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.”

LATE RETIREMENT DASHES DALE COYNE RACING ACE’S HOPES OF STRONG FINISH

LATE RETIREMENT DASHES DALE COYNE RACING ACE’S HOPES OF STRONG FINISH

Ed Jones chanced his arm in last weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto (14-16 July) by adopting an audacious strategy that vaulted him temporarily to the front of the field – but ultimately, the Verizon IndyCar Series rookie saw his challenge scuppered by late-race mechanical failure.

Jones headed to the cosmopolitan Canadian city with prior experience of Exhibition Place’s 11-turn, 1.786-mile street circuit from two seasons of Indy Lights competition, and 66 practice laps behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater allowed him to reacquaint himself with its demanding and changeable nature. The talented young Dubai, UAE-born ace missed out on advancing to part two of the knockout qualifying session by scarcely a tenth-of-a-second, restricting him to a disappointed 15th on the starting grid amongst the 21 high-calibre protagonists at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition, in what has been billed as the most fiercely-disputed IndyCar campaign in living memory.

Spurred on by the presence in the Dale Coyne Racing pit garage of early-season team-mate Sébastien Bourdais – who is continuing to convalesce from the hip and pelvis fractures he sustained in a qualifying accident for May’s Indianapolis 500 – Jones immediately set about gaining ground in the race, and following an early full course caution period, he went on the attack. After despatching Max Chilton, JR Hildebrand and Marco Andretti in quick succession, the reigning Indy Lights title-holder scythed his way boldly into the top ten by lap 20. He subsequently pulled off a superb pass on 20-year IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan as he infiltrated the fight for fifth, and he had risen as high as seventh when the yellow flags appeared again for a car in the barriers just before one-third distance.

With threatening skies and precipitation in the air, DCR elected to roll the dice by leaving Jones out on-track as the majority of his rivals dived for the pit-lane for a fresh set of tyres. That elevated the 22-year-old Brit to second behind eventual winner Josef Newgarden, but with the anticipated rain failing to materialise, he found himself increasingly struggling for speed on his worn rubber and had to really get his elbows out to defend his position as his pursuers piled on the pressure.

After valiantly waging a losing battle, Jones was forced to pit on lap 33 as his Firestone reds cried enough, relegating him to the rear of the order. Despite having to additionally contend with a fractured left foot from a previous race, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé was on the comeback trail and embroiled in a multi-car scrap just outside the top ten when he rolled to a halt with an oil pressure problem with just nine laps left to run.

His misfortune has dropped Jones to 12th in the drivers’ standings ahead of the next outing on the 2017 IndyCar schedule at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (28-30 July), where he is determined to convert his palpable pace and potential into a solid haul of points.

 

Toronto is one of my favourite races on the calendar,” reflected the former European F3 Open Champion. “It’s a difficult track and very bumpy, and you frequently find yourself sliding around in the corners. It’s also very technical and tight in some sections, while the continually evolving grip levels and surface changes mean it is tricky to strike the optimum set-up.”

Getting up-to-speed went reasonably well in practice, although we struggled with the balance of the car in the first session and in the second session it got a bit worse. We tried to fix it, but we didn’t make as much progress as we would have liked. Toronto also requires much more braking than Iowa, but whilst my foot hurt a lot, I have a high pain tolerance and was able to brake without any dramas.

We made some changes for qualifying, but it was a tough session – the jump with the alternate Firestone red tyres was very big. I thought I drove a pretty good lap, but I missed out on the Fast 12 by just a little bit. It was close, as usual, but frustrating at the same time.

In the race, we picked up quite a few spots passing cars during the first stint and I felt like we had the pace to be in the top six, but we got unlucky with the caution and that sent us to the back. We gambled on rain coming, but it didn’t pay off. At the end of the day, we had an oil line issue so it wouldn’t have worked out anyway, but it was good to see that we had a lot of potential and we’ll try to carry that forward to Mid-Ohio.”

MENEZES CELEBRATES PODIUM RETURN AT GERMANY’S NÜRBURGRING

MENEZES CELEBRATES PODIUM RETURN AT GERMANY’S NÜRBURGRING

It had been four races since Gustavo Menezes had last set foot on the podium in the fiercely-disputed FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), but the talented young American and his Signatech Alpine Matmut team-mates finally uncorked the champagne bottles for the first time in 2017 following a gritty performance at the Nürburgring last weekend (14-16 July).

Alongside Nicolas Lapierre and Matt Rao, Menezes travelled to Germany’s Eifel Mountains region determined to rediscover the sparkling form that saw him sensationally clinch the LMP2 class World Championship crown last year as a sportscar racing rookie. Buoyed by a productive run through free practice behind the wheel of the 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype, the Santa Monica, California native teamed up with Rao to attack qualifying. Despite posting the quickest Alpine lap of the entire weekend, however, an uncharacteristic error restricted the N°36 crew to sixth on the grid amongst the 11 high-calibre LMP2 protagonists for Sunday’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring – the fourth round on the calendar in endurance racing’s premier global series.

In front of some 52,000 trackside spectators and many millions more watching on TV, Lapierre started the race and dug deep to battle up the order before handing over to Menezes in fourth. Approaching the two-hour mark, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé found himself embroiled in a three-way tussle for the runner-up spoils and had advanced to third by the time Rao took over after half-distance.

The Englishman kept firmly in touch, before a late flourish from Lapierre saw the defending title-holders overhaul the N°13 Vaillante Rebellion in the closing stages to secure the final spot on the rostrum, with the Frenchman setting the fastest LMP2 lap of the race for good measure. The result consolidated Menezes’ third position in the championship standings, with a seven-week break now before the action resumes in Mexico at the beginning of September to kick-start the season’s long-haul leg.

 

It felt so good to be back on the podium again – it’s been a long time and we really needed it!” acknowledged the 22-year-old, a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award. “It was our strongest weekend of the campaign to-date, without question, and we were in the ballpark the whole way through.”

Saying that, I was slightly disappointed with my qualifying effort; I had a small lock-up and didn’t extract the most out of the tyres, which cost us about four tenths-of-a-second. That made the race harder work than it arguably should have been because we spent a lot of time caught up in traffic and other cars’ dirty air, which is a particular penalty at the Nürburgring, where the straights aren’t really long enough to get a tow and you just can’t stay close to the car ahead through the corners. Without that handicap, I genuinely believe we would have finished second.

Still, Nico did an incredible job to gain ground during his first stint, I continued that progression by moving up into the top three – despite running on older tyres and being driven off the track by an LMP1 car at one stage – and Matt then similarly maintained the momentum when he got in. I must say, Matt drove extremely well. It felt like he took a big step forward last weekend, and for his level of experience, his pace was impressive.

As a team, we were a lot more consistent than we have been so far in 2017, and whilst we clearly still have more work to do, this is a great way to go into the summer break and gives us plenty of motivation looking ahead to the second half of the year. It’s a big shot in the arm for everybody at Signatech Alpine Matmut; all the boys worked exceptionally hard for not much reward over the first few races of the season, so it’s tremendously satisfying to finally be able to pay them back – seeing the smiles on their faces from the podium was a fantastic feeling.

There are still five races to go in this championship and plenty of points to fight for, so nothing is decided yet. We will go away, recharge our batteries, knuckle down and come back even stronger in Mexico – that’s a promise!

TAN’S SCINTILLATING SPEED GOES UNREWARDED IN ZHUHAI

TAN’S SCINTILLATING SPEED GOES UNREWARDED IN ZHUHAI

Weiron Tan showcased his impressive raw pace with a pole position and fastest lap in the latest outing of the fiercely-disputed China GT Championship at Zhuhai International Circuit last weekend (8/9 July), only for misfortune to deny him the kind of result his performance palpably deserved.

Following a productive free practice session, Tan and Absolute Racing team-mate Andrew Kim headed into qualifying in optimistic mood, but the weather then threw an unexpected curve ball. A tyre gamble in the changeable conditions initially looked set to pay off, but ultimately, a timing misjudgment cost the #05 crew and they wound up fourth on the grid amongst the 14 high-calibre GT3 class contenders for race one.

Kim took to the wheel of the Bentley Continental GT3 for the start, but on a damp track surface, contact and a spin dropped the car down the order. Tan took over just as the rain intensified, but distracted by loose seatbelts and running on slick tyres in the treacherous conditions, the 22-year-old lost the rear a handful of laps from the end, precipitating an early bath. A quicker overall lap time than the winner hinted at what might have been.

With lessons learned from the previous day, a superb effort secured Tan and Kim pole position for race two in a Bentley Team Absolute front row lockout, as the duo snared the top spot by a commanding seven tenths-of-a-second. This time, it was the erstwhile Caterham F1 Academy member and Lotus SuperCup Asia GT4 Champion who completed the opening stint, leading all the way to the driver change and setting fastest lap along the way. Unfortunately, fate again intervened, as a short circuit in the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) with two laps remaining restricted Tan and Kim to fourth place at the chequered flag – just over five seconds shy of the podium – and third in the supporting GT Asia Championship for international teams.

Whilst understandably disappointed, the highly-rated Chinese ace – who only steered his burgeoning career from single-seaters to sportscars this year – nonetheless took considerable encouragement from the pair’s form in Zhuhai ahead of the series’ return to the circuit for the fifth and sixth rounds of its 2017 campaign at the end of the month.

 

Overall, it wasn’t the luckiest weekend for us as a team,” he reflected. “I think the Balance of Performance favoured the Audis more than us. Practice represented a solid start and I felt confident going into qualifying, but then the weather started to change. It was pretty damp at the beginning of the first part of the session and we weren’t sure if the drizzle was going to get worse or go away, so I took a gamble and asked to switch to slicks just after my ‘out’ lap on wets.

We were the first to change tyres, and we were P1 for a while until the surface dried up all of a sudden and everyone else went onto slicks – by which point, the sweet spot on our tyres was long gone. The second part of the session was almost the opposite situation, as we started off on wets and went to slicks too late as the track dried towards the end. That meant I only managed to squeeze in one flying lap – had we had another, I was sure I could have put the car on the front row.

Race one was frustrating. Just before Andrew handed over to me, the rain started to get heavier but as it wasn’t forecast to last long, we decided to stay on slicks whilst everyone else went onto wets. It was pretty tricky in those conditions, but what ultimately cost us was that my belts weren’t properly clicked in during the pit-stop. That meant I was moving around in the car, and I consequently lost the rear coming out of Turn 12.

Thankfully, we got the timing right for the next day’s qualifying and we both put together good laps, which earned us pole position. I started the race and we had great pace – as was proved by posting the fastest lap – and I led up to the driver change. I was struggling slightly with the rear going away a bit too quickly towards the end of my stint, but I still thought we had a good chance of grabbing a podium at least. Andrew drove well too, so it was very unfortunate that our ECU had a short circuit with two laps to go.

Absolute Racing did a fantastic job again all weekend, Andrew is consistently improving and we will all work hard to make sure incidents like the seatbelt issue do not reoccur. I am already looking forward to the next round. Hopefully Lady Luck will be a bit kinder to us when we come back here in a few weeks’ time.”

DUBAI-BORN BRIT UNREWARDED FOR EXCELLENT QUALIFYING FORM

DUBAI-BORN BRIT UNREWARDED FOR EXCELLENT QUALIFYING FORM

Ed Jones grappled with an ill-handling car at Iowa Speedway last weekend (8/9 July), as the talented young Dubai, UAE-born ace struggled for speed in the 11th round of the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series – but he is already planning to bounce straight back in Toronto.

Jones had competed around the bumpy, 0.894-mile oval twice in Indy Lights – finishing on the podium both times – but he knew that tackling it in a 720bhp IndyCar would be an altogether more challenging proposition. Underscoring his credentials, however – and following a productive pre-event test – the Dale Coyne Racing rookie returned to the track and lapped 13th-quickest amongst the 21 high-calibre protagonists during practice, despite driving with a fractured left foot.

He subsequently belied his early running slot – in a scenario in which track conditions generally improve as more rubber is laid down – to top the timesheets for a while in qualifying, and his impressive two-lap average of 182.290mph would ultimately prove good enough to snare a season-best eighth on the starting grid behind the wheel of his Dallara-Honda single-seater. Unfortunately, a set-up change ahead of Sunday’s 300-lap Iowa Corn 300 backfired, leaving the reigning Indy Lights Champion waging a losing battle from the outset and despite his earnest efforts, he was powerless to prevent a slide down the order.

After dropping to the rear of the lead pack in 15th, Jones settled into a rhythm and enjoyed entertaining scraps with the likes of Josef Newgarden, Carlos Munoz and championship leader Scott Dixon. He had hauled himself back up to 12th when an ill-timed pit-stop just before the second caution period of the race cost him two laps and relegated him to the very tail of the field. Following a short stoppage prompted by a rain shower, the 22-year-old Brit gritted his teeth to take the chequered flag a frustrated 18th.

Wasting no time at all in dwelling on his misfortune, Jones is already en route to Toronto for the next outing at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition this coming weekend (15/16 July), with the former European F3 Open Champion eager indeed to unleash his street fighting skills north of the border in Canada.

 

It was good to have the chance to test at Iowa prior to the race weekend, but still we expected it to be difficult for the Honda teams, like it was in Phoenix,” he reflected. “That said, I was looking forward to it and having established a strong record on ovals – especially at Iowa in Indy Lights – the aim was to keep that form going.

Qualifying went well, even though the track changed significantly from morning practice, which made it very tricky to drive. I think a lot of people struggled, but the DCR engineers did a good job deciding what to do with the car and we ended up eighth. Being such a short lap, you have to rehearse it in your mind before you go out there so you know exactly what to do, because it all happens so quickly. It’s a lot of fun, and when you climb out at the end, you’re shaking a bit because it’s pretty extreme.

We made some changes overnight with the race distance in mind and we were confident of coming away with another good result, but unfortunately, we went the wrong way on the set-up and struggled with oversteer throughout, which made the car a handful to drive.

We tried to dial the oversteer out by reducing the front wing angle in the pit-stops, but the problem was more mechanical than aerodynamic so there wasn’t a great deal we could do. To then compound matters, we found ourselves caught out by the yellows just after we had pitted for the second time. It was a tough race all-told, but on the positive side, we brought the car home in one piece and we get to go again straightaway in Toronto.

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 VOWS NO LET-UP AFTER EPIC LE MANS FIGHTBACK

MENEZES VOWS NO LET-UP AFTER EPIC LE MANS FIGHTBACK

For the second year in a row, Gustavo Menezes showcased his scintillating raw speed in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, but 12 months on from his outstanding rookie success, the talented young American’s bid to make it back-to-back triumphs in the ‘world’s toughest race’ was undone by a variety of dramas.

Buoyed by the headline-grabbing form evinced by the sister Signatech Alpine Matmut entry at the official pre-event test day, Menezes returned to the iconic La Sarthe circuit for the 85th edition of the celebrated round-the-clock classic in optimistic spirits – and ready to tackle an ultra-competitive LMP2 class field comprising no fewer than eight ex-Formula 1 drivers. As France basked in a heatwave, track temperatures exceeded a dizzying 50°C but underscoring his peak physical fitness, the Santa Monica, California native was the quickest of the high-calibre Alpine sextet throughout practice and the first two qualifying sessions – consistently outpacing experienced team-mate Romain Dumas, two times an outright winner at Le Mans.

He unfortunately found his efforts thwarted by traffic when it mattered most, with the lack of a clear lap and repeated yellow flag appearances conspiring to mask the true potential of the 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype, leaving Menezes, Dumas and Britain’s Matt Rao an unrepresentative 11th on the grid amongst the 25 LMP2 contenders and 17th overall. The defending FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) title-holder took to the wheel at the beginning of the race and immediately made up ground to ninth in-class before a small mistake saw him overshoot at Mulsanne Corner and dig into the gravel, with the delay dropping the car to 59th place out of the 60 starters.

Alongside his two team-mates, the 22-year-old had battled back as far as 15th in-class when gearbox issues struck – a legacy of the earlier ‘off’ and costing another eight laps – while the final nail was hammered in by a ten-minute pit halt shortly before 11pm on Saturday to resolve an electronics issue that was causing the engine to cut out. From 20th amongst the LMP2 protagonists at midnight, the N°36 car had scythed through to 12th by daybreak – with Menezes alone gaining five spots during the course of an impressive three-hour stint. By virtue of refusing to give up and pushing right to the end, the Signatech Alpine Matmut crew snatched a late spot to secure eighth position out of the 20 classified LMP2 finishers and tenth overall.

It was a heroic comeback that undeniably deserved more, but the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé nonetheless made his mark by lapping half-a-second faster than any of his Alpine counterparts. The result has also elevated Menezes and Rao to third in the fiercely-disputed FIA WEC Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers, with six of 2017’s nine outings yet to run.

 

Le Mans this year was a rough ride – a very different experience to 12 months ago,” mused the former Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner. “The race felt a lot longer, for a start! We thought we had some pretty decent pace after the test day, but we didn’t seem to improve as much as some of our rivals as the track conditions evolved – the higher temperatures altered the balance of the car and impacted on tyre wear.

We struggled for single-lap speed during practice and qualifying and Romain and I both got caught up in traffic, which meant we didn’t manage to put the lap time in that we were capable of. Having said that, I don’t think the gap to the leading cars could be totally explained away by that and we probably didn’t have quite enough to challenge for pole position, but we did know we had a very solid race car underneath us.

I made up a few spots at the start, but I was having a lot of difficulty with the rear brakes locking in the high temperatures and was probably pushing a bit too hard to keep up with the cars ahead, which was what sent me off the track at Mulsanne. That was the first of several dramas, and I felt so bad for all the guys in the team, who deserved better. I was very disappointed in myself, because although it was a comparatively minor error, we paid a heavy price.

We later ran into related gearbox issues that cost us a further eight laps, and during my quadruple stint going into the night, we encountered problems with the ECU. At that point we knew it would be impossible to come back, but we kept fighting and refused to become disheartened. We were almost last at one stage, so to finish inside the category top ten was genuinely a marathon effort!

Although clearly not the result we had been targeting, reaching the chequered flag after everything that had happened was at least something to give back to everybody at Signatech Alpine Matmut, who worked tirelessly throughout and truly put their heart and soul into the race. To rebuild the gearbox in just half-an-hour was incredible. It was tough on them, and I take my hat off to each and every member of the team.

With an error-free race, I think there’s little doubt we would have finished on the podium – the N°35 Alpine proved the pace was there, and once I’d settled into a rhythm, I was able to string together some very quick and consistent lap times – but the reality was that we went to Le Mans aiming to defend our crown from 2016 and we came up a long way short. That’s life I guess, and as they say, you can’t win them all, but we do want to win some of them this year so we need to get our heads down before the Nürburgring next month.

I’m really excited to have Nico [Lapierre] back in the car now for the rest of the season. It has been brilliant working with Romain and he is without question a class act, but Nico was a key part of our winning crew from last year so it’s great to welcome him back to the fold. There is still a long way to go in this championship battle – and I assure you that we will work our absolute tails off to turn this car into a rocketship and come back fighting!

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.”

JONES SPEEDS TO TOP THREE FINISH ON DAZZLING INDY 500 DEBUT

JONES SPEEDS TO TOP THREE FINISH ON DAZZLING INDY 500 DEBUT

Ed Jones vied for victory during the course of a scene-stealing performance on his Indianapolis 500 debut last Sunday (28 May), as the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace took the fight to some of the sport’s greatest drivers en route to his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series top three finish.

Jones lined up 11th amongst the 33 high-calibre protagonists for his first crack at one of motorsport’s most legendary and fiercely-disputed races in its 101st year – an event so steeped in history, tradition and folklore that it has earned the sobriquet ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’.

Unexpectedly thrust into the role of de facto team leader at Dale Coyne Racing in the wake of team-mate Sébastien Bourdais’ pelvis and hip injuries, the reigning Indy Lights Champion wound up a confidence-boosting second-quickest at the conclusion of the eight practice sessions. Completing no fewer than 334 laps of the 2.5-mile oval behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater, he reached a dizzying top speed of 233.008mph in the process.

An electric atmosphere enveloped the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway on race day, but following a promising start to gain some early ground, Jones picked up rear wing damage from the dramatic accident just ahead of him that removed pole-sitter Scott Dixon and Jay Howard from contention on lap 53. Forced into making an unscheduled extra pit-stop for repairs when the action resumed after a red flag, the delay dropped the 22-year-old Brit to the tail of the field down in 28th place, but he dug deep and a fast and determined effort saw the #19 car climb consistently up the order and settle solidly back into the leading pack.

A well-timed pit-stop just before a full-course caution period in the closing stages of the 200-lap contest promoted Jones right to the sharp end, and he belied his comparative lack of experience and rookie status by duelling wheel-to-wheel with seasoned adversaries Hélio Castroneves and Takuma Sato. Indeed, the former – a three-time winner at the Brickyard – was effusive in his praise for his young rival once the chequered flag had fallen as he hailed a ‘very good’ and ‘very smart’ drive.

The erstwhile European F3 Open Champion was not done yet, however, as he got the better of countryman Max Chilton in the battle for third with five laps left to run. Remaining there to the end, he secured his finest IndyCar finish to-date and DCR’s best result at Indy – a welcome tonic for the team in Bourdais’ absence and a thoroughly well-deserved reward for Jones following a rough recent run.

His standout performance also vaulted the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé back up to ninth in the drivers’ classification – just five points shy of the top five – ahead of the next outing on the 2017 IndyCar calendar, the Detroit Grand Prix double-header at Belle Isle Park this coming weekend (3/4 June).

 

It was a great race for us,” Jones enthused. “It was also the longest race I’ve ever been in, with so many ups-and-downs. We had a solid start, but when Dixon had his crash, I ran over some debris and it damaged the floor and rear wing. We had to change the wing, which sent me to the back of the field and then we had to claw our way up again. It’s so easy to put a foot wrong, and there were a few times when I genuinely thought I was heading for the wall but thanks to the Dale Coyne Racing team for putting a great car underneath me all month.

We were really strong in traffic and kept pushing on and making up positions. We got some luck back with the last yellow as we pitted right before it, but then I put a big hole in my front wing, which created a lot of drag. That meant I was really good in the corners catching other cars, but as soon as we got to the straight sections I couldn’t tow up to them – we just lacked that top speed for the last 40 laps and it was very hard for me to defend or attack.

Over the final 20 laps or so, the racing got much more intense, with people taking a lot more risks. It was pretty crazy out there, but I really enjoyed it. It was just frustrating that we couldn’t get the win because we were really close to it and without the damage, we had the car to do so. When you have an opportunity like that, you want to grab it but congratulations to Taku and Hélio. We did everything we could, and to come away with third place as a rookie is an amazing result.

We’re excited by the job Ed’s been doing this year,” added team owner Coyne. “He really performed well at Indianapolis. He gave us our best qualifying in 11th and our best finish in third, and I think having all the yellows and the red flag was good for him because it’s the longest race he’s ever been in and that allows you time for your heart rate to come down and to think about what’s going on. The season is only a third over and whilst it kind of feels like it’s culminated here, there is plenty more still to come.”

FXTM INKS SPONSORSHIP DEAL WITH INDYCAR DRIVER EDWARD JONES

FXTM INKS SPONSORSHIP DEAL WITH INDYCAR DRIVER EDWARD JONES

Today, multiple award-winning forex broker, FXTM, announced its sponsorship of IndyCar driver Ed Jones. This deal follows hot on the heels of the broker’s F1™ sponsorship with Sahara Force India, and will see this challenger brand take a prominent role in two of the three most iconic events in the motorsport calendar.

When Sahara Force India’s car hit the track at the start of the F1™ season, FXTM was introduced to a whole new audience. At that time, the broker boasted offices and training centers in some of the world’s most significant financial hubs. Over half a million people globally are signed up to its trading platform, and a prominent logo on the most photographed car on the F1™ grid exposed the broker to millions more.

Motorsports offers an unrivalled opportunity to introduce our brand to a broader audience,” explains Martin Lamming, FXTM’s Global Head of Marketing. “The synergies between trading and racing are striking – both rely on speed, dedication, and an on-going commitment to development. FXTM is known for its superior trading conditions, innovative technology, and an unrivalled focus on client education. It makes sense for us to take a prominent role in Motorsports.”

Whether it is Formula One™, IndyCar or the World Endurance Series; motorsports offer brands a valuable opportunity to increase their exposure. Sponsorships are limited – there are only so many cars in each series — and F1™ and IndyCar alone expose companies to tens of millions of fans. That exclusivity comes at a price, and it is only big brands and the market leaders that can afford to dominate the motorsports circuits.

 

With their sponsorship of the fourth ranked F1™ team, Sahara Force India, and now Dale Coyne’s Ed Jones, one of IndyCar’s most prominent young stars, FXTM is clearly signaling its arrival as a leading broker. The brand has already garnered a collection of awards for its exemplary customer service, trading platform, educational program, and execution speed. This year, it added European Magazine’s prestigious Best Forex Broker, Firm of the Year (Europe) Award to its trophy case, and looks set to collect yet more accolades before 2017 is up.

This weekend will add one more milestone, as FXTM will take a prominent role in both the Indy 500 and Monaco F1™ Grand Prix, two of the biggest events in the motorsports calendar. Like Alonso, it has crossed the gap between the two formulas – F1™ and IndyCar. This really is the FXTM Race Weekend, and it signals the brand’s determination to continue its growth.

Both FXTM and new partner Ed Jones have their eyes firmly set on the top spot, and neither will take their foot off the gas. With an eye-watering qualifying time of 230.578mph under his belt, Jones is gunning for the Rookie of the Year title. “Ed has not only proven himself an exceptional driver in this series,” continues Lamming, “But has displayed his determination and commitment since his early days in the Intersteps Championships and Formula 3. To start the Indy 500 at 11th place on the grid in his debut year is testament to his dedication and commitment to his sport, and FXTM are proud to be partnering with him for this pivotal race.”

Whether FXTM’s presence in IndyCars will extend beyond the Indy 500 remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain, we haven’t see the last of this global broker’s presence in motorsports.

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