In the run-up to the Bahrain V-Prix, North Star have confirmed that their sponsorship deal with Intel will not be renewed for 2018.
Following on from the earlier story, it has been reported that 2013 FV champion and current title contender Nathaniel Powers was spotted in the South of France following the Turkish V-Prix, with some reports even going as far as saying he visited the DS Automobiles Team Mathershaw base at the Paul Ricard circuit for a seat fitting.
While the reports have so far not been confirmed, when asked, an un-named DS Mathershaw employee confirmed that two drivers not currently racing for the Anglo-French team had been at the factory for a seat fitting in the 2018 chassis that will begin initial on-track testing in the next month.
In addition, rumours have now been sparked that should any deal go ahead for Powers to move to DS Mathershaw, it may involve highly-rated junior driver Thierry Xylander moving in the opposite direction, though it is believed he would slot into the Amesbury team's junior system rather than into the seat that would be vacated by Powers.
Charlotte, North Carolina – FIRST Motorsport has announced that Oleksandr Zozulya will remain at FIRST as a race driver for the 2018 Formula Virtual season. FIRST’s press release can be found below.
“[Team Principal Adam Blocker]:
We are pleased to announce that Oleksandr Zozulya will continue as a race driver for FIRST Motorsport in the 2018 Formula Virtual season. The FIRST team has been pleased with his performances so far, notching up two podiums in his first nine races and being ninth in the drivers’ standings despite not racing until France. Oleksandr has done everything asked of him so far, and we look forward to his continued development in 2018 and beyond. With every race, his qualifying pace has become more and more competitive with Arden and his mistakes have come less frequently.
[Race Driver Oleksandr Zozulya]:
I am excited about staying on with FIRST for another season. I have enjoyed my first nine races at the highest level of virtual motorsport tremendously, and I look forward to continue my development as a driver in 2018 against the best drivers in the world. I am also really encouraged by the current performances of our team as a whole and the performance of the car. I hope that our team’s present success is a sign of things to come.”
FIRST did not confirm or give any hints about who will partner with Zozulya in their 2018 lineup. Current driver Arden Hutchinson has been at the team since its inception, but is now demanding larger wages as a result of his impressive performances this season. Huchinson is currently 6th in the drivers’ championship.
Other internal options for FIRST’s 2018 driver lineup include Felix Perez and Stefan Klien, both FIRST youth drivers who are leading the FV2 and VWRS standings, respectively. Both of their 2018 plans have not been announced yet.
Nathaniel Powers and Adrien Simon's battle for the top spot during practice spilled over into qualifying, but unlike yesterday it was Powers who came out on top and will start on pole position for the Turkish V-Prix.
Adrien Simon and Nathaniel Powers spent the entire free practice session trading times at the head of the leader board, and it was the defending world champion who eventually came out on top to end up fastest in practice ahead of the Turkish V-Prix.
Today, Meteor Motorsport have announced the recruitment of Conor Cott who has joined the team as technical director with immediate effect.
Hello everybody, welcome to Istanbul ahead of this weekend’s V-Prix which will be round twelve of the 2017 season. Today on the back row we have Robert Mathershaw of DS Mathershaw on the left, and on the right is Dylan Lopez of Lopez. On the front row from left to right we have Nick Forrest of North Star Racing, Bradley Downton from Downton, and Ryan Petersen of Lufthansa AMR.
Reporter: The first question of the day is to everyone. Last season when we came to Istanbul for the first time, the top 10 were split by under a second in qualifying. To the teams who are usually towards the front, do small margins like that make you nervous about a small mistake leaving your car, or cars, way down the order? And to the teams who are usually outside the top ten, do such close qualifying sessions excite you, as there’s a chance for a huge result?
Bradley Downton: I trust both my drivers fully to go out there and deliver, but of course they’re only human – so errors do sometimes happen. We do have a fairly strong car this year however so I’m not too concerned that an error would leave either driver in a terribly bad position on the grid, but even if things don’t go to plan – such as Nathaniel at Silverstone – we seem to be able to pull it back in the race.
Robert Mathershaw: It’s crucial that we hit the ground running at every event, but Turkey certainly seems to bring everyone together more than most circuits. From the components on the car through to the systems we implement trackside, it is paramount that we are sure they are as good as they can be. Even the smallest issue through the weekend can prove extremely costly, whether that is from something as simple as not warming the tyres to quite the right temperature in the blankets before a qualifying run, causing premature degradation, or having a radio issue that restricts how flexible we can be on strategy during the race. However, I have the utmost faith in the team Arthur and I have built up – we have a very talented group of people.
Nick Forrest: I think there’s always that risk when the drivers are pushing as hard as they are on a qualifying lap. We saw it happen with Judson in Britain, for example, leaving him well down the order, so we definitely know the feeling! I think we are a little bit fortunate in that there seems to be more of a gap back to some of the teams in the lower midfield, but the fights we’re involved in are so incredibly close that if you mess up, you’re down at least half a dozen places on where you could be. Plus we’ve seen in the races recently that getting caught at the back of a train can really make life difficult, so it looks as though the best way to be sure of a good result is to qualify well, and we need to carry on doing that.
Dylan Lopez: The sessions would be more exciting for us if we were properly battling in them! That said it’s better for the sport to have such close qualifying sessions, we even saw Franklin take it to Downton last weekend with Ruiz. We didn’t necessarily have the best qualifying session either in Portugal, which hasn’t overly suited our car so well in the past. That said, nobody can just quite ever know exactly where you’ll be in the pecking order until the end of the qualifying session, since the pecking order in Australia is almost completely thrown out the window by the time we’ve arrived here in Turkey – unfortunately for us!
Ryan Petersen: It’s more of the latter. It gives us smaller teams a great opportunity to start higher up, so long as we’re on the pace. We’ve grabbed a couple of front-row starts in the past thanks to tight qualifying sessions. When you’re not in much of a position to win let alone score on a regular basis, those sorts of weekend become quite special!
Reporter: Thanks guys. Dylan, a few people around the FV paddock have suggested that James Harding might be on his way out of Lopez for next season after being fairly comprehensively beaten by Elroy Wagner this year. However, to be fair to James, he’s not exactly had the best luck at times this season! How d’you feel about him?
DL: It’s fair to say he’s been a little bit below where we’d all like him to be. Only one points score finish doesn’t truly indicate his capacity behind the wheel. We only have to look back to last season where he aced the rain and took pole, and then in another wet session later in the year snagged fourth in quali, I think it was Mexico. It sucks to see him struggling because so many people enjoy his company behind the scenes. We’ve laid it out to him what he needs to do to retain his drive for next season. If he meets those objectives then it’ll be happy days for the guy.
Reporter: I have to agree, there certainly are plenty of people here who think James is a great guy on and off the track! Nick, congratulations on another double points finish in Portugal! However Judson could’ve had so many more if it weren’t for him getting baulked, were the team massively disappointed or was it just nice to secure another double top ten finish?
NF: Well thank you, first of all, it was definitely another good result for the team all things considered. Karl put in another great showing to snag us another top five finish and help close the gap to Holmqvist up ahead. With regards to Judson, I think we let him down somewhat with the tyre choice. The race was cooler than we’d anticipated, so he had a really hard time getting the tyres into their working window. He did a sterling job all weekend, though, qualifying on the front row, challenging for the lead into turn one, and holding off faster cars until – as you said – the backmarker baulked him and he got collected by Dwyer. Judson absolutely deserved to come away from Portugal with more than just two points, in my view, but that’s racing, and hopefully everything comes together for him somewhere down the line.
Reporter: Regarding North Star’s engine deal with BMW, after Portugal you’ve now scored fifty seven points together, which means North Star Racing is now the most successful BMW powered team having overtaken Zyla’s total of fifty five. Is the partnership working and do you envisage it continuing for the foreseeable future?
NF: Yeah, but Zyla won a race and we haven’t, so we’ll keep at it!
In all seriousness, though, everyone seems to be happy with the direction things are going. Everyone involved, at least, the team back in Perth, the guys from Magna International and BMW as well. We’ve had a couple of rough patches, obviously, the update we brought in for Britain had a few teething troubles, but it looks like we’ve managed to get on top of that now. But on the whole, BMW have been a very strong and dedicated engine partner, and the intention is for us to continue with them through at least 2019, so I can’t see anything changing on the engine front any time soon.
Reporter: Thanks Nick. On the subject of engines we have a question for Robert and Bradley. Robert, how do you feel the engine partnership with Downton is working out? Is there ever a fear that your team may not be provided with the very best engines or are Downton as professional as they come across? And Bradley, was it a worry earlier on this season where the guys at DS Mathershaw were one of your biggest threats for the constructors title or was it just good to see another team powered by Downton engines doing the business?
RM: The DS-Downton engine partnership is as strong as it has ever been. Last season we won the title in the first full year of our current relationship, mating the Downton technical ability with that of our DS Automobiles engineers and technicians to develop an engine that has proven to be the class of the field both last season in our 2016 chassis and in the current season with the Downton team. It’s impossible for one of our teams to have an inferior engine, as the team that develops them is so intrinsically linked with both ourselves in Paul Ricard and Downton in Amesbury. I can say with absolute certainty that the partnership is ideal for us, and I’m sure Bradley will agree – after all, his team is the dominant force in 2017!
BD: Firstly, I agree one hundred percent with Robert, this partnership is ideal. It’s something we started work on early and that came to fruition really back in 2015, but last year was the first proper year we ran together, and they won the title. This year we look massively strong, but they’re right there in second still. Were we worried? Of course. Mathershaw – and Franklin too – are probably the two strongest teams around so you can never count them out, but we were very confident in the car and it’s just nice to see that the partnership we have is seemingly working so well that we’re first and second in the constructors.
Reporter: Coming over to you Ryan, there was unfortunate news before Portugal that AMR is under great financial strain, due to a number of factors. I won’t pry too much as I’m sure it’s not an easy time for you and the team but, do you feel this recent news has hit the team hard? Or has everyone internally known about this for a while and it’s only now come to light to everyone on the outside?
Ryan Peterson: We’ve known for a very long time; before this year in fact. AMR the research firm learned quite quickly what AMR the team were well aware of: there are better ways to get a decent return on investment! The original research agreement was tied in with BMW – racing with Force Australia – for two years, which turned into a spat between AMR and BMW over components, payments, and so on until you get the picture. So, AMR did a work-around: secure capital and investment from interested venture and tech firms, buy the team outright, and use the whole team’s infrastructure to machine their own parts and eventually engine in-house to bypass BMW. For a while, it worked.
Fast forward two years, and we’ve had some fantastic milestones achieved, first pole, regular points, first top five finish, spare the podium and win sadly. AMR were coming to the end of their money and the research was almost wrapped up. A choice at that point had to be made: did they keep going and bank on an upward trend in the constructors, or bail out as planned? The decision ended up dragging out for a horribly long time. By the time they decided to exit due to potentially running a loss, they’d missed the team entry deadline, so their decision was forced. I wasn’t with the team at this time; I was called back in as an advisor to AMR late-2016 as they’d decided to go one more year or find a buyer. If we did as well as they speculated, they’d stay on board.
It's no secret we’ve had a bit of a horrid year since then. When I came on, we had roughly two hundred core staff plus one hundred from AMR, just after a cut-back. Now it’s just twenty from AMR and ninety of our own. The morale plummeted after Spain, when the first round of regular cuts started once more. Things got very tense once the money stopped being available for 2017, and we had our first big crash with Felix, then another, and another. Parts have been refurbished against being outright replaced, and we’re running the same tubs since the European leg upgrades, praying for no extensive damage. AMR have no further interest in the sport and I feel it’s shown since the end of last year. We’re now hoping for a buyer.
Reporter: Thanks Ryan, I’m sure everyone will agree with me when I say everyone in the paddock hopes your well-liked team gets everything sorted soon. (Nodding heads and agreement from fellow team principals and all present press). Coming back to you Robert, I could be wrong but from the outside looking in, it seems as though DS Mathershaw are now putting most of your efforts into 2018. Which makes sense as it looks hugely unlikely that you will lose second in the constructors. Who ultimately makes the decision about development choices such as this, if indeed it is the case?
RM: We’ve always been open about our chances this season, with 2017 acting as a year of consolidation and the restructuring of the Mathershaw Technology team within the DS Automobiles family. These changes have meant we needed to prioritise, but now they are complete. We were able to turn our attention to 2017 early last season, so we had a solid baseline which has left us where we are now. With regards to who makes the decisions, Arthur, as the Team Principal, deals with the commercial side both in terms of sponsors and the rights holders of the sport – with my input where I feel it’s necessary – and for technical, engineering and operations matters, as Technical Director, so the buck ultimately stops with me. We have an excellent team, so I take into account predictions they make regarding gains that may result from various development decisions. At this point, I take into account what the drivers feel needs improvement, because ultimately they’re what gets the result, and there’s no point improving in one area when another still holds them back. Finally, Arthur and I discuss the budget implications, and from there I have to pick which options are going to benefit us the most – both for this season and far beyond.
Reporter: Excellent, thanks Robert. And now back to you Bradley, we’re now heading into the final third of the season and although there are still many many points on offer, your guys are looking mighty out front! Assuming the form continues, are you and the whole team excited for a title fight between your drivers? Or is it a nervous time as there will surely be tension between the two?
BD: Given the pace the car has shown it certainly helps ease the nerves – but as I’ve often said this season we can’t rest on our laurels. I’m sure it’s going through the drivers minds but right now the entire team is simply focused on each race weekend, and hopefully wrapping up the constructors title. Once that is out of the way – and the title fight is mathematically just between Nathaniel and Klaas – we can start to enjoy it! As for tension, there really hasn’t been any this year. They’re working fantastically together, and despite the situation, Nathaniel is still helping Klaas out given his great experience; and I think Klaas is helping Nathaniel unwind a little more away from the track. He’s very laid back and quite the joker which Nathaniel isn’t used to but seems to be enjoying, and it works very well between the two – so long may it continue!
Reporter: And what are your team’s expectations this weekend? Which team would you put your money on for the top step on Sunday? You’re allowed to back yourself! And obviously following on from your last answer, there is a chance you can win the Constructors title this weekend if you outscore Mathershaw by just one point and don’t lose too many to Westwood and Franklin, but are you thinking about that? Could you try to describe just how much this means for you and everyone involved with Downton FV Team?
BD: We’re hoping for another strong weekend, and expectations are right up there for another solid result to be honest. I’m never going to say we expect to win, because the competition is incredibly fierce and very determined to end our winning streak, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think we had a good chance to extend it. The championship is on my mind, because the sooner it’s concluded the sooner I can relax, but it isn’t going to affect anything within the team. They are still committed one hundred percent to performing to their maximum all weekend. Obviously, the drivers championship is the one that gets everyone talking, but it is the constructors that the team works towards – because that’s when you know you’ve built the best car and that’s where the money is to continue producing strong performances. To actually win it would be incredible. At this moment, we’re still focused on making it happen – I take nothing for granted just yet – but this is a season that has been three years in the making, we’ve been preparing since 2014. All of the guys and girls here and at the factory have been loyal and stuck with us throughout, and they’re finally seeing it all pay off and getting the rewards for it, and the title would be the icing on the cake, it’s the main goal and why we all come racing. To put it into words, I’m not sure I can at the moment. But I think everyone heard the elation when we took our first win in Brazil in 2015, and I’m sure it’ll show again if we manage to wrap up this championship!
As for the competition; Mathershaw and Franklin obviously as I’ve mentioned, and Westwood have looked very strong in recent races too. Then of course we have to be wary of FIRST, Holmqvist and North Star as well; all of whom have proven in recent races they are more than capable of pulling out fantastic performances.
Reporter: Thankyou Bradley! Same question to the rest of you. Expectations for the weekend and best bet for the top step?
RM: Our expectation for this weekend is to maximise the potential of the car, as always. While we know we lack the outright pace for a win by a considerable margin, we want to be in the best possible position to take advantage of any issues our rivals have. When you’re in our position without a realistic chance of victory without good fortune, it’s all too easy to be sloppy and blame mistakes on the car, which I’m not afraid to admit we have done at times during this season. We’ve optimised our practices slowly but surely, and I believe this is the point where those changes are going to pay dividends. I can’t look beyond Downton for the victory this weekend, but I hope we can be slightly closer than we have been of late.
NF: I think we have to be aiming for a similar result as we had in Portugal, both cars in the points, and continuing to outscore Holmqvist. We’ve had some fantastic results in the last few races, and we’re only fifteen points behind them now, so there’s every chance we could catch them at some stage in the remaining six races, especially if we get the kind of big results they had in Austria and Britain.
As for the winning team, I reckon it’d be a bold call to bet against Downton, but Franklin have definitely been giving them a run for their money recently with Ruiz, I think it’s only a matter of time before they steal one.
RP: We’re just going to do what we can with what we’ve got. That’s all I’ll ask of our team at this point. It’s going to be a warm weekend, so we plan to run long and gentle on the tyres. If the heat kills a few engines ahead we might scrape a point or two! It’s a very fast track, so I’m thinking a Downton one-two is up for grabs.
DL: Hopefully a points finish can come our way if we can get into the right place at the right time. That’s all we can realistically hope for frankly.
Reporter: Okay thanks guys. That’s it for our questions today, as always thank you very much to the team principles attending today and everyone tuning in for this press conference, enjoy the weekend all of you!
Enrique Ruiz snatched a last minute pole position ahead of the Portuguese V-Prix, denying Judson Sikes who put in an incredibly strong performance and will start on the front row for the first time in his career as a result.