Porsche, Ferrari, Camaro square off for GT crown at Lime Rock

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Having won the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona and the inaugural North American Endurance Championship in 2012, Magnus Racing hit two of GRAND-AM’s three biggest targets in the same year. They can achieve the third career target this weekend if they hold onto the Rolex Series’ GT points lead and secure the title.

Indeed, the team known as much for its hilarious press releases and excellent snark – a refreshing break from the stuffiness that permeates most of racing – is all business this weekend at Lime Rock as drivers Andy Lally and John Potter enter with a four-point lead in the No. 44 Porsche GT3 Cup over Scuderia Corsa Ferrari driver Alessandro Balzan.

The deficit between the two was halved after a post-race results change following the last round at Monterey, when the No. 31 Marsh Racing Corvette and No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup were demoted positions for contact. That elevated Balzan, who co-drives with Leh Keen in the No. 63, to third place and within four heading to Lime Rock.

There was drama on the final lap at Lime Rock a year ago. Lally’s team miscalculated its fuel amount by a mere fraction which left that car sixth; Balzan finished third a year ago with co-driver Johannes van Overbeek. Adding fuel to the championship fire is the fact Scuderia Corsa is bringing in “JVO” as a ringer this weekend, to a second car with co-driver Paul Westphal, to aid Balzan’s title charge.

That sets the scene for the two main title protagonists. If they both manage to muck it up, Stevenson Motorsports will be there waiting and like Scuderia Corsa, it too has added a second car for this race.

Stevenson’s pair of Robin Liddell and John Edwards – the latter one of the sports car stars of the year – have won a class-high four races but the highs have been offset by four finishes of eighth or worse. As a result, the No. 57 Camaro drivers enter the weekend 11 points in arrears of Potter and Lally, and would need a win with Magnus finishing seventh or worse to eclipse that mark.

Helping Stevenson’s cause is its second car with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, GM factory drivers in the American Le Mans Series’ Corvette C6.R program, who will be in the No. 75 Camaro this weekend.

AIM Autosport Team FXDD, the defending GT class champions with Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato, can steal the title but at 16 points back, they’d need a lot of help to do so. It’s Assentato and Anthony Lazzaro who have the shot this weekend in the No. 69 Ferrari F458 Italia, with Segal in the team’s No. 61 R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport car with Alex Tagliani.

The GX class will likely be decided first; Dr. Jim Norman needs to complete the 30-minute minimum to score enough points to uphold his 11 point lead over Joel Miller. That would give the BGB Motorsports Porsche Cayman driver the title in a class Mazda helped to create, and a class that will go away after this race.

GT POINTS
1. John Potter/Andy Lally, 313
2. Alessandro Balzan, 309
3. Robin Liddell/John Edwards, 302
4. Emil Assentato/Anthony Lazzaro, 297

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.