IMSA: Monterey Selected Pre-Race Notes & Quotes

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Following are a few pre-race notes and quotes from around the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship paddock heading into the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix:

  • WeatherTech Alex Job Racing is moving on after Sebring, where a penalty was incorrectly assessed by IMSA to the team’s No. 22 Porsche 911 GT America instead of one of the factory 911 RSRs. “After the controversy that happened at Sebring, all I can hope for is that Laguna goes smoothly. We will keep pushing our hardest, just as we always do however, I really hope the officiating has improved because we have too much invested and my crew works too hard for another disaster to happen,” said Cooper MacNeil, who co-drives with Leh Keen.
  • Spirit of Daytona’s No. 90 Corvette DP won the GRAND-AM race at Monterey in 2012 and the pole with Richard Westbrook last year. Despite a great driver lineup of “Westy” and Michael Valiante, luck hasn’t been on the team’s side this year. “This is one of the all-time great tracks and everyone is a little extra motivated when you come out to a place like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. This will be a different animal for us compared to 2012 as we’ve got an entirely new technical package so this is a new notebook for everyone. But hopefully we can unload with a quick car,” said team owner Troy Flis.
  • Wayne Taylor Racing, now with Konica Minolta sponsorship, seeks it second straight Monterey win and first this season. Jordan and Ricky Taylor have a pair of runner-up finishes (Daytona, Long Beach) in the No. 10 Corvette DP this season.
  • It will be a busy weekend for Oakland’s Johannes van Overbeek in his home race in the No. 2 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b. “JVO” participated in an annual bike ride on Tuesday of 80 miles from San Jose to Monterey. “It will be a challenging weekend to get a setup because we’re practicing with 50-plus cars in two hours, so we expect a few yellows.  Then we are racing with nearly half that number on Sunday afternoon,” he said of the weekend; he’ll share the Tequila Patron-sponsored car with Ed Brown.
  • Few drivers have as many laps at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as Jonathan Bomarito of SRT Motorsports. The Monterey native, who now lives in San Diego, seeks to provide the No. 93 SRT Viper GTS-R its elusive first win (the sister No. 91 got the team’s first at Road America last year). “I was born and raised in Monterey County and I used to ride my bike from my backyard up to the track as a kid. I’ve always been around it. I taught at the racing school up there for a number of years and it’s definitely my hometown,” he said, and will again co-drive with Kuno Wittmer.
  • MOMO NGT Motorsport won the GTC class at Monterey last year and seek an encore in a 20-plus car field, now with Kuba Giermaziak alongside Henrique Cisneros in the No. 30 Porsche 911 GT America. “There are a lot more variables to deal with this time around. The field is three times larger and we are battling different manufacturers, so you could say the difficulty has increased,” Cisneros said.
  • CORE autosport seeks a PC class three-peat this weekend, having won the opening two rounds of the season. The team has also stood on the podium in each of its three starts in Monterey. PC and GTD will race together on Sunday; Colin Braun explained the challenges that presents: “I’d say the PC class is more affected by it, because we usually have a mix of passing GTD and GTLM cars, but getting passed by Prototypes. It will be interesting to not have to worry about being passed and just focused on getting through forward traffic.”
  • BMW Team RLL has scored three straight Monterey podiums, although is yet to win at the track. “We may not have the best pace for qualifying but we have several things in our favor for this round. The Z4 GTLM is a more developed car than it was last year. Unlike our main competitors, we have lots of setup and race data from last year and should be fast out of the transporter,” said team principal Bobby Rahal.
  • P2 in GT in 2013, Team Falken Tire seeks its first podium finish with its new car this weekend. Said Bryan Sellers, who’ll co-drive the No. 17 Porsche 911 RSR with Wolf Henzler, “We had a great result and a very strong car and tire combination last year here at Laguna Seca. The new Porsche 911 RSR is a definite improvement so we are hoping for the best moving forward. We were able to learn a lot about our performance in Long Beach and have an idea where we need to make progress.”

Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”