Photo: SH Rallycross

Full Red Bull GRC season a tantalizing prospect for Ward, SH Rallycross

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For Jeff Ward, getting into this year’s full Red Bull Global Rallycross season in the No. 07 SH Rallycross Ford Fiesta is a huge piece of excitement for driver, team and the series.

Ward will run the car that will run with MET-Rx primary sponsorship support, with an additional commitment from WIX Filters, and 360fly adorning two parts of the car all season.

Now 54 years old but in a case where age is just a number, the veteran open-wheel and motorcycle and off-road truck ace and champion will embark on his first full Red Bull GRC campaign in 2016, and looks forward to a big amount of success.

Ward described how the deal came together with SH Rallycross, the team co-owned by James “Sulli” Sullivan. Ward ran the 360fly colors with Chip Ganassi Racing in two race weekends last year, at Daytona and Washington, D.C.

“Last year went well with my two drives,” Ward told NBC Sports. “I’d always wanted to do rally from the X Games. It’s kind of tough to get in because you had to run Rally America and get invited. But this was always the niche.

“I did the off-road truck stuff; I did the two races last year. I put the feelers out and talked to a few teams. I met with ‘Sulli’ and everything fell in place. It worked out great.”

Ward described how many people he’s actually familiar with in this world.

“Even though it looks like a new team on the outside it’s a great group of guys I’ve known forever,” Ward explained. “It’s a solid group. I’ve known Jimmy Vasser from my IndyCar days, ‘Sulli’ was in Motocross, Dennis Reinbold in IndyCar.

“Between them and our partners they’re ecstatic about this series and where it is going.

“360fly for instance is very cool. I’ve worked with them for a long time. They’re a great company and it was nice to bring them on board. Then add SH Rallycross having MET-Rx and WIX back again, and they’ve been there, it makes for a great combination.

“I’m grateful for where this team is at and how well it did last year. They made every main event last year, which is not easy to do.”

Indeed with Nelson Piquet Jr. in the main season and Andreas Bakkerud in the non-points X Games, SH Rallycross did what no other team did in making every final event of the season. Piquet won at Washington, D.C. for his first Red Bull GRC win and finished fourth in last year’s points standings.

Although Ward has driven a wide range of machinery, adapting to the Red Bull GRC beasts took a bit of time.

“It’s pretty impressive. These cars are definitely impressive cars,” he said. “They do what you want them to do. I’ve never driven a four-wheel drive car before until Daytona. I raced IndyCar for five to six years and those things accelerate pretty damn strong! But on a standing start, the rally cars are extremely impressive.”

Ward loves doubleheaders and thinks he should do well at them this year. Additionally he feels in great shape heading into the year because he’s still been active.

“Yep, the last year full-time in IndyCar was with Chip (Ganassi) in ‘02. But I did two to three seasons in Lucas Oil Pro 2 off truck seasons. Maybe 4-5 in Super Motos. Mountain bikes. Six-hour endurance races. So I haven’t stopped,” Ward said.

“I’ve been busy doing stuff. You have to stay in great shape.

“I still have that fire of wanting to win the championship. I’ve worked really hard to get in the hunt day one. That’s all I’ve done is race to win championships.

“It’s not just one race as a whole. At end of the season, you don’t want to think you’ve lost one or two points somewhere.”

Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”