Muscle Milk men lead first Petit Le Mans test sessions

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Back-to-back American Le Mans Series P1 champions Muscle Milk Pickett Racing paced both of today’s test sessions at Road Atlanta for next weekend’s Petit Le Mans, with a fast time of 1 minute, 10.510 seconds set in the morning run.

For the 10-hour race, Muscle Milk’s usual duo of Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf will be joined by Romain Dumas, who was the one that posted the quick time this afternoon in the No. 6 HPD ARX-03c.

Also testing today were Level 5 Motorsports’ two P2 entries, the No. 551 and 552 HPD ARX-03b machines. The No. 551, which will be driven by Scott Tucker and Ryan Briscoe at Petit, was second-fastest overall (1 minute, 13.689 seconds), with the No. 552 of Tucker, Marino Franchitti and Guy Cosmo logging the third-fastest lap (1 minute, 14.489 seconds).

Four GT machines took part in Sunday’s sessions, with the class led by the No. 93 SRT Viper GTS-R that will be driven by Jonathan Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer and Tommy Kendall. The No. 93 topped out with a lap at 1 minute, 19.394 seconds.

The Prototype Challenge and GT Challenge categories only had one car apiece turn laps on Sunday. On the PC side, the No. 25 8Star Motorsports ORECA FLM09 of Sean Rayhall and Ozz Negri logged a fast lap of 1 minute, 16.072 seconds. In GTC, the No. 66 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Craig Stanton, Ben Keating and Damien Faulkner threw down a lap of 1 minute, 25.283 seconds; Keating and Faulkner enter Petit on a two-race win streak in GTC after wins at Circuit of the Americas and Virginia International Raceway.

Another pair of test sessions are slated for Monday at Road Atlanta, the first from 8 a.m. to Noon ET and the second from 1-5 p.m. ET.

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.