Diamond Cellar Classic

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.

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

Sean Rayhall’s season of variety rolls on with Thunderhill drive in Radical SR3

Photo: Darkhorse Autosport
Photo: Darkhorse Autosport
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I guess at a certain point, it’s good to lose count of how many types of machinery a driver has driven in a calendar year?

Anyway, Sean Rayhall can add a Radical SR3 sports prototype to his diverse year of driving. Just off the top of my head, he’s driven a partial season in Indy Lights, where he won twice, he drove a few races in IMSA in the Prototype Challenge class, he tested an IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing at Sonoma, he tested the radical DeltaWing prototype last month at Daytona, and he’s had other GT and stock car machinery he’s been in.

In other words, give the 20-year-old Georgian four wheels and he’ll find a way to wheel it… quickly.

Rayhall joins John Falb, Todd Slusher and Jeff Shafer in the No. 67 ONE Motorsports Radical for this weekend’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill at the 2.86-mile, 15-turn road course. Rayhall finished on the podium in this race last year.

“I am delighted to take on the challenge of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill again this year with ONE Motorsports!” he said. “I think they will provide one of the best cars on the grid as usual, and I’m sure my teammates and I will keep it flat the entire time! Hopefully, we follow up last year’s podium with a win! That is always the target.

“This close to Thanksgiving, you have to count your blessings. Silver Arrow Technologies and Bass Egg are right towards the top of my list. They have, literally, kept the wheels on our programs this year. I’m looking forward to going out to Thunderhill and closing out the year on the best note we can for both of them.”

Rayhall is one of a number of ace sports car and open-wheel drivers set to tackle Thunderhill this weekend.

As for Rayhall’s 2016 plans, they remain a work in progress, with nothing confirmed as yet. Rayhall is targeting to do as many Indy Lights and sports car races as possible, with several team options in play.

Wehrlein, Ghiotto, Rosenqvist, Carlin trio headline new entries for GP2 testing

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Testing rolls on this week at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. However, following today’s one-day Pirelli tire test for the Formula 1 teams and drivers, action will shift to the GP2 Series for the next three days.

Mercedes reserve driver and past DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein (PREMA Racing), FIA Formula 3 European champion Felix Rosenqvist (Status Grand Prix, then PREMA), GP3 runner-up Luca Ghiotto (Trident) and Carlin’s trio of Dean Stoneman, Richie Stanaway and Antonio Giovinazzi are among the notable drivers added to the testing list this week.

Carlin team boss Trevor Carlin noted the desire for his team to improve following a mostly tough 2015:

“We’re keen to get strong preparations for 2016 underway after a somewhat disappointing season,” he said. “We know we have three very talented drivers with us this week and the aim is to work on the progress we’ve made in the last few races with Dean and continue that with the experienced feedback of Richie.

“We’re delighted to give Antonio this opportunity; he has been a great asset to the team over the last two seasons and we’re excited to see him in a GP2 car for the first time this week.”

The full list of drivers and teams testing for the first day can be found here, via the GP2 official website.

On #GivingTuesday, James Hinchcliffe asks to check out Trauma Pit Crew story

James Hinchcliffe
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The unsung heroes of this and any Verizon IndyCar Series season are, without question, the safety crews.

It’s rare to find anything within the INDYCAR paddock that enjoys near universal approval and a positive rating, but in the Holmatro Safety Team, the appreciation cannot be ignore.

The Holmatro Safety Team’s efforts on-site at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help save James Hinchcliffe’s life after his accident in practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 were miraculous.

Hinchcliffe posted a video message on Instagram today (linked below) that asks viewers/readers to check out the story of the Trauma Pit Crew – the staff who took care of him after the Holmatro Safety Team’s efforts.

Hinchcliffe arrived at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, where IU Health Trauma Surgeon Tim Pohlman, MD and his team set to work – the Trauma Pit Crew site.

He didn’t remember the details of the accident (recorded at a staggering 126 G’s), which they consider a blessing.

The blog from the IU Methodist website quotes Hinchcliffe as saying, “I received world class care. But more important than that, every single person from nurses to surgeons to all other staff could not have been nicer. After my care, I considered faking an illness so I could go back to see them!”

The Trauma Pit Crew website itself, however, reveals even more details about the team.

We’d share elements of the Trauma Pit Crew page, but it’s probably going to be more powerful – and more meaningful – to read the story in full directly on that website. It’s well worth your time.

Report: Harvey seeking to get IndyCar program sorted by Christmas

Photo: Indy Lights
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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As noted on Monday, there hasn’t been much movement in the Verizon IndyCar Series driver market for 2016, and the available seats left out there are exactly the same ones (in theory, anyway) as they were this time 12 months ago.

And if Jack Harvey can get his program sorted, arguably the most intriguing of those remaining seats – the second seat alongside James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – could go away itself.

Harvey, who has been working to gather the necessary budget since the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September to graduate into IndyCar, has said he’s close for the better part of a month.

In early November, Harvey told The Linc in the U.K. there was an 80 percent chance he’d be in IndyCar next season.

He’s now expanded on those hopes in an interview with Autosport’s Marcus Simmons, renowned in U.K. circles as one of the leading journalists in discovering young open-wheel talent.

“The sooner the better,” Harvey told Simmons. “If we could be in before Christmas it would be better for me and the team, so we’re trying to work towards that.

“But we want to make the best deal, not just rush one – our foot’s in the door and it’s time to push the whole body through.”

He “graduates” from the Racing Steps Foundation this year; the RSF has been an instrumental part of Harvey’s upbringing.

Realistically, SPM makes the most sense for Harvey to graduate with. He’s been with SPM’s Indy Lights program the last two years, where he bagged seven wins, finished on the podium in 60 percent of his starts and finished second each of the last two years.

And frankly, he’s due for the opportunity. You can say “oh, he didn’t win a title” – but consider the list of Indy Lights non-champions in the current IndyCar field, a list that includes race winners Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz among others – and he’d be more than fine to fit in.

Plus, with Spencer Pigot already confirmed for at least a three-race program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with hopes of more, it would be nice to see the two protagonists from this year’s Indy Lights battle continue their rivalry at the next level.