TUSC: Audi reveals a potent five-car Rolex 24 lineup for GTD

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Audi nearly swept the GT class podium in the 2013 Rolex 24 at Daytona, ending 1-2 with Alex Job Racing and APR Motorsport. In what’s looking like a stacked GT Daytona (GTD) class field already for 2014, the manufacturer announced potent lineups for all five of its R8s this time around in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season opener.

Flying Lizard Motorsports, which shifts to Audi after a long stint with Porsche, will field two R8s. Its two full-season American Le Mans Series pairings of 2013, Seth Neiman and Dion von Moltke (No. 35) and Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache (No. 45), will anchor their two cars at Daytona. Additional drivers are Filipe Albuquerque and Alessandro Latif (No. 35) and Markus Winkelhock and Tim Pappas (No. 45).

Paul Miller Racing, Fall-Line Motorsports and GMG Racing will field an Audi apiece. Miller’s son Bryce leads the No. 48 car’s lineup alongside co-drivers Rene Rast, Christopher Haase and Matt Bell. Fall-Line has announced a pair of Charles – Espenlaub and Putman – for a full-season in its No. 46 R8, joined at Daytona by Brits Oliver Jarvis and James Walker. GMG features James Sofronas and Alex Welch, Audi drivers for the team in the Pirelli World Challenge, with Marc Basseng and Frank Stippler alongside in the No. 32.

“We competed at Daytona a year ago in order to highlight the qualities of the R8,” Romolo Liebchen, Head of Audi Sport customer racing, said in a release. “We achieved this perfectly after taking a one-two finish in the GT class. Since then, demand in the USA has risen sharply. We are delighted that four teams now rely on the Audi R8 LMS to begin the TUSCC – particularly as all four teams have a good reputation in the USA. We are intrigued to see how they will measure up at Daytona and in the other races.”

The GTD class is designed to feature a pro-am format, but all of these lineups have maximized their driver combinations with a balance of true pros, 2013 Silver-rated drivers who could be considered pros, and fast gentlemen drivers. That’s the key to success in modern endurance sports car racing; eliminating as many weak links as possible.

Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato welcomes ‘Baby Borg’ to the family

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
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Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.

The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.

Try putting that on a mantle in your house.

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.

“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.

“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”

Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.

And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.

“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.

“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.

“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”

Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.

Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.

“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Michael Andretti celebrates his 5 Indy 500 wins as a team owner, and Takuma Sato celebrates his first Indy 500 win
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.

“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.

Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.

It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.

Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.

“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.

“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.

“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”