IMSA: Muscle Milk pulls out of TUDOR Championship; next move TBD

Leave a comment

The Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team is the latest to announce its withdrawal from the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, joining Level 5 Motorsports and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing as teams to pull out after early season races.

Pickett’s team struck a late deal to compete with the ORECA 03 Nissan P2 chassis. A fifth place finish in the Rolex 24 at Daytona followed, but mechanical gremlins struck at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

After Sebring, the team opted to temporarily sit out the Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca rounds, citing a need for further car and tire development and looking for series officials to make further Balance of Performance (BoP) adjustments.

News initially broke of the team’s decision late Wednesday night and was confirmed Thursday morning.

It’s also telling in how many prototype teams from the American Le Mans Series now remain just three races into the new TUDOR Championship: just Extreme Speed Motorsports, of which Patron is a TUDOR Championship sponsor; and DeltaWing Racing Cars, although the radical DeltaWing coupe prototype is not built to a set of either LMP1 or LMP2 regulations, and instead focused on a lightweight, fuel efficient platform.

OAK Racing and SpeedSource (1 OAK Morgan Nissan, 2 SpeedSource Mazda SKYACTIV-D) make up the balance of the P2-spec cars within the Prototype class.

Pickett’s next move is TBD but it’s understood most of its crew will have to find new work; the potential exists the team could resurface later this year with a different car in a different series.

But since 2010, here’s the list of ALMS P teams that have since departed: Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, Dyson Racing, Highcroft Racing, Drayson Racing, Intersport Racing, Autocon Motorsports, Level 5 Motorsports, Conquest Racing, Rebellion Racing, Black Swan Racing and Project Libra. The last three teams on that list were ALMS part-timers.

Dyson will now race a Bentley Continental GT3 in Pirelli World Challenge, the same series where Black Swan races its Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3; Drayson will be active in the new FIA Formula E Championship and Rebellion still has a two-car presence in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The rest of the teams are no longer active in any championship.

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

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
Leave a comment

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.”