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BTCC: February Review

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The striking new Team BMW livery
(Photo from: www.btcc.net)

With just one seat left on the British Touring Car grid for 2017, this season is starting to take shape and in the last month, there have been a whole host of driver and team announcements which have shown us what to expect this year.

The first news of the month was that Stephen Jelley will return to the British Touring Car Championship for the first time since 2009 as Team Parker announced the former WSR driver will pilot their Ford Focus for the 2017 season. Since leaving the BTCC, Jelley has gone onto race in various series, most notably the Porsche Carrera Cup GB of late, having finished fifth in the 2016 championship.

As well as racing in the Porsche Carrera Cup, Jelley has also raced in the British GT championship and the Blancpain Endurance Series, which included competing in the Spa 24 hours.

It was not just independent teams announcing drivers as MG revealed that Aron Taylor-Smith and Daniel Lloyd will spearhead their 2017 British Touring Car Championship campaign. It is the third year in a row that the team has fielded an all new driver line up, with the team continuing its strategy of combining youth with experience with Taylor-Smith competing in his sixth campaign while Lloyd goes into his first full season in the BTCC.

Despite only being 27, Taylor-Smith is a multiple race winner and has already competed in over 150 races. Last season saw the Irishman race with Team BKR in a VW CC in which he enjoyed a race victory at Rockingham as well as a further two podiums. However once it was announced that Team BKR would not feature in 2017 the rumour mill started turning and Taylor-Smith was linked to various drives up and down the paddock.

In contrast Lloyd only made his return to the series after a six year gap last season in the third Eurotech Racing Honda at Thruxton. However due to budget issues, Lloyd had to withdraw from the remainder of the season after Croft, though despite this he impressed hugely with two front row starts and six points finishes. He returns to Triple Eight after the team handed him his debut in 2010 in a Vauxhall Vectra.

The next piece of news was from MG’s sister outfit Team BMR Subaru who announced that Ashley Sutton would be joining the team from MG for the 2017 season and would be joined by returning duo Jason Plato and James Cole in the factory backed team.

Sutton impressed hugely in his debut season last year with two pole positions and a maiden victory as he went onto win the Jack Sears Trophy.

WSR also completed their driver line up this month as they confirmed Rob Collard would remain with the team however the big news was that Colin Turkington would return to WSR after two years away with Team BMR. The Northern Irishman has enjoyed huge success with the BMW outfit in the past as his connections with them date back to his debut season in 2002 and has raced for 9 seasons with the team over three separate stints.

This huge success amounts to 30 race victories, a further 86 podium finishes, eight Independents’ crowns and two outright Driver’s Championships, won in 2009 and 2014, which was also made into a team double. All this ensures that the Turkington, WSR partnership is one of the most successful in the history in the BTCC.

It is good news for Collard too as 2017 marks 10 seasons with WSR having first raced with the team in 2005 for two years in an MG before returning in 2010 after a season away from the BTCC and two seasons with Motorbase Performance.

WSR also confirmed that they will be an official manufacture team for the first time since 2003, as BMW announced that they were to return to the BTCC for the first time in 21 years. WSR has run independent BMW machinery for 10 years and will see the team benefit from increased financial and technical support from BMW UK. BMW’s return also sees the return of one of motorsport’s most striking liveries.

The final piece of news from February was that Josh Cook will be on the grid this season after agreeing a deal to drive for Maximum Motorsport in the team’s rebuilt Ford Focus. Having spent 2016 with MG it looked as though the 25 year-old would spend this season on the sidelines having announced he would be leaving the Triple Eight run team earlier this year. With the vast majority of seats taken options were low however following an injury to regular driver, and Team Principal, Stuart Lines, Cook has been bought in while Lines steps aside.

2017 BTCC Entry List
TEAM No. DRIVER
CONSTRUCTOR ENTRIES
Team BMW 4 Colin Turkington
5 Rob Collard
BMW Pirtek Racing 77 Andrew Jordan
Silverline Subaru Team BMR

 

20 James Cole
99 Jason Plato
116 Ashley Sutton
TBA
 

Honda Halfords Yuasa Racing

25 Matt Neal
52 Gordon Shedden
Simpson Racing 303 Matt Simpson
 

Power Maxed Racing

TBA Senna Proctor
TBA Tom Chilton
 

Triple Eight Engineering

23 Daniel Lloyd
40 Aron Taylor-Smith
INDEPENDENT ENTRIES
 

Motorbase Performance

3 Mat Jackson
30 Martin Depper
300 Luke Davenport
 

AmD Tuning

10 Ant Whorton-Eales
48 Ollie Jackson
Handy Motorsport 11 Rob Austin
Speedworks Motorsport 80 Tom Ingram
 

Team HARD

12 Michael Epps
24 Jake Hill
TBA Will Burns
Laser Tools Racing 16 Aiden Moffat
Wix Racing 33 Adam Morgan
 

BTC Norlin Racing

17 Dave Newsham
22 Chris Smiley
 

Eurotech Racing

31 Jack Goff
55 Jeff Smith
Maximum Motorsport 66 Josh Cook
Team Parker Racing TBA Stephen Jelley

 

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Grading 2018′s New Driver/ Team Pairings – Alex Bowman/ Hendrick Motorsports

Christopher Sorbey

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Undeniably the apple of an entire nation’s eye for over two decades, Dale Earnhardt Jr poignantly announced in the spring of 2017 he would step away from driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season.

 

Once the initial shock value wore off, reality set in. Who could possibly fill the shoes of the sport’s most popular driver? Dale Jr’s lasting impression on legions of fans young and old is unparalleled. Ultimately the conundrum of the century would centre around who might fill the gargantuan shoes little E would leave behind.

Dale Jr’s departure from Hendrick Motorsports left one the sport’s most coveted rides up for grabs. Immediately the rumour mill was set ablaze with potential candidates loyal Dale Jr supporters fancied.  Following three months of intense speculation, Rick Hendrick would reveal Dale Jr’s replacement in late July 2017.

 

Next man up for the #88 team a tall lanky fella from Tucson Arizona.  Chances are y’all probably remember him as the kid that subbed for Dale Jr while he recovered from concussion-like symptoms that kept him from the seat of the Nationwide Chevrolet in the fall of 2016.

 

Certainly no stranger to the Monster Energy Cup Series (Made 81 Career starts from 2014-2016), Alex Bowman makes his triumphed return as a full time driver on the circuit for the first time in nearly two years. Driving the #88 car for Hendrick Motorsports axiomatically elevates Bowman from enchanting underdog to proverbial impact player. No longer a low man on the totem pole expeditious results at HMS would give credence to an emerging young star hoping for a rebirth following past failures with BK Racing & Tommy Baldwin Racing.

 

Thrust into a precarious position at the age of 21, Alex Bowman exhibited incredible poise in the face of adversity. Visibly Alex was not equipped for the competitive environment that cup racing bestowed upon him back in 2014. One quality season (2013 – 2 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s 2 poles, 11th in the driver standings) in the Xfinity Series cannot enumerate impending success on the other side.

Instead of licking his wounds Bowman bided his time wisely eventually earning the opportunity to sub for Dale Jr in the fall of 2016.  What could have easily morphed into catastrophic gaffe #3 for Bowman positively altered his career saving him from infinite anonymity.

 

In the 10 races (2016) Alex piloted the #88 car he made quite an accounting for himself (3 top 10’s, 1 pole) earning the respect and confidence of both Mr. Hendrick and Dale Jr.

 

The simple formula for success in 2018 relies squarely on the shoulders of Alexander Bowman.

Bowman’s familiarity with crew chief Greg Ives and the entire #88 team perpetuates some of the chemistry established back in 2016.  A contingent of smart fans out there including myself firmly believe Alex Bowman was on his way to capturing the checked flag at his home track(Phoenix) in November of 2016. On this day Bowman dazzled, starting the race from the pole ultimately leading 194 laps on his way to a career best 6th place finish.

 

Even though the former self-proclaimed bad luck Bowman left the desert without the checked flag, indisputably he walked away a winner.  Bowman’s courageous showing converted the cynics into believers. Without this fine performance in the bag Bowman could have found himself easily lost in the shuffle never to be heard from again.

Perseverance spearheaded the rise of Bowman mania. The whimsical wave of momentum Bowman’s been on since that race at Phoenix spilled over into 2017. Bowman turned heads in February finishing third in the Clash at Daytona, once again piloting the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet. He would also capture his first career Xfinity Series victory at Charlotte in the fall of 2017 driving for Chip Ganassi.

 

Perceptibly this young buck is completely equipped for the fate that awaits him once the green flag drops on the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series at Daytona in February.

Rick Hendrick has all the confidence in the world in Bowman’s capabilities. Mr. H could have taken the high road and hired an established veteran driver, instead trusting Bowman’s youthful exuberance lets the entire racing world know he’s committed for the long haul.

Alex Bowman has the credentials to resuscitate Rick Hendrick’s anaemic #88 team from the ashes. Fresh blood can unite an entire nation of fans that are starving for a breath of fresh air.

 

Don’t Be Dale Jr, Be Alex Bowman. That’s paramount.

 

Alex Bowman has an entire nation on his side. So watcha  gonna do when Bowmanmania runs wild on you?

 

Final grade – B

 

Photo courtesy of Autoweek

 

 

 

 

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Recap of the Go Bowling 400

Christopher Sorbey

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For the second time in as many races at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr flexed his muscle and totally outclassed his comrades leading 104 laps of the scheduled 267 run on Saturday night.

Positive karma was certainly on the side of NASCAR’s resident Jersey boy on Saturday night as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing laps of the race. After letting one slip away at Kansas last season there’s no way Truex Jr would be denied on this night.  Once Martin finally cleared Ryan Blaney who arguably had the fastest car of the evening on lap 249 there was no going back.   The race was in the bag despite a few late restarts that Turex Jr ultimately controlled down the final stretch.

Saturday night’s victory was the seventh since 2015 for the powerhouse combination of Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing. Who are clearly primed for another deep playoff run once the chase starts in the fall of 2017.

 

While the Furniture Row Racing team celebrated in the winner’s circle the entire NASCAR community was overcome with deep despondency.  Overshadowing Furniture Row’s jubilation was one of the most vicious wrecks in recent memory. On lap 201 Joey Logano’s car got loose and sent Danica Patrick hard into the  wall in turn 1, in the process collection an oncoming Aric Almirola.  The Richard Petty Motorsports driver would take the hardest lick of the three drivers involved in the wreckage.

After several tense moments Almirola with the assistance of the Kansas Speedway safety crew would be cut from his car, and air lifted to a local medical facility.   Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement early Sunday morning that Aric Almirola suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra. He returned home to North Carolina Sunday and his driving status at this time has yet to be determined.

As for Danica Patrick, Saturday night’s carnage was the cherry on top of a melted sundae that is the queen of speeds hellacious 2017 campaign.

Heading into next weekend’s Coca Cola 600, Danica Patrick sits 33rd in the driver standings, making this the worst start to her five year Monster Energy cup career.

Danica’s slow start has many speculating 2017 could indeed be the final year we see the popular driver turns laps on Sunday afternoons.

One of these weekends Ryan Blaney is going to put it all together and capture his first career Monster Energy Cup series victory.  If it weren’t for bad luck Ryan Blaney would have no luck at all in 2017.  With that being said the second generation driver put some of the bad karma behind him at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. Ryan Blaney looked untouchable for a better part of Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 before Martin Turex Jr passed him and put of bow on the race.

Moral victories don’t count however bringing home a 4th place finish after several weeks of unfortunate misfires is a step in the right direction for the Wood Bros and young Ryan Blaney.

Momentum breathes confidence.

Despite the fact Blaney should have scored 3 victories by my account this season, putting these failures in the back of the ol memory bank makes this guy one of the most intriguing drivers to keep an eye on as the summer months roll on.

 

Although Ricky Stenhouse Jr failed in his bid to go back to back fresh of the heels of his first career cup win, he and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne continue their meteoric rise to the top of the heap in the Monster Energy cup series.

The Roush Fenway Racing drivers finished 10th & 11th respectively in Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400.  If the chase stared today both drivers would be firmly in the thick of the title picture.

While Stenhouse Jr is working on a career year ( 1 win, 3 top 5’s, 5 top 10’s, 1 pole) though the first 11 races, his teammate Trevor Bayne continues his vast improvement finishing inside the top 20 in 8 of the 11 races run this season.

 

Daniel Suarez is one incredible driver. Is he not?

The 2016 Xfinity series champion continues his march towards the winners circle just 11 races into his cup series career.

Suarez tied his career best finish of 7th on Saturday night.

In a time when Joe Gibbs Racing looks completely out of sync, Daniel Suarez represents a beacon of hope for an organization in desperate need of a pick me up.

Despite being unexpectedly trust into the role as driver of the #19 Toyota weeks before the Daytona 500 and working with two different crew chiefs this season Suarez has completely shattered all expectations while looking like a seasoned pro instead of a green horn.

 

 

 

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F1: Russia Preview

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2017 is what we have been wanting for years
(Photo from: www.bleacherreport.net)

Three rounds down, and 2017 is already shaping up to be a classic season in the making with little to choose between two of the best drivers in the world, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Between them they have won seven of the last eight world championships, dating back to 2010 when Vettel won his first of four.

Now with Ferrari he is hoping to end Mercedes’ dominance of the hybrid era by taking his fifth crown and become only the third driver to achieve this feat. He will face tough competition throughout though from Hamilton who will be hoping to add to his three titles and become the only British drivers to win four World Championships.

After three fly away races, Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix. First held in 2014 around the Winter Olympic park in Sochi, the circuit has become popular amongst fans, who cheer on local hero Daniil Kvyat. Although the circuit has been praised by drivers, it has often played host to rather monotonous races, due to the low degradation surface, which ensures drivers are able to often complete the race with only one pitstop.

However, the race has already to some championship defining moments such as in 2015 when Nico Rosberg’s throttle developed problems and forced him to retire, effectively ending his championship aspirations.

Leading up to this weekend there have been many stories breaking regarding the drivers and the sport’s governing body, the FIA.

The latest piece of news which has broken this morning (Thursday) is that the FIA will begin to enforce old rules regarding the size of a car’s number and driver name, ensuring that fans will be able to see who is who out on circuit, effective from Barcelona. In a letter composed by race director Charlie Whiting will state that “We feel that to be clearly visible the numbers should be no less than 230mm high, have a minimum stroke thickness of 40mm and be of a clearly contrasting colour to their background.”

Whiting also confirmed that if these requirements are not met then the car in question could be deemed ineligible
to race.

The FIA also announced this week that changes in dimensions will ensure that T-wings and shark fins are banned for 2018. These design features have appeared and reappeared this season following a loophole in the regulations after the area opened up for development around the car after changes were made elsewhere in the regulations.

From 2018 onwards the rules now state that bodywork above the engine cover is now banned.

The next piece of news is regarding the Sochi circuit as speed bumps have been added to the exit of turn 2 in an attempt to stop drivers from gaining an advantage if they run wide and miss the turn 1 apex. In previous seasons, we have seen multiple incidents where drivers have missed the first bend or been forced of the circuit and returned to the circuit with a much larger gap than they had previously.

If the changes have the desired affect then we could see an interesting race this weekend. What happens though, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are destined to be close.

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