Veteran motorsports broadcaster Gary Lee passes away

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Sad news as one of the voices of the popular “Thunder” short-track series, Gary Lee, passed away on Monday. He was 63. More here from the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin.

Here’s a quick video of the first “Thursday Night Thunder” show, from 1988, where Lee anchored alongside veteran open-wheel driver Steve Chassey.

Reactions have already started coming into the news. Here’s a quick roundup.

“Gary Lee was one of the most passionate supporters of all types of auto racing from grass roots competition to the international stage of the Verizon IndyCar Series. The enthusiasm and excitement his voice conveyed to the radio listener and television viewer added much to the drama and excitement of our sport. As a former member of the IMS Radio Network broadcast team, Gary helped deliver legendary moments of the Indianapolis 500 to millions of listeners around the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and legion of fans. He will be missed.” -J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president

 

 

Continental out; Michelin in for IMSA from 2019

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and its two primary Challenge series, what are now called the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series, will have a new tire manufacturer partner from 2019 as Michelin replaces Continental.

Respective releases from both Continental and IMSA about the change are below. NBC Sports will have more to follow on this story later.

2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship/Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring/Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, FL USA/Saturday 18 March 2017/Continental tire/World Copyright: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Images

At the end of their International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) contract term in 2018, Continental Tire’s sponsorship of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Prototype Challenge series‘ will come to an end. After submitting a proposal for a multi-year extension, that included a significant increase in investment, IMSA has chosen not to extend the partnership. Continental Tire will remain a partner through the 2018 season and supply tires for those series’.

Over the past eight years, Continental Tire and IMSA/GRAND-AM have enjoyed a great partnership. Since 2010, Continental Tire made a considerable investment to develop and produce race tires that fit IMSA’s specifications. In addition, Continental Tire has invested substantially to help grow sports car racing in the U.S. with a focus on fans through various marketing activities.

“We are extremely proud of the contributions we’ve made to sports car racing in the U.S.,” said Travis Roffler, director of marketing of Continental Tire the Americas. “We worked diligently to continue our support of IMSA, and the growth of the sport, and are disappointed in IMSA‘s decision to go a different direction. We remain committed to making the 2018 IMSA season a fantastic year for the fans, drivers, and all the teams.“

Roffler continued, “The relationships we’ve built over the years are many, and we thank everyone for their continued support of the Continental Tire brand. We also want to thank the fans. Without you, there would be no racing.“

7-10 August, 2014, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec Canada/Michelin tire and Porsche wheel/©2014, Scott R LePage/LAT Photo USA

The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) today announced that Michelin will become the “Official Tire of IMSA” in its premier series – the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and its two major Challenge series – beginning in 2019.

The multi-year agreement calls for Michelin tires to be on every Prototype (P) and GT Daytona (GTD) race car competing in the WeatherTech Championship in addition to its continued participation in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. The GTLM class will continue to be open to multiple tire manufacturers.

The 2019 IMSA Michelin SportsCar Challenge will feature the Grand Sport (GS) class for cars built to international GT4 specifications and Touring Car for TCR-spec race cars. The IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, featuring LMP3 race cars, also will ride on Michelins.

“The significance of this expanded partnership with Michelin, one of the world’s most recognized premium brands, cannot be overstated,” said IMSA President Scott Atherton. “IMSA has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with Michelin, and we are proud to confirm this long-term agreement. Our expanded partnership with Michelin – which also enjoys strong relationships with many of our participating automotive manufacturers – will be a catalyst for accelerating the growth of the WeatherTech Championship and IMSA as a whole.

“We are extremely grateful for the role Continental Tire played in helping to grow our racing platforms throughout our partnership dating back to 2010,” Atherton added. “Continental has been an outstanding partner and was instrumental in elevating the status of the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire Challenge to new heights. We extend heartfelt appreciation to our friends at Continental for their unwavering support.”

As the “Official Tire of IMSA,” the WeatherTech Championship, IMSA Michelin SportsCar Challenge and IMSA Prototype Challenge, Michelin also becomes the entitlement partner of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup beginning in 2019. The four-round competition recognizes top competitors in each class in the four WeatherTech Championship major endurance races. The Cup consists of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International, and the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

“We are tremendously pleased by today’s announcement,” said Scott Clark, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Michelin North America. “The continued growth and success of the WeatherTech Championship and IMSA’s related series provides a great platform for us to engage performance enthusiasts and showcase our MICHELIN® Pilot® Sport family of ultra-high performance tires.

“Michelin does not enter into long-term collaborations lightly or solely for our own benefit,” Clark added. “We are committed to IMSA, the competitors and fans to help continue the growth and success of the series on and off the track. This is a tremendous opportunity to work together to grow the sport. We are enthusiastic and eager to make our MICHELIN tires available to the entire field beginning in 2019.”

PWC: Sonoma wraps 2017; 2018 schedule posted

Patrick Long at Sonoma. Photo: PWC
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The Pirelli World Challenge capped off its Sprint season this weekend for the GT and GTS classes at Sonoma Raceway, with Patrick Long and Michael Cooper emerging as the biggest winners of the weekend at the 2.385-mile road course.

Additionally in GTS, season-long sparring partners Lawson Aschenbach and Ian James won one race apiece.

Lastly, the series put out most of its 2018 schedule late Sunday in advance of its championship celebration.

GT: Long’s titles, Cooper’s wins

Parente, Cooper, Long. Photo: PWC

Long secured the overall GT championship – which combines both the Sprint and SprintX portions of the season – with third place in Saturday’s first race of the weekend, finishing behind race winner Cooper and second-placed Alvaro Parente.

The Californian and Porsche’s lone American factory driver raced in all series events this year in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, and partnered with longtime co-driver Joerg Bergmeister in all but one of the SprintX race weekends. Marc Lieb filled in for Bergmeister at Lime Rock and the pair won one race there.

Sunday’s second race of the weekend saw Long wrap up the Sprint title over Parente, who was trying to defend at least one championship after winning the 2016 title for K-PAX Racing in his No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3.

Despite Parente rocketing up several positions on the start, contact from Daniel Mancinelli in his No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 pitched Parente into a spin and out of control. Once Ryan Eversley, who had nowhere to go in his No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3, hit Parente, it was game over for the Portuguese ace as he retired.

Cooper won the Sunday race as well, Long coming second and Pierre Kaffer third in his No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Parente had four wins in Sprint to Long’s two, but Long’s consistency of top-five finishes in every race meant he beat Parente for that title.

GTS: Aschenbach, James split victories

Aschenbach, James, Baptista. Photo: PWC

James, driving the No. 50 Panoz Avezzano GT, capped off a brilliant season for both he and Don Panoz’s team with their seventh win of the campaign in Saturday’s first race of the season.

Aschenbach took the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R to his second win of the year in Sunday’s second race, following a pass of James after a restart. This win also secured the team championship for Blackdog and manufacturer’s championship for Chevrolet in the process.

The latter win saw the race end early after Aschenbach’s teammate and Blackdog team principal Tony Gaples get hit by another car and have a heavy looking accident. He was released Sunday evening at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, Calif. with only soreness and bruises, and then actually attended the Pirelli World Challenge season-end awards banquet (after a quick trip to In-N-Out burger). He was awarded the GTSA class win with scoring reverted back to the previous lap.

Blackdog team at banquet. Photo: PWC

PWC’s 2018 schedule released

Nearly all the same races as in 2017 are on Pirelli World Challenge’s initial 2018 schedule release. TBAs exist in July and September, traditional weekends for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Sonoma Raceway. Circuit of The Americas moves from September to March.

The complete class participation for each PWC weekend will be announced in the coming weeks as GT single-driver sprint events will continue to run in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series weekends. The IndyCar Series venues are being determined for the Sprint races but currently include St. Petersburg (March 9-11), Long Beach (April 13-15) and Road America (June 22-24).  All except Long Beach will be doubleheader weekends.

In the five PWC headliner races, COTA (March 24-26), VIR (April 27-29), Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (May 18-20), Lime Rock Park (May 25-26) and Utah Motorsports Campus (Aug. 10-12) and feature all seven racing divisions.

The Pirelli World Challenge finale again will take place at legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a unique weekend set for racers and fans on Oct. 19-21. Working in conjunction with the popular European-based SRO Blancpain GT Series, the SRO Motorsports Group Intercontinental GT Challenge will include an eight-hour GT endurance contest with GT3 and GT4 machines and the Touring Car final doubleheader weekend.



2018 Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date, Track, City
March 9-11, Streets of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Fla.
March 24-26, Circuit Of The Americas (COTA), Austin, Tex,
April 13-15, Streets of Long Beach, Long Beach, Calif.
April 28-30, Virginia International Raceway, Alton, Va.
May 18-20, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ont., CAN
May 25-26, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Conn.
June 22-24, Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.
July, TBA
August 10-12, Utah Motorsports Campus, Grantsville, Utah
September, TBA
October 19-21, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Salinas, Calif.
(With SRO International GT Challenge)

Sato return to RLL Racing made official

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Formal confirmation of Takuma Sato’s return to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been expected for several weeks, but has now been made official following the conclusion of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Sonoma.

Neither Sato nor RLL Racing could comment publicly on the deal when news of it broke at the Gateway Motorsports Park weekend in late August, although Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti confirmed Sato’s departure in multiple reports.

Now Sato and RLL Racing have both confirmed the news, which will see the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion back for a second tour of duty with the team at which he nearly won the 2012 race.

Sato, now 40, will be in the second Honda-powered entry alongside Graham Rahal, who had tough 2013 and 2014 seasons since coming home but has since starred over each of the last three seasons.

“I’m excited about having Taku back with us,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with former CBS Late Show host David Letterman and Mi-Jack co-owner Mike Lanigan. “I have such admiration for his spirit and how he approaches everything and was so happy for him when he won the Indy 500 this year. The chance to bring him back to the team was too good to pass up. He and Graham get along very well and we will have two strong cars that can win any race in 2018. I think that will give our team a great chance at being contenders in every race but it’s also going to give each of our drivers a chance to have their best years ever. I’m excited about it and even though the 2017 season just concluded, I can’t wait for the 2018 season to start.”

“I am extremely happy to be back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” added Takuma Sato. “Bobby, Dave and Mike have always been very supportive of me. The team has been ultra-competitive the past few seasons. I can’t wait to be a part of it in 2018. I think we can achieve some great things together!”

Rahal had eyed Sato over the summer and told NBC Sports in July, “A guy like Taku, we have a lot of warm feelings having worked with him a number of years ago.”

Sato finished a career-best eighth in this year’s IndyCar championship in his lone year with Andretti Autosport, much of the standing aided by a whopping 137-point haul at the double points Indianapolis 500.

His first top-10 finish in eight years in IndyCar supplanted his previous best result of 13th in 2011.

Rosenqvist, Heidfeld retained by Mahindra for Formula E season four

Formula E/LAT
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Mahindra Racing will enter the new FIA Formula E season with an unchanged driver line-up after confirming Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld in race seats on Wednesday.

Mahindra charged to third place in the teams’ championship in the 2016/17 campaign, taking its maiden victory with Rosenqvist in Berlin and nine further podium finishes.

The team had long been expected to run with an unchanged line-up for the 2017/18 season, with confirmation arriving two weeks before pre-season testing begins in Valencia, Spain.

“We’re thrilled that both Nick and Felix will remain with Mahindra Racing next season,” team boss Dilbagh Gill said.

“With them, we’re confident that our new race car, the M4Electro will prove to be our strongest yet and Mahindra will consistently be fighting at the front of the field for wins and championships.”

“I am proud to be part of Mahindra Racing where we have been going from strength to strength in Formula E,” added Heidfeld.

“It’s exactly where I want to be and I am delighted to extend my contract and commitment to target even more success. I am thrilled and can’t wait to compete in my M4-Electro in this ever-improving championship.”

Rosenqvist finished season three as Formula E’s top rookie, and despite links with an IndyCar drive after a successful test at Mid-Ohio over the summer, the Swede is relishing the chance to continue his development in the series.

“I’m thrilled to be back for a second season in Formula E and to extend my relationship with Mahindra Racing That was our mutual intention from the very beginning, and we’ve already completed a series of promising tests with the M4Electro in recent months,” Rosenqvist said.

“Moving into season four, I will draw on everything I learned in 2016-17 to try and lift us to the next level. It will be a massive challenge with stiff competition, but we have a solid foundation and are all fully committed to taking the fight to the very best.”

Formula E’s fourth season kicks off in Hong Kong on December 2.