Phoenix could have big impact on Nationwide title race

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With three wins at Phoenix International Raceway in his racing career – two in his previous life as an IndyCar driver and one in his current role as a stock car racer – Sam Hornish Jr. (pictured, No. 12) is feeling glad that his battle versus Austin Dillon (pictured, No. 3) for the Nationwide Series championship is coming to PIR this weekend.

“It is always great to comeback to a place that has been good to you,” Hornish said in a statement. “Phoenix definitely has a lot of great memories for me. We’ve won a few races here and they have been the kind of races that have meant more than just a great day at the race track.

“We are engaged in a pretty tight battle for this championship and there really isn’t a place that I would rather race this weekend than at Phoenix.”

But any optimism on Hornish’s part may have to be at least a little tempered, too. He sits second in the NNS standings (down six points to Dillon) with two races to go, and in the last couple of seasons, the penultimate race of the year has had a detrimental impact on the guy that’s been P2 in the table.

In 2011, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (now driving Sprint Cup for Roush Fenway Racing) held a 17-point edge over Elliott Sadler going into Phoenix. Sadler wound up in a multi-car incident in the final stages of the race and finished 27th while Stenhouse logged a sixth-place result to boost his lead to 41 points; Stenhouse would win the title one week later at Homestead-Miami Speedway by a margin of 45 points over Sadler.

Then, in 2012, Stenhouse and Sadler were fighting again for the championship but were tied atop the standings as Phoenix loomed. But with two laps to go in the race, Sadler made contact with Cole Whitt and went rear-first into the wall before getting hit by Brendan Gaughan.

Stenhouse finished third and opened up a lead of 20 points on Sadler, who finished 22nd. At Homestead, Stenhouse would wrap up his second consecutive NNS title with a sixth-place finish.

With one win and three Top-10s in his NNS career at Phoenix, Hornish has had more success there than Dillon. But Dillon has been no slouch, either, with finishes of fourth, sixth and sixth in his last three Phoenix starts.

“It’s a handling race track where it’s very important to work on your car and make sure it’s right for the race,” Dillon said in his own statement. “Phoenix International Raceway is a place where getting off of each corner is very big. Entry is important. You need to be stable but you need to be the first one to the gas.”

Also important for both men will be starting up front. In 18 of the last 23 NNS races at Phoenix, the winner has come from the first two rows.

Mid-Ohio returns to IMSA schedule in May 2018

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will make its return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship calendar in 2018, marking the first time Mid-Ohio has been part of an IMSA calendar since the 2014 merger that brought together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

Mid-Ohio’s return to the calendar will occur in May 4-6, 2018, and will serve as the venerable Lexington, Ohio permanent road course’s kickoff to its new season.

It’s been since 2013 when GRAND-AM last competed there and 2012 when ALMS did, and from 2007 through 2012 ALMS was always on the same weekend as the Verizon IndyCar Series raced at the track.

More to follow…

Acura moving ahead to solidify NSX GT3 customers in 2018

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Acura Motorsports is moving ahead with plans to get its first NSX GT3 customers to race in North America, as well as worldwide, following Thursday’s formal confirmation of the manufacturer announcing it will sell the NSX GT3.

The two teams who have developed and run the car this year, Michael Shank Racing (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class) and RealTime Racing (Pirelli World Challenge GT class) had team principals Shank and Peter Cunningham on hand today at Mid-Ohio to describe the work they’ve done in the process of getting the car ready for customers in 2018.

Shank highlighted the customer service performed by Honda Performance Development when he ran a Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 prototype in IMSA in 2015 and 2016.

The media availability this morning at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course stopped short of confirming both teams will continue their own programs with the NSX GT3 next year, which would be customer-based and not factory as they are this year. That being said, both teams are working with Acura and HPD as they develop their 2018 programs.

Steve Eriksen, vice president and COO, Honda Performance Development, updated the production process in terms of getting NSX GT3s delivered to prospective customers.

“The production timeline and development was moved forward well ahead of Thursday’s announcement,” Eriksen told NBC Sports.

“That was done on purpose; the production was done well in advance to respond quickly when we get inquiries. The goal now is to move from interested parties to serious parties.”

Eriksen confirmed all four existing chassis, plus spares, run by Shank and RealTime this year are owned by HPD. It will be up to HPD to determine the path forward for those chassis after the respective seasons conclude.

For IMSA, the season finale is at Petit Le Mans on October 7 at Road Atlanta, and PWC’s last event of the year is a week later with the eight-hour SRO Intercontinental Challenge on October 15 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey.

Today’s media availability came a day after Acura confirmed the car will be available for sale worldwide at a price of €465,000 ($545,000).

This occurs after a year where there’s been more than 50,000-miles of on-track development between the two teams.

Shank has already delivered the car its first two wins in its inaugural season of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition. The Pataskala, Ohio-based team is working to figure out its 2018 plans, with Shank preferring to focus on his sports car component first before adding any potential IndyCar program.

Here’s slightly more info about that from the release:

The NSX GT3 is eligible to race in more than two dozen FIA-sanctioned racing series around the world, including:

  • The Pirelli World Challenge and WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series in North America
  • The Blancpain GT Series and 24 Hours Nurburgring in Europe
  • The Blancpain GT Series Asia and GT Asia Series
  • The Super GT GT300 class in Japan
  • The Australian GT Championship
  • The Intercontinental GT Challenge

Additional options and complete customer support, including parts and service, training and engineering services are available.  Orders for the NSX GT3 are being taken now by HPD, responsible for sales in North America, at AcuraClientRacing.com.  JAS Motorsport is responsible for NSX GT3 sales in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, excluding Japan.  MUGEN is responsible for sales in Japan.

Pagenaud paces Mid-Ohio opening practice

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Defending Verizon IndyCar Series and Honda Indy 200 champion Simon Pagenaud paced opening practice for this year’s occasion, posting a quick time of 1:04.9079 at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Pagenaud, in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, sits third in this year’s championship with 404 points. Interestingly his only win this year has come on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway back in April.

Graham Rahal, the 2015 Mid-Ohio winner, was second in the session in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at 1:04.922. Marco Andretti made it into third in his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda at 1:04.9814.

The top nine drivers down to Scott Dixon in ninth were separated by only 0.3241 of a second and all 21 drivers bar JR Hildebrand were within one second.

Other than a near miss when Helio Castroneves almost hit Esteban Gutierrez exiting the Keyhole, there were no issues in the session and no red flags.

Second practice runs from 2:15 to 3 p.m. ET and local time.

Times are below.

Toyota ‘sad and disappointed’ by Porsche’s LMP1 exit

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Toyota president Akio Toyoda says he is “sad and disappointed” that Porsche will be ending its LMP1 program at the end of the year, leaving the Japanese marque as the sole manufacturer in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s premier class.

Porsche announced early on Friday that it would be pulling the plug on its LMP1 operation following this year’s season finale in Bahrain, switching focus to Formula E, where it will race from 2019.

Toyota and Porsche have battled for top honors in the WEC since 2014, leaving Toyoda with a heavy heart after hearing the news.

“I felt that it was very unfortunate when I heard that Porsche decided to withdraw from the LMP1 category of the WEC racing series,” Toyoda said in a statement.

“At last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race, we were honored that Porsche considered Toyota as a rival. It was a great battle as we fought against each other for victory.

“Looking towards this year’s series, we aimed to rise to and even surpass Porsche’s challenge. Those thoughts drove us to work harder and put forth our best efforts in realizing new technologies and skills.

“At this year’s Le Mans, I again had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Porsche. He told me that, much like us, his company participates in motorsport to enhance its production cars. As a carmaker that has been doing such for a very long time, Porsche deserves a great deal of respect.

“I feel very sad and disappointed that we will no longer be able to pit our technologies against such a company on the same battleground next year.

“However, the fight is not yet over. We will continue to battle with all our strength in the remaining five races of this year.

“Let’s make it an amazing competition that will remain in the hearts of the teams as well as of the fans.

“I am full of gratitude to Porsche, but I will save my thanks for when the season is over. At that time, I wonder which of us will be congratulating the other.

“Let’s look forward to that moment as we continue to fight. To everyone at Porsche, we’ll see you on the track!”