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Sports Car Notes: Porsche Shooting For Enduring Success

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2015
The No. 17 Porsche 919 cuts through the Texas sunset en route to the podium at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday.

Porsche is looking to add to its remarkable season with a victory in Bahrain this weekend.

By John Sturbin | Managing Editor

Having secured Porsche’s first manufacturers’ world championship since 1986 on Nov. 1 in Shanghai, China, works drivers Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber will attempt to add the drivers’ title during the FIA World Endurance Championship’s season-ending Six Hours of Bahrain on Saturday.

Porsche 919 Hybrid aces Bernhard, Hartley and Webber have tallied 155 points for a 12-point advantage over Audi drivers Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer. With a score of 113.5 points and no chance of taking the title, the second Porsche 919 Hybrid crew of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb are in third.

The 3.362-mile Bahrain International Circuit Formula One track in Sakhir, featuring eight right-handers and seven left-handers, will host the third WEC race of the year to be held partly in the dark, after Le Mans and Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The heat and fine sand in the kingdom’s desert figure to create additional challenges during the event.

“With the manufacturers’ championship all wrapped up there is only one thing on our mind, the drivers’ world championship,” said New Zealander Hartley, of the No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid. “Audi put up a big fight in Shanghai, but we executed a near-perfect race to extend our championship lead to 12 points. It’s all to play for in Bahrain; we go there full of confidence and will be on top of our game.”

In 2014 the race in Bahrain was the penultimate round of the championship and marked the first time that both Porsche crews made it to the podium. Dumas/Jani/Lieb started from pole position and finished second while Bernhard/Hartley/Webber were third in both qualifying and the race.

“We’ve done a lot of work in Bahrain, as it’s a test track so we know it pretty well,” said Webber, a native of Australia and former Formula One regular. “The weather is stable and sunny, which off the back of the wet races in Fuji and Shanghai is a bonus. However, the wind conditions play a major role in Bahrain in terms of your top speed and also your cornering performance. Our approach to the weekend won’t change, as we always want to get the best possible result every time we race. Our target is to get pole position and have a smooth race.”

The Porsche 919 Hybrid, designed and built at the Porsche AG Development Centre in Weissach, has won six races since its debut in April 2014. Five of the wins were scored in 2015, with four one-two results, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“The Bahrain circuit is a good one and, because the weather conditions are stable for most of the time, the sheer speed of the cars will be the most important aspect,” said Bernhard, a native of Germany. “In Fuji and Shanghai we have had changing conditions and, therefore, the strategy for the tire choice and timing of the pit stops played an important role, too. No matter what the competition does; whether we win the drivers’ title or not depends on our own performance and we will approach that race with the same focus as any other round.”

In all seven 2015 rounds to-date no car other than a Porsche 919 Hybrid has made it onto the front row of the grid. The Prototype is a research laboratory for future sports car technology. It is powered by a downsized 2-liter, V4-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine and an electric engine, which is fed by two different energy recovery systems (brake energy from the front axle and exhaust energy). This unique and groundbreaking power train produces a system performance of around 1,000 horsepower.

The race will be televised globally and on the FOX Sports Network of channels. The first five hours will air live in the United States on FOX Sports 1 Saturday at 7 a.m. (EST). FOX Sports 2 will carry the final hour. In addition, the race can be viewed via the FIA WEC second screen app or online at www.fiawec.com. To listen to the race, tune into Radio Le Mans at www.radiolemans.com.

Florida-based Tequila Patrón ESM will wrap-up its full-season FIA WEC debut this weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit, aka “The Home of Motorsport in the Middle East.”

Of the team’s six drivers, only one has competed in Bahrain. David Heinemeier Hansson, co-driver of the No. 30 Tequila Patrón ESM Ligier JS P2 Honda, won the 2014 GTE AM race last year and finished second in 2013. The reigning 2014 GTE AM champion joined Tequila Patrón ESM at the start of the season.

“Bahrain is probably my favorite Middle Eastern track,” Heinemeier Hansson said. “It was a triumph last year to win the World Endurance Championship for GTE-AM at that race. It’d be an accomplishment this year to finally grab that podium.”

Heinemeier Hansson, Tequila Patrón ESM owner/driver Scott Sharp and 2012 FIA WEC LMP2 Champion Ryan Dalziel led laps in the last round of WEC competition during the Six Hours of Shanghai. The trio dominated a portion of the LMP2 race before a mechanical issue prevented them from finishing on the podium.

“I can’t believe that Tequila Patrón ESM is finally at the last race of the WEC season,” Sharp said.”I’m very proud of the many hurdles everyone on the team has leapt this year and everything that we have learned. We’ve improved at each event and are poised to finish on a super-high note in Bahrain.”

Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Jon Fogarty are sharing the No. 31 Tequila Patrón ESM Ligier JS P2 Honda. “Track looks great with more elevation than I expected,” Fogarty said. “It appears that we will have the best weather we’ve had all season and it’s about time. While it’s late in the year of a very long season, it’s crazy to think we’re having our last race. We’re hoping for a good result, the cars were quick at Shanghai and I think that will carry over.”

BIC is considered a world-class multi-motorsports facility with seven different tracks. The BIC has hosted International Formula 3, GP2, GP2 Asia, the BMW World Final, Formula 1 World Championship, MotoGP and the V8 Supercar championship races. BIC also has a karting track, drag strip and an off-road obstacle course.

Twenty-four sports cars spread across four classes completed a two-day IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship test session around Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road-course Wednesday, including a number of new entries.

The testing turnout included Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona entries, with considerable attention paid to a number of new GT cars.

The test was not open to the public and lap times were not recorded for distribution. But clearly the GT classes received a noticeable spike, starting with the heralded new Ford GTs of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, which will compete in the exotic GT Le Mans class. Also new to GT Le Mans is the BMW M6 GTLM from BMW Team RLL and updated Corvette C7.Rs fielded by Corvette Racing.

The headline Prototype class featured the two-time defending class champion team of Action Express Racing, which rolled out two Corvette DPs and one renowned new driver _ five-time Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett. The longtime lead driver for Ganassi’s elite Prototype teams, Pruett shares the all-time record for Rolex 24 victories with Porsche star Hurley Haywood.

“It’s been awesome to be working with Action Express,” said Pruett. “It’s a great organization. And it’s been interesting to feel the differences in this type of car, because this is the first time I’ve driven a Prototype other than a Ganassi car.”

Daytona Beach-based VisitFlorida.com Racing announced a new driver tandem for its Corvette DP in Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens. Also testing among Prototypes was the Honda HPD JS P2 of Michael Shank Racing Services, with a driver lineup that included NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular AJ Allmendinger.

“I like getting back in this race car; it’s a lot of fun,” said Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 Kroger/Scott Products Chevrolet SS fielded in Cup by JTG Daugherty Racing. “I wish I could drive it a lot more throughout the course of the year. I haven’t driven the Ligier since January, and there are a few new nuances with it to get used to. They’ve made a lot of improvements since last January and they’ve made the car a lot better.”

IMSA will return to DIS on Jan. 8-10 for the annual “Roar Before The Rolex 24” preseason test. The 2016 WeatherTech Championship season will open with the 54th edition of the Rolex 24 on Jan. 30-31 during the debut weekend of racing for DAYTONA Rising, the $400-million redevelopment project that is transforming the speedway into the world’s first true motorsports stadium. In addition, the BMW Performance 200, season-opening event for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, will be held on Friday, Jan. 29.

Ticket and complete schedule information for the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and the “Roar Before The Rolex 24” will be released at a later date. For more information on tickets to Daytona International Speedway events, go online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or call 800-PITSHOP. Fans also can follow sports cars at www.imsa.com and on Twitter at @IMSA.

International endurance racing aces Marcel Fassler and Mike Rockenfeller have been added to Corvette Racing’s roster for the first two rounds of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Fassler and Rockenfeller will complete the team’s lineup for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in Chevrolet Corvette C7.R entries.

Corvette Racing is the defending GT Le Mans (GTLM) winner of both premier events. Adding two drivers who have won major endurance races around the world _ including a combined five victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans _ will augment the regular driver lineup as the team preps for the first two endurance races of 2016.

“As we’ve learned over the years, winning at Daytona and Sebring requires a Corvette race car that demonstrates the proper balance of performance, reliability and efficiency. Winning also requires flawless execution by the team and drivers,” said Mark Kent, Director, Chevrolet Racing. “We feel very confident that adding Marcel and Rocky to our lineup in these two key races will maximize our chances of success. Their collective accomplishments speak for themselves, and they will add a tremendous amount to our endurance program at Corvette Racing.”

Fassler is readying for his second stint with Corvette Racing, as the Swiss native was part of the team’s endurance lineup in 2009. He was part of the runnerup trio at Sebring and also contested Le Mans and Petit Le Mans in a Corvette C6.R. While he has not competed at Daytona International Speedway, Fassler won overall at Sebring in 2013.

Fassler is a past World Champion in the FIA World Endurance Championship and won Le Mans overall in 2011, 2012 and 2014. “It’s really great that I have the chance to drive again for Corvette Racing at Daytona and Sebring,” said Fassler, whose Corvette resume includes a win at the 24 Hours of Spa in 2007. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to do those first two races in America. I already have raced three times for Corvette Racing in 2009 and have really good memories of working with the team. It’s always good to see them at Le Mans and other races where we cross paths.

“This is a great feeling. It’s the first time I’ve done the Rolex 24 At Daytona, so I’m a rookie but very highly motivated. I always have wanted to be a part of this race in a competitive car. Being with Corvette Racing gives me a chance to go for a class win. This is our main goal and the same for Sebring.”

Rockenfeller is a past overall winner at the Rolex 24 and Le Mans _ both in 2010. In each of the last three years, he has driven Corvette Daytona Prototypes at the Rolex 24 with a third-place finish with VisitFlorida.com Racing in 2015; he and VisitFlorida.com also were third at Sebring. Rockenfeller has a pair of additional podium finishes at Daytona.

“I’m very happy to join Corvette Racing for Daytona and Sebring,” said Rockenfeller, who won the 2013 DTM championship and is a past GT2 winner in the American Le Mans Series and at Le Mans. “The team is one of the best in endurance racing and one I’ve always watched at major races. As a driver, you always want to be part of winning organizations. Corvette Racing is one of those.

“It will be great to get back in a GT car for two of the biggest events of the year _ including the Rolex 24 which I won in 2010. I’m hoping I can help Corvette Racing win there again in 2016. I’m excited to get started and get my first laps in the Corvette C7.R.”

Brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor will join Corvette Racing as third drivers in the team’s two Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs for next summer’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. They will work with fulltime Corvette Racing teammates Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner for the 84th running of the French endurance classic in June.

Corvette Racing is the defending race winner in the GTE Pro class. In addition to going for a second straight victory, Corvette will try for its ninth class win since 2001. Gavin, Milner and Jordan Taylor scored a victory in the No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R in June.

“The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a key part of Corvette Racing’s schedule,” said Mark Kent, Director, Chevrolet Racing. “Racing against the best teams, drivers and manufacturers in the world on the demanding 8.47-mile circuit is something that we look forward to each year. It allows us to demonstrate, on a global stage, the performance, reliability and efficiency of the Chevrolet Corvette.

“Corvette Racing has eight class championships at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and our goal is to repeat as champions in 2016. We hope that the addition of Ricky and the return of Jordan help us achieve our goal of a ninth class victory.”

Jordan Taylor is part of Corvette Racing’s Le Mans lineup for the fifth consecutive year. In addition to this year’s victory, he finished second with Garcia and Magnussen in 2014. Ricky Taylor will race at Le Mans with Corvette Racing for the first time; he will make his third start in the event and last competed there in 2014.

“It’s always great to go back to Le Mans, especially with Corvette Racing,” Jordan Taylor said. “This time we go back looking to defend our victory from last year after one of the most mentally draining weeks that I’ve experienced. Looking back on the race, it’s amazing what the entire Corvette Racing team accomplished. I will never forget the feeling of being on the top step of the podium and I know we all are going for the same result this year.

“The updated Corvette C7.R looks stunning and I can’t wait to get my first laps in it. Having Ricky be part of the team also is great, and I’m confident he will fit in and perform well. We’ve been a part of many big moments racing a Corvette DP in IMSA. Hopefully we can carry that over to Le Mans.”

The Taylors have raced together the last two years in Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette Daytona Prototype. The brothers have played key roles in development of the Corvette DP and won four races the past two years in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship _ including a pair of victories this season.

Ricky Taylor claimed two pole positions in the 2015 TUDOR Championship, and Jordan Taylor is a past Driver’s Champion in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series. They will drive the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP again in the 2016 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“I’m honored to be chosen to represent Chevrolet and Corvette Racing at Le Mans,” Ricky Taylor said. “I’ve raced there twice but nothing compares to going there as part of this team. It means a lot to me to have this opportunity, and I fully intend to support my teammates to the best of my abilities. Getting time in the Corvette C7.R this far ahead of the race is a huge benefit. This is a great car and it’s easy to see why it has had so much success.

“Le Mans is like no other race in the world. It was special to see Jordan, Oliver and Tommy stand on the podium after winning last year’s race. I hope we can join them there this time around.”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing will unveil its IMSA driver lineups for the No. 66 and No. 67 Ford GTs Saturday morning during a news conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway as part of NASCAR’s season-ending Ford Championship weekend.

Team-owner Ganassi will be joined by Raj Nair, Group Vice President, Global Product Development, and Chief Technical Officer, Ford Motor Company and Dave Perciak, Global Director, Ford Performance.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2015
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