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TUSC: Rolex 24 P class preview

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship premieres this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We’ll have sporadic posts and updates for the season opener of the unified series, which brings together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

First up in our list of class previews, the P class.

P CLASS

WHAT IT IS: The headlining class. No driver ranking limitations. Open chassis and engine combinations, spec Continental Tires. This combines the P2 cars from ALMS, the Daytona Prototypes from GRAND-AM and the DeltaWing, which ran in ALMS but isn’t homologated to any set of technical regulations as a developmental prototype.

WHO THEY ARE: 18 cars strong. It includes 11 DPs, 6 P2s, and the DeltaWing. The field includes a number of sports car veterans and some IndyCar and NASCAR interlopers.

A QUICK BREAKDOWN: The 11 DPs include two cars apiece from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (No. 01/02 Ford EcoBoost Rileys), Action Express Racing (No. 5/9 Corvette DPs), and one car apiece from Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10 Corvette DP), Marsh Racing (No. 31 Corvette DP), Highway to Help (No. 50 Dinan Riley), Michael Shank Racing (No. 60 Ford EcoBoost Riley), Starworks Motorsport (No. 78 Dinan Riley), Spirit of Daytona (No. 90 Corvette DP) and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99 Corvette DP).

Ganassi has won five of the last eight overall Rolex 24s, and a win for Scott Pruett in the No. 01 would be a record sixth overall title. But the team had engine problems at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, and left a day early. Shank (2012), Action Express (2010) and Taylor (2005) also have prior overall wins in the above batch. It feels like a year where a first-timer could break through, and all of the above bar the Marsh (P class debut) and Highway to Help (four gentlemen drivers) could pull it off.

The P2s are two two-car operations, Extreme Speed Motorsports (No. 1/2 HPD ARX-03b) and SpeedSource (No. 70/07 Mazda SKYACTIV-D Coupe) with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (No. 6 ORECA 03 Nissan) and OAK Racing (No. 42 Morgan Nissan) completing the six open-top P class cars in the field. Reliability may be an issue; pace certainly will for the Mazdas, which are brand new and simply hoping to finish; and the other three teams don’t have the same level of Daytona experience as the DPs. I think a P2 car could score an overall podium – perhaps Muscle Milk – but I doubt one will win overall.

The DeltaWing is a beast unto itself, and in a decently good position compared to its at-times fragmented 2013. There’s a solid driver lineup that includes Caterham F1 reserve Alexander Rossi, Indy Lights runner-up Gabby Chaves and 2013 drivers Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge. Reliability will be the issue, as the team’s Élan powerplant hasn’t lasted anywhere close to a 24-hour race distance. But the pace was very good from testing. Finishing is goal one, and if it’s still running, it could sneak a surprise result with the DWC13 coupe.

WHO TO WATCH: As outlined above, it’s hard to go against a DP, which have the edge on P2 cars in terms of overall lap time and outright speed on the ovals. And of the DPs, the Corvettes have the reliability compared to the premiering Fords and privateer Dinans. But realistically there’s about 10-12 of the 18 cars entered in class that should be battling for the podium at the end of 24 hours.

The drivers of note? Sports car veterans such as Pruett, Ryan Dalziel, Joao Barbosa, the Klaus Graf/Lucas Luhr pairing, the Taylor brothers, and the trio in the Spirit of Daytona Corvette. IndyCar’s Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, and James Hinchcliffe. NASCAR’s Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger.

Spectator dies after accident on opening stage of Monte Carlo rally

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Officials have confirmed that a spectator has died following an accident on the first stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon slid off the route towards the end of the 21.25 km stage between Entrevaux and Ubraye, with his car blocking the course.

Emergency services were quickly called when it emerged that a spectator had been hurt in the accident, with rally officials confirming later in the evening that the fan had died as a result of injuries sustained.

“The Automobile Club de Monaco regrets to advise further details following incident of the car #4 (Paddon/Kennard) in SS 1,” a statement from the rally organizers read.

“The spectator was transported by helicopter from the stage to hospital in Nice. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, the spectator has sadly died.

“An investigation has commenced into the incident and all involved parties will provide assistance to the authorities.

“Everyone associated with the event extends their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and individuals affected.”

Hyundai issued its own statement soon after: “Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of a spectator during the opening stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo on Thursday evening.

“The incident occurred at the same time as the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard crashed into the mountainside, after the car hit a patch of black ice at the entry to a left-hand turn.

“The team and crew have pledged their full support to the event organisers and authorities to understand the full details.

“Hyundai Motorsport extends its condolences to the family, friends and individuals affected.”

The stage was cancelled following the incident, with the rally resuming on stage two later in the evening. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville currently leads by 7.8 seconds from defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Paddon’s car has been withdrawn from the remainder of the rally as a result of the incident on Friday.

Gateway secures deal with Bommarito Auto for IndyCar race sponsorship

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 9:  Bryan Herta drives his #27 Andretti Green Racing Honda Dallara during practice for the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series Emerson 250 at the Gateway International Raceway on August 9, 2003 in Madison, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Gateway Motorsports Park’s return to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will feature a two-year title sponsorship from Bommarito Automotive Group, it was confirmed on Thursday. The St. Louis Business Journal was first to report the news.

The largest auto dealer in St. Louis will see its name on the race, now titled the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Gateway’s return comes on August 26 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), for its first IndyCar race since 2003.

“We are pleased to announce that Bommarito Automotive Group will join Gateway Motorsports Park in the production of our inaugural INDYCAR event as the title sponsor,” Curtis Francois, Owner and CEO of Gateway Motorsports Park, said in a release.

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Photo courtesy Gateway Motorsports Park

“This is a tremendous event for the St. Louis region and no one knows our town better than the folks at Bommarito. They are a progressive group, known for a high standard of quality and excellence. It’s the same standard of on-track action and family-friendly experience that we look forward to delivering with our landmark event.”

“We are excited to partner with Gateway Motorsports Park and the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said John Bommarito, President of the Bommarito Automotive Group. “When approached by Gateway about the return of INDYCAR to St. Louis, we felt it was important to have a major St. Louis company step forward and support the return of open wheel racing to the region.  We are extremely proud to be the title sponsor of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”

Gateway will be the sixth and last oval race of the season, following earlier races in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono.

Rahal wants to turn 2016’s unrealized potential into reality in 2017

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Graham Rahal likes to say “2016 was a year of tremendous potential.”

But it also was a year that some potential was not realized.

After a career season in 2015, when he finished fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series and earning two wins and six podium finishes, Rahal slipped back slightly in 2016, finishing fifth with just one win and only four podiums.

So what does 2017 hold in store? If things go well for the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, the tremendous potential of 2016 will morph into potential not only realized, but could result in the younger Rahal’s best year ever.

Rahal has the power, the car, the equipment and the personnel to make some major upward moves this year.

“We just have to find going forward a way to keep that performance level, enhance it a little bit,” Rahal said. “Obviously the cars aren’t really going to change at all (major changes are planned for 2018).

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance (in 2016) was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably. We just did our season reviews about a month and a half ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better.

“However, we had a lot of things that just didn’t quite go our way, whereas in 2015 we had bounces that certainly did. 2016 the bounces didn’t happen. We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship.

“I think that I probably drove better last year than 2015. But hopefully the best is yet to come. As a driver you always have to be critical of where can you improve, where were mistakes, what did you kind of let go, you know, and where did you lose points.”

The 28-year-old Rahal is particularly focused on potentially following in his father’s footsteps of winning the biggest race of all, the Indianapolis 500.

In nine starts in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, the younger Rahal has just two top-10 finishes: third in 2011 and fifth in 2015. At the opposite end of the spectrum Rahal has four finishes of 25th or worse, including two last-place showings (2008 and 2014).

“We really need to improve at Indy,” he said. “That’s our main focus of everything this off-season. And also get a little bit of those breaks. You know, that’s kind of the goal. That’s what we feel like we need.”

The younger Rahal will also reunite for at least the Indianapolis 500 and probably more races with Oriol Servia, which should help upgrade Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s testing, race preparation and data sharing.

“Oriol is a clear plug-in for us,” Rahal said. “First of all, he’s a great guy. Second of all, he will help us. He’s going to help our performance at Indy. I can tell you that right now. And third, he’s been there so many times with the organization, he’s been in and out of the team a handful of times. He knows everybody. He’s been part of the team before. So it’s a clear fit.

“We need just a very experienced guy who can help lead us down the right path, and Oriol is going to be that guy.”

Interestingly, RLL had the opportunity to bring in a full-time second driver, but chose to go with the 42-year-old Servia in a limited number of races for now.

“There were several drivers who came to the team that wanted to run full season, had budgets to do it and everything else, and they were all turned away,” Rahal said. “The team is focused on making sure if there is the addition of a second car full-time, it has to fit the right environment.

“… We really are proud of the environment that we have, and so Oriol is a guy that fits that just perfectly and won’t upset the apple cart, so to speak. … He’s a great guy, and I think he’ll do a heck of a job for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

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Kimi Raikkonen becomes ambassador for sport in Finland

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen was named as an ambassador for sport in Finland at a ceremony in Helsinki on Wednesday night.

Raikkonen won the F1 world championship with Ferrari in 2007, becoming the third Finn to achieve the feat following Keke Rosberg in 1982 and Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999.

Raikkonen was honored by Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila at an award’s ceremony, with Ferrari reporting that his presence at the event was kept secret until the last moment.

“I’m not that used to making formal speeches,” Raikkonen said, referring to his reputation for his monosyllabic nature.

“But I would like to wish all the best to the winners in every category, as well as those who missed out on the prizes this year.

“I would stress how important it has been in my case to have the support of my family and help from trustworthy colleagues and the people within the Ferrari team, with whom I have worked for so many years now.”

Raikkonen will return for a 15th season in F1 in 2017 – his seventh with Ferrari – as he looks to build on his sixth-place finish in last year’s drivers’ championship.