2016 Grand Prix of Europe Race Review

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Nico Rosberg was triumphant in the streets of Baku. Photo credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

Start on pole, lead every lap, set the fastest lap, and win the race. On Formula One’s inaugural grand prix held at Azerbaijan, Nico Rosberg made his mark on the scenic Baku City Circuit by achieving the “Grand Slam.” With Mercedes teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton crashing out of the top ten shootout in Qualifying and starting the race at tenth, Rosberg’s return to the top step of the podium after a difficult past three races consolidated his championship lead. There’s nothing more to say about the German’s race as he drove like the wind in windy Baku. The performance gap between his Mercedes and the Ferrari of second place finisher Sebastian Vettel was quite clear on the power street circuit.

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Sergio Perez finished third to cap off another impressive weekend. Photo credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

Not to take the spotlight away from Rosberg but perhaps the star of the weekend was Force India’s Sergio Perez, who notched a third place finish for the second time in three races. He and teammate Nico Hulkenberg demonstrated tremendous pace as early as the Friday practice sessions but on Saturday morning’s practice session, Perez hit the barrier at the exit of Turn 15, necessitating a gearbox change that was set to drop him five grid places from wherever he ends up in Qualifying. Sure enough, the Mexican delivered with aplomb, setting the second-fastest time in Qualifying to minimize the effect of his grid penalty, at least as much as the Force India could handle.

The Force India VJM09 had strong straight-line speed and a Mercedes power unit to take on the unique challenge posed by the high-speed power street circuit of Baku. On the final sector, a roughly two-kilometer stretch has drivers stepping on the gas at full throttle for around twenty seconds. Drivers of Mercedes-powered cars constantly reached speeds in excess of 360 km/h, easily attainable with the aid of DRS and slipstreaming. Continue reading “2016 Grand Prix of Europe Race Review”

Back-to-back in Baku: Giovinazzi wins GP2 Sprint Race

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Antonio Giovinazzi was on the top step of the podium again at Baku, finishing the Sprint Race ahead of Prema teammate Pierre Gasly and ART’s Sergey Sirotkin. Photo credit: GP2 Series Official Website

Prema Racing’s Antonio Giovinazzi joins an exclusive club of GP2 drivers who have won both the Feature and Sprint Races of a single round—a list that includes current F1 drivers Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Hulkenberg.  Giovinazzi is the first GP2 driver to achieve such feat since Davide Valsecchi winning twice in Bahrain in 2012. Not to leading attention away from the young Italian, but this race was also notable for some dangerous driving during safety car restarts. Continue reading “Back-to-back in Baku: Giovinazzi wins GP2 Sprint Race”

Southeast Asian teams in 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours

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Eurasia Motorsport’s entry is the No. 33 Oreca 05 Nissan in the LMP2 class. Photo credit: Eurasia Motorsport Facebook page

The Philippines and Singapore are each set to field their first-ever representative teams in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour race.

Eurasia Motorsport will be the first Philippine-entered team in the Le Mans race, fielding a Nissan-powered Oreca 05 in the LMP2 class. It is also a full-season entry for the second year in a row in the European Le Mans Series. A majority of the team’s crew members and technicians are Filipino.

The driver lineup is multinational, consisting of young Chinese racer Pu Jun Jin, Dutchman Nico Pieter de Bruijn, and French LMP2 ace Tristan Gommendy, who is an experienced racer at Le Mans. In the 2014 edition of the race, Gommendy was part of Thiriet by TDS Racing’s lineup that propelled a Ligier JS P2 to 2nd place in the LMP2 class.

After a solid debut year in the ELMS in 2015, Eurasia Motorsport upgraded their chassis from the older Oreca 03R to the new generation closed-cockpit Oreca 05. The car, along with the Nissan engine, is a proven package as demonstrated in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans where KCMG raced to the LMP2 class win with their own Oreca Nissan. In an effort to facilitate a more seamless transition to the new chassis, veteran driver Gommendy has been added for the full ELMS season, joining incumbent drivers de Bruijn and Pu.

Eurasia spent the majority of 2015 in the midfield of the competitive LMP2 class in the ELMS and despite the new chassis and Gommendy’s experience, they have not had favorable results over the first two races this season. A DNF in Silverstone albeit a promising fifth place finish in Imola only has them down at eighth out of ten teams in the LMP2 standings.

The key for the Eurasia team is to capitalize on Gommendy’s experience at Le Mans to guide de Bruijn and Pu who are first-timers at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Eurasia has done an exceptional job of staying out of trouble in four-hour ELMS races but Le Mans is a whole different monster which will push the team’s endurance to the limit.

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Clearwater Racing’s entry is the No. 61 Ferrari 458 Italia in the GTE-Am class. Photo credit: Motorsport.com

Meanwhile, Singaporean-registered team Clearwater Racing’s successes in the Asian Le Mans Series have landed them an invite to the prestigious 24-hour race—Singapore’s first team to enter Le Mans. They are set to compete in the GTE-Am class with a Ferrari 458 Italia GTE.

Team principal Mok Weng Sun, a Singapore-born Malaysian whose profession is being an equity fund manager, forms part of the driver lineup, alongside Japanese Keita Sawa, and British sports car racer Rob Bell. Driver lineups in the GTE-Am class can have a maximum of one Platinum or Gold-rated professional driver so while Mok and Sawa are considered the non-professionals of the lineup, Bell is the anchor, being a Platinum-rated professional with lots of experience racing in Le Mans, most recently with Aston Martin Racing last year.

Clearwater received their automatic invitation to Le Mans after claiming the GT class championship of the most recent season of the Asian Le Mans Series with the same driver lineup of Mok, Sawa, and Bell. However, they won the championship with a McLaren 650S GT3, which has no GTE-spec to run at Le Mans so instead, the team acquired the chassis of the 2014 Le Mans GTE-Pro class-winning Ferrari 458 from AF Corse along with technical support.

Team principal Mok along with his Clearwater squad are no strangers to endurance racing success with the Ferrari 458, taking the GT3 version to back-to-back victories in the Sepang 12 Hours of 2013 and 2014. With its history of success in Asia, the Singaporean team looks to be competitive in European soil, especially within a diverse field of GT cars.

The 84th running of the Le Mans 24-Hour race starts this Saturday at 3:00 pm local time in France. Television viewers in the Philippines and Singapore may enjoy live coverage from Eurosport with the race starting at 9:00 pm (UTC +8:00).