ascertain the true pecking order at this early stage – but one thing for sure is that it’s insanely close in LMP2.

The N°35 car put in a great lap, which proved the potential of the package we have and that’s promising because our pace was very similar but we just never got a clear run to show it. We concentrated on our own technical programme, played around with a variety of different set-ups, came away with plenty of useful data and – most importantly of all – worked well together as a team.

At Le Mans in particular, you can really feel the extra downforce and power in LMP2 this year because the long straights allow the cars to properly stretch their legs. The Alpine A470 felt incredible to drive round there – more like a single-seater than ever before. We were hitting top speeds in excess of 330km/h, which was very impressive and in a non-competitive session, Nelson was already eight seconds faster than last year’s best LMP2 qualifying time – meaning we’re likely to be even quicker come the race weekend itself.

We still have a bit more work to do, of course, but I think we’re in reasonable shape and I’m really excited to return next week. The team and Alpine have placed their trust in me, and I want to reward them for that by fighting for the win again. The clear objective is to keep up my 100 per cent record at Le Mans and whilst that obviously won’t be easy, nothing worth having ever is – so bring it on!

It was a very positive day,” echoed Alpine Deputy Managing Director Bernard Ollivier, “with a lot of work completed by the team and some superb performances. They say it’s only testing and it’s true that we don’t necessarily know the strategies adopted by our rivals, but I think we can safely say we have the potential to successfully defend our victory.

Le Mans is the most important race of the year, and not just because there are double points on offer towards the FIA WEC standings. We want to live up to the achievements of last season, and we came away from the test with a lot of confidence that we can be a force to be reckoned with again.”

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