Several local stars have dominated the Rolex 24 at Daytona ahead of this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, with Supercars ace Chaz Mostert claiming a maiden Daytona crown.
The 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner played an integral role in helping the No. 24 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE towards GTLM honours, with countryman Ryan Briscoe winning outright for Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi.
IndyCar veteran Scott Dixon, who will suit up alongside Rick Kelly at Mount Panorama for the first time this weekend, joined Briscoe, Kamui Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande to take top honours in the around-the-clock marathon.
A whopping 23 drivers will travel from Daytona to Bathurst to tackle the Aussie enduro, with five drivers either winning outright or their class.
Dixon will steer an R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 at the mountain, while teammate van der Zande will help the Bathurst debut of the NSX GT3 for join JAS Honda Racing.
The result marked Dixon’s third overall win at the Rolex 24, with the 2020 race setting a new distance record.
The race also marked a significant result in the young career of Mostert, whose maiden Daytona win will vault him into a confident Bathurst 12 Hour campaign alongside Augusto Farfus, who he shared the Rolex 24 win with.
Mostert and Farfus, along with John Edwards and Jesse Krohn, sealed their win in the final hour of the 24-hour epic.
Behind the BMW entry in the GTLM class were a pair of Porsches, both of which fielded drivers who will take on Mount Panorama this weekend.
Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor – who will race this weekend with Craig Lowndes – combined to second with Mathieu Jaminet.
Frenchman Jaminet will drive this weekend with countryman Patrick Pilet and Aussie young gun Matt Campbell, the latter duo finishing third at Daytona.
2016 Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen – who will steer a Mercedes AMG-GT3 at Bathurst alongside Jamie Whincup and Maximilian Gotz – steered an AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus to 12th in class, 31st overall, and a total of 37 laps down on the class winners.
MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez has extended his contract with Honda until the end of 2024, the Japanese team announced Thursday.
“Honda Racing Corporation are delighted to announce six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez has signed a four-year extension of his contract and will continue to race with the factory team until at least December 2024,” the team said in a statement.
Mercedes tried out a new steering innovation at pre-season testing in Barcelona on Thursday, insisting the device fell within Formula One’s stringent technical rules.
On-board camera footage showed world champion Lewis Hamilton moving the steering wheel towards him as he enters a straight, changing the angle of the front wheels, before pushing the steering wheel away from him at the next corner.
F1 cars traditionally are set up with the front wheels slightly angled to help cornering.
Mercedes’ technical director James Allison said the so-called dual axis steering system was above board.
“We’ve spoken to them (F1’s governing body the FIA). The rules are clear about what’s permitted on steering systems. We’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements,” he commented after the morning session on the second day of testing.
According to the Mercedes tech guru, the innovation “introduces an extra dimension for steering which we hope will be useful”, but he avoided elaborating on its potential benefits.
Hamilton, aiming at equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles this year, was enthusiastic.
“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.
“I’ve only tried it this morning and we’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project,” the 35-year-old Briton said.
IS IT A GAME-CHANGER?
The emergence of the trombone-like device comes a day after Mercedes’ first public run of the W11 made clear how innovative the six-time world champions have already been in the design of their floor and rear suspension.
Allison described DAS as a “fun” solution – but significantly added that “it’s only the tip of the iceberg of similar stuff on the car”.
But he did admit: “We hope it’s an innovation that will bring us some advantage through the season.”
Yet are other novel aspects of the W11 likely to be more significant in terms of performance?
“There’s certainly more buzz over Dual Axis Steering, but we still don’t know whether it’s a qualifying-only thing, or whether it’s an every-lap of every race thing, or whether it’s every-track of every-round thing,” pondered Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz.
“Whereas positioning wishbones to get you a shed-load of rear downforce is an every-corner thing, an every-lap thing and an every-race thing. So I don’t know whether that positioning of the rear suspension and the downforce it gives might be net the bigger and more significant innovation in giving Mercedes lap time.”
Either way, what is abundantly clear already is that Mercedes are not allowing their unparalleled success to diminish their hunger for more F1 glory in 2020.
The German manufacturer is in some ways the architect of its own fate here given its immense wealth and sheer dominance has forced officials to try and level the playing field.
But with the introduction of a $260 million (AUD) salary cap, there is still some room for Mercedes to flex its muscle, while the current generation of power unit will stay. Furthermore, six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is expected to resign given Ferrari and Red Bull have already heavily committed to Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen respectively.
As such, there is reason to believe Mercedes won’t be easily punted from the top like Red Bull was when 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrids were first introduced.
Nonetheless, this era has been awfully kind to Mercedes and it will want to make the most of it while it lasts.
Is the Vettel-Leclerc partnership a ticking time bomb?
This is strange new territory for Ferrari, and history suggests it doesn’t have the tools to cope with it.
On one side of the garage, Ferrari has the future — Charles Leclerc — a youngster who’s made a promising start to his F1 career and is a potential world champion.
On the other is Sebastian Vettel, the veteran who has won four titles, but none with Ferrari where he’s failed to live up to his promise.
Their careers are heading in starkly different directions and Ferrari has acted accordingly, rewarding Leclerc with a long-term contract until the end of 2024 while allowing Vettel to enter the last year of his deal.
Furthermore, Ferrari confirmed the drivers will be on level-standing in 2021 after generations of unashamedly placing one driver over the other.
The result is a delicate situation that’s been placed in the hands of the heavy-handed; a ticking time bomb if there ever was one.
But Ferrari was handed valuable lessons last year when Leclerc upstaged his superior, becoming just the second teammate to outscore Vettel in an F1 season.
Former world champion Jenson Button has backed the team to learn from that experience.
“I think Sebastian now understands how quick his teammate is and I think they’ll have a much better relationship this year,” he told Sky Sports. “They obviously want to beat each other but I do think that pairing is very strong.
“When there’s a young gun in your team – we found it with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton when they were teammates in McLaren – it does hurt the experienced driver a little bit. But once you get over that and look at him as an equal it’s very different and I think they will work well together.
“I hope they do, because it’s important for the championship.”
Can it really take the challenge to Mercedes?
Maybe Red Bull has been saving its best until last.
If there is one season in this hybrid era that Red Bull can ruffle Mercedes’ feathers then it’s this one.
Red Bull made the gamble at the end of 2018 to ditch its Renault power units for Honda and it appears to be paying off. The team’s reliability issues have improved and its pace has been more consistent, delivering wins last year in Austria, Germany and Brazil.
Now entering the second year of its partnership with Honda, Red Bull is a team that’s finally trending in the right direction after years of treading water.
No wonder it’s confident it can leapfrog Ferrari this year to become Mercedes’ main challengers.
“We want to fight for the title,” Max Verstappen told Sky Sports this month. “I hope this year onwards we are fighting for a podium at least, and the worst-case scenario is third.
“We are doing everything we can to try and step up.”
Mercedes’ Hamilton still beat Verstappen by 135 points last season, so any hopes of a complete overhaul would be largely optimistic. But the signs are positive for Red Bull that the gap can be closed, while beating Ferrari is now realistic.