Le Mans: Prospeed, JMW GTE squads add American flavor

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It’s not a great year for full American teams to be heading to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. But two GTE-Am class entries have added an American flavor in the last few days.

First up is the Prospeed Competition squad, which adds a second 2012-spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to the class for Jeroen Bleekemolen, Cooper MacNeil and Bret Curtis, with support from WeatherTech. The No. 79 entry runs as a sister car to Prospeed’s FIA World Endurance Championship-entered No. 75 car.

“Both of them have Le Mans experience, so we should be a very strong combination,” Bleekemolen said of his co-drivers. “We are not going to Le Mans just to make up numbers, at the same time, we know how competitive it is.”

The talented Dutch driver was set to drive for SRT Motorsports in GTE-Pro, before the team withdrew its two SRT Viper GTS-Rs.

Meanwhile the JMW Motorsport Ferrari squad has switched from longtime tire partner Dunlop to Michelin, and added depth on the driving and team fronts from Flying Lizard Motorsports. Americans Spencer Pumpelly and Seth Neiman join Abdulfaziz Alfaisal in the No. 66 Ferrari F458 Italia, with Flying Lizard team manager Eric Ingraham and strategist Thomas Blam also making the trip.

“I wasn’t sure I could find a way back to Le Mans after the class changes with the creation of [TUSC],” Neiman said. “Missing last year – my first June home in nearly a decade – was no fun at all. Doing so with JMW and Ferrari promises to be a very competitive experience. We will miss our normal co-drivers from the States, Dion and Nelson, but Spencer’s Le Mans experience is irreplaceable for this effort. This is a strong team, a strong car, with great co-drivers. I am really looking forward to this effort with JMW.”

A raft of withdrawals leave the 56-car field with no reserves, a little more than a month away before the race.

Audi bids farewell to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich upon retirement

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Audi bid farewell to its iconic head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, at its end-of-season ‘Race Night’ event in Germany on Friday upon his retirement.

Ullrich took over the reins as Audi’s head of motorsport in 1993 and stayed in the role for 23 years, overseeing its arrival in the prototype class of sports car racing and domination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ullrich stepped down from the position at the end of 2016, handing the reins over to ex-Audi DTM chief Dieter Gass, and attended his final racing event with the German marque at its first works Formula E outing in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Ullrich was honored at the Race Night event on Friday and thanked for his efforts in developing Audi into a force within global motorsport.

“In 566 factory-backed commitments during this period he celebrated 209 victories, 13 of them in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eleven in the 12-hour race at Sebring and nine in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ at Road Atlanta,” a piece on Ullrich’s tenure for Audi’s website reads.

“31 driver titles in super touring car racing, in the DTM and in the sports prototype category are credited to him. 57 campaigners were Audi factory drivers during Wolfgang Ullrich’s era and he was responsible for 18 new developments of racing cars – an impressive tally.”