WeatherTech Racing will run in the GT Pro category for the start of today’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen are up for the challenge of driving the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche RSR prepared by ProSpeed Competition for the full 24 starting at 3 p.m.local time this afternoon.
As a result of the team’s original third driver Bret Curtis (Lake Sherwood, Calif.) not being able to continue as a result of his accident on Thursday, the team searched for a replacement Bronze classified driver, but could not get one approved in time for the start of the race. Cooper MacNeil (Hinsdale, Ill.) and Jeroen Bleekemolen (Monte Carlo), together with the team, made the decision to run the race with just two drivers. As a result of not having a Bronze driver in the car, the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche will now run Le Mans as a Pro car.
“We found out only 10-minutes before the warm-up that our proposed Bronze driver did not get approved,” MacNeil said. “So Jeroen and I, together with the team, decided that we will run the race with just two drivers. The Pro Class has eight cars, we will be the ninth. Maybe a couple of cars will have trouble and we can get a top five or even maybe sneak up on the podium.
“We have no real pressure on us. We don’t have to push the car 110% as we don’t have the speed to match the pace of the factory cars. We plan to turn laps, take care of the car and get it to the finish line and see where we end up. The team did a great job to get the car together and we are motivated to perform for them. I am excited about the prospect of running the race with just Jeroen for 24 hours. We are looking at triple stints for Jeroen and doubles for me.”
Bleekemolen is up to the challenge of running just two drivers.
“This will be a first for me,” Bleekemolen said. “The most hours I’ve had at Le Mans is 10 hours of driving. This weekend I will have to run the maximum of 14 hours and Cooper 10. You cannot run more than four hours in a six hour period, so we each have to do our part.
“As a driver I am excited at the prospect of just running two guys. I will be saving as much energy as possible leading up to the race. We will be working with our physio team and be prepared as possible. There is no real pressure on us. If the car runs trouble free and some of the other Pro cars have problems we may get a top five result.”
The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).
But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.
First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:
* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.
* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.
There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.
Here’s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):
- The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
- Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
- The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
- A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
- Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
- INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
- Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
- The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both do not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver and driver equivalency weight) – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.