All set for Clipsal after Supercars test at SMSP
Simona settles in; GRM back in Commodores
After a stultifying parade of breathless press releases centring mainly on new Supercars’ liveries – hardly worth a photo and caption – at last the new championship season gets underway properly this weekend with the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide.
Reverting to the old format of a 250km race on both Saturday and Sunday, the Clipsal event is often a huge test of driver endurance and car durability with temperatures soaring in the concrete ravines that make up much of the street circuit.
With last week’s official test at Sydney Motor Sport Park essentially closed to all but ARDC members and a few media, Adelaide will be the first time race fans get to check out the changes to teams’ line-ups.
The opening round of the championship will be a huge challenge for the series’ new female full-timer, Simona de Silvestro, racing a Nissan for the Kelly gang.
The Swiss reported she was happy with her performance on the hard tyre at the Sydney test day but felt she needed a bigger yield from the softs.
Finishing just 1.1sec away from her team-mate Rick Kelly – who was fastest over the day – suggested a solid start to 2017, especially given it was her first look at SMSP.
As well as trying to get a handle on the new construction Dunlops, most of the teams were also adjusting to new technical personnel and in a few cases, new drivers.
Ex Formula One boffin Sam Michael was in the thick of things in the garage of champion team Red Bull HRT, when he has been hired in a consultancy role. Michael was spotted scrutinising data and keenly observing how the operation went about its business.
Uncorking ultra-quick laps was not a priority for any of the teams, although many of the usual suspects finished in top half of the time sheets.
The team formerly known as HRT rolled out its re-liveried Commodores, with Mobil 1 HSV Racing warpaint.
Understanding two new Dunlop tyre compounds were on top of the agenda for the team, but it was also a chance to experiment with setup, collate data, and in Scott Pye’s case, get behind the wheel of his new ride for the first time.
Mobil 1 HSV Racing managing director, Adrian Burgess, said the test was about much more than a single lap time.
“For me, the first test of any year…is about the team operating well, the procedures being correct and everyone working well together. The cars ran reliably, everyone knew their role, so I was happy from that point of view,” Burgess said.
Newbie Pye was happy with the day too.
“The first part of the day went really well. We got it to a point where it was really comfortable for me, which just had to spend some time fine tuning, which allowed us to work through a good test program in the second half of the day.”
Now in his seventh season with Walkinshaw Racing, James Courtney said the team got some of the answers it was seeking. Some; not all.
“These new tyres are the biggest change in the category for this year, so it’s about just working with Terry (Kerr) and the boys to get an understanding on how it reacts and the good and bad points. We set the testing plan around evaluating that,” Courtney said.
The Brad Jones Racing garage was also one of methodology and calm.
“Yeah, we’re all good, here,” reported Brad Jones. “We think we’ll have a strong year with Nick Percat joining us alongside Tim [Slade].
“Nick’s a talent. But we need to calm him down a bit. He’s a bit fiery for us cruisy bunch of Albury people!”
Garry Rogers Motorsport’s between-season dramas over the ownership of Volvo hardware looked a thing of the past with the returning Garth Tander and James Moffat shaking down the new GRM Commodores.
Right at the end of pitlane, Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport had its two cars on hand though one of its two seats was still in doubt due to the controversy over Superlicence eligibility. Though CAMS had denied Matt Chahda a licence for 2017, he was at SMSP sharing the driving duties in #3 with a LDM co-driver from last year, Aaren Russell.
Fresh from having his Superlicence granted provisionally, 16-year-old Alex Rullo managed 73 solid laps and has pronounced himself ready for his Supercars championship debut at the Clipsal.
A stark black transporter bereft of and sponsor logos hinted strongly that Erebus was still chasing commercial support – or at least a sign writer – prior to the Clipsal. This didn’t stop David Reynolds being among the top 10 fast guys.
Scott McLaughlin has settled in swiftly at DJR Team Penske, witness his second-fastest lap of the day just ahead of team-mate Fabian Coulthard.
While there were some early communication difficulties with new engineer Frenchman Ludo Lucroix, a refugee from Triple Eight, the pair seemed to be gelling nicely by the end of the test.
Dunlop judged the official test day a success but hinted the teams face a steep learning curve to fully understand the characteristics of the new 2017 rubber.
Supercars teams were issued with four sets of the new soft and super-soft tyres to evaluate at ahead of the season opener.
Drivers sensed the new tyres gave a lot more grip compared to last year’s offering, but many indicated the improvement wasn’t night and day. Times were broadly better though.
Hamilton calls for fewer limits on social media across race weekends
World-famous tweeter wants greater freedoms
F1 strictly limits the shooting and broadcasting of video from paddocks, and these constraints include drivers.
A few, and Hamilton was one offender, got into hot water for not appreciating the exclusive nature of broadcast rights.
Hamilton is urging Liberty to free up the rules for the betterment of the sport.
"If you look at football, social media is so much greater… they utilise social media a lot better in football, in the NBA, in the NFL," said Hamilton.
"In F1 every time, for example, I would have posted a picture or a video, I would have got a warning from the FIA, or notice telling you to take it down.
"[Social media] is a super easy free tool to grow for the sport, for us to use, to share it, to engage with other people.”
Internationals join field for Australian GT opener
Record numbers set for Adelaide streets, but no Chris Mies
The rise and rise of GT racing continues with a 27-car field to jam on to the streets of Adelaide for the opening round of the 2017 CAMS Australian GT Championship next weekend.
Missing though will be factory Audi GT star Christopher Mies, who has been forced out of the Australian GT Championship due to his heavy racing commitments in Europe and the US.
The twice Bathurst 12-Hour winner has been a standout in the Aussie GT series over the past two seasons, winning in 2015.Joining the local names on track though are international factory drivers Côme Ledogar and Kelvin van der Linde.
The Clipsal weekend will be the 10th time the Australian GT Championship has visited the city of churches and strange murders, with eight of the world's leading automotive marques represented, including a record number of current-spec GT3 machines.
Three races across the weekend will be the first chance to see new teams, drivers and combinations on track.
Part of McLaren's 2016 Blancpain Endurance Series winning team, Ledogar made his Australian GT title debut at Highlands, New Zealand, at the end of 2016, making an immediate impact.
Ledogar will join Fraser Ross at the wheel of a McLaren 650S GT3, run by reigning CAMS Australian Endurance Championship-winning team Tekno Autosport.
The 20-year-old van der Linde will share duties with Geoff Emery in the #74 Jamec Pem Audi R8 LMS.
Despite his youth, van der Linde has already notched up a host of championship successes, including the ADAC GT Masters in 2015 - Germany's equivalent of the CAMS Australian GT Championship.
They'll be up against the gun locals including some who were prominent in the recent Bathurst 12 Hour.
Former Bathurst 1000 winner Steve Richards will share his BMW Team SRM M6 GT3 with James Bergmuller, who will make his Australian GT debut in Adelaide.
Craig Baird and Scott Taylor will be partners in one of Scott Taylor Motorsport's two Mercedes-AMG GT3s.
Max Twigg will pilot the team's second entry, rekindling a relationship with Mercedes that began in 2015.
Bentley returns to Australian GT courtesy of Heretic Autosport, with evergreen John Bowe joined by former Bathurst 1000 racer Melinda Price.
Lamborghini has serious representation with eight entries.
Jim Manolios and Dean Canto will share the Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 in what will be that model’s first competitive outing around the Adelaide Parklands circuit.
Audi is well represented with six entries, with Greg Taylor and Nathan Antunes continuing their successful partnership aboard the GT Motorsports Audi R8 LMS.
Ash Samadi and Marc Cini will drive solo in their own cars while James Koundouris will be joined by former Supercars racer Ash Walsh in the Supabarn Supermarkets entry.
McLaren will field two cars; the Ross/Ledogar entry and the McElrea Racing run Objective Racing 650S GT3 for Tony Walls, who notched his maiden Australian GT victory there 12 months ago.
Two Aston Martins will also take to the 3.219-kilometre circuit, with Tony Quinn driving the Darrell Lea entry and Tony Bates at the wheel of the sole Miedecke Stone Motorsport car.
Aussie international Liam Talbot will make his second Australian GT appearance in the Walkinshaw GT3 Porsche 911-GT3 R. The Clipsal 500 weekend is the first of the five-round 2017 GT Championship.
GT cars and Supercars top support card for grand prix
Lots to watch before the F1 rockets crank up at Albert Park
Australia’s Formula One fans should count themselves fortunate to get to see a healthy line-up of supporting race attractions at Albert Park late next month.
Most of the GPs held elsewhere simply don’t bother with racing other than Formula One.
Aussies though expect good value for their hard earned.
Australia’s unique support program across the four days includes the Coates Hire Supercars Challenge, Porsche Carrera Cup, Shannons Australian GT, MSS Security Ultimate Speed Comparison and the Shannons Historic Demonstration.
A new qualifying format will be introduced to the Supercars at Albert Park, but the racing remains meaningless due to its non-championship status.
The new high-pressure format will see all 26 Supercars on track in sessions which set the grid for the four races, allowing only 10 minutes between each session for crews to adjust or fix the cars.
A bit old hat now, but still it seems to intrigue spectators, is the Ultimate Speed Comparison, will ramp up the adrenalin as three different cars - the Minardi 2-seater F1 car, a Mercedes GT car and Mercedes road car - compete in the ultimate speed test.
Supercars’ reigning Bathurst winner Will Davison will drive the F1 two seater, with Peter Hacket steering the GT racer and Mick Doohan in the Merc road car.
Joey Mawson and Mick Schumacher to fight again in European F3
Teenager Pironi to chase this year’s Formula Renault Eurocup series
Last year the rivalry between Australian Joey Mawson and German Mick Schumacher was a fiery ongoing component of the 2016 German Formula 4 title – and the two will be going at it again this year in the Formula 3 European Championship.
Mawson’s deal to remain with Dutch team Van Amersfoort Racing was confirmed this month while Schumacher is expected to line-up with the hot Prema outfit.
On the grid too will be Brazilian Pedro Piquet, promising Briton Harri Newey and rated German David Beckmann, all in Amersfoort cars.
Mawson’s deal was made possible with serious support from Australian investment company PODIUM, the acronym for 'Promoting Our Drivers In Universal Motorsport'.
"I'm ready for the next step," said Mawson, who was pipped to the Asian MRF Challenge win over the Christmas-New Year break by Newey on a wins tiebreak.
Other pleasing developments for Australian open-wheel followers is confirmation that Tasmanian teenager Alex Peroni will contest this year’s Formula Renault Eurocup series.
Peroni, 17, has confirmed he’ll drive for Britain’s Fortec team in the high-profile series, which this year features a race in Monaco on the same day as the F1 grand prix there.
His graduation to Eurocup follows his victory in last year’s French Formula Renault Monoplace Championship, and a competitive wild card appearance in the 2016 Eurocup finale at the Estoril circuit in Portugal.
“Ever since I started racing karts as a seven year-old I’ve dreamed of following the drivers I look up to into Formula 1,” Pironi said.
“Daniel Ricciardo raced successfully in Formula Renault on his way to F1, and I hope to do the same.
Supporters Blundstone and RACT have been joined by United Petroleum and Renault Australia this year to help Pironi’s campaign.
Peroni will travel to Europe in early March for pre-season testing at Magny Cours (France), Paul Ricard (France) and Nurburgring (Germany). The 2017 Eurocup series begins on April 21-23 at Monza in Italy.
Taylor and Subaru announce 2017 ARC plans
Moving up to freer PRC category in WRX STI
Australia’s first female Australian rally champ Molly Taylor will be back to defend her crown this year, with Subaru confirming its commitment to the domestic competition.
The championship-winning duo of Taylor and co-driver Bill Hayes will again campaign a WRX STI in 2017 - but in the Production Rally Car (PRC) class, where technical restrictions are not as limited as in the Group N Class pursued in 2016.
The team’s new car is being prepared by Launceston-based Les Walkden Rallying (LWR) and will compete in the expanded six round series that begins next month with the Eureka Rally, in Ballarat, Victoria (March 17-19).
Subaru Australia managing director, Colin Christie, indicated the decision to chase the 2017 championship again was relatively simple. “Molly is a great ambassador for Subaru and we’re humbled by the amount of attention she’s gained, especially with the young audience, where she’s an inspirational role model and has attracted attention way beyond the core rally audience.
“From what we hear, the competition may well be more intense this year, so we want to give the team every opportunity to repeat their success – which means it’ll be an even more exciting championship for rally fans!”
Last November, Taylor became the first female – and youngest - winner of the ARC after the tightest title tussle in 25 years.
Hayes took out the co-drivers title too, making it a dual celebration.