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Sports cars: Various confirmations, nuggets from the last week or so

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Originally, I thought about lumping the below tidbits of information in with the provisional list of 2017 FIA Driver Ratings which came out prior to last week. Then that story morphed into a column about how ratings produce more angst than not.

So, here’s some highlights of the rest of the other sports car news from the last week or so:

  • The IMSA two-day test at Daytona was completed prior to the Thanksgiving break. Recaps from Tuesday and Wednesday are linked here, via their website.
  • DragonSpeed will debut its Oreca 07 chassis at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with a pretty good lineup of Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, Nicolas Lapierre and Loic Duval. The Elton Julian-led team finished fourth overall with an Oreca 05 at this year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. More here from Sportscar365.
  • Duval also will test an Audi RS 5 DTM car this week, along with Dutchman Nyck de Vries (21), South African Kelvin van der Linde (20) and American Dion von Moltke (26). More here from my colleague Luke. Von Moltke is a rare American to test in DTM; Joey Hand raced there a couple years ago for BMW, with limited success.
  • Another Rolex 24 entry is one from Aston Martin Racing, with Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy and either Nicki Thiim or Marco Sorenson as a fourth driver. Dalla Lana confirmed the presence of a GTD-class entered Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 to Sportscar365.
  • CJ Wilson has announced a multi-level dealership agreement with British specialist auto manufacturer, Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) Limited and CJ Wilson Racing team. The partnership will see CJ Wilson Racing and Entertainment become the exclusive dealership and service facility for BAC’s Mono supercar in the Arizona and North Texas markets. More here from the team’s website.
  • TRG will make a welcome full-season return to IMSA’s GTD program, with a Porsche 911 GT3 R. Drivers will be determined at a later date. Said TRG CEO Kevin Buckler, “The Porsche support program has been second to none over all these years and it will be nice to have them by our side once again. It’s also going to be nice to be racing with some of my old friends that are still at Porsche. As we move into our 26th year as a company, the future of professional sportscar racing is strong and I am glad to be doing my part to help lead in any way I can. And, oh yeah….we really like to win!”
  • CRP Racing is the first Pirelli World Challenge race team to announce purchase of the naturally aspirated, 6.3-liter V8 Mercedes-AMG GT3 race car, and Ryan Dalziel will be the team’s new driver. The Scotsman nearly won the 2015 PWC title but missed a couple races due to conflicts. Nick Short’s CRP team ran Kyle Marcelli last year, Mike Skeen the year before with the previous generation Audi R8 LMS ultra. “Pirelli World Challenge is a significant part of the Mercedes-AMG Customer Sports Program in 2017, and we look forward to supporting a premier team like CRP Racing and a top driving talent like Ryan Dalziel,” said Robert Moran, Director of Communications, Mercedes-Benz USA. “We are excited to welcome CRP Racing to the Mercedes-AMG family for 2017.”
  • Might R. Ferri Motorsport be back in PWC in 2017 after a year’s hiatus? The team posted a Ferrari 488 GT3 car with PWC number plates on its Facebook page.
  • Matteo Cressoni will join Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan in Scuderia Corsa’s lineup for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds, replacing Jeff Segal, who’s off to the Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 program. More here via ItaliaRacing.net. Cressoni is Silver-rated, which leaves that car open for a Gold or Platinum-rated fourth driver.
  • Another driver likely in for the TPNAEC rounds is Shane van Gisbergen, with the WeatherTech Racing Mercedes team, according to Speedcafe. “The Giz” would theoretically join Gunnar Jeannette and Cooper MacNeil in the team’s No. 50 Mercedes-AMG GT3. Both Jeannette and MacNeil are Silver-rated; van Gisbergen is Platinum; so there’s no driver restrictions on a fourth driver there.
  • Although van Gisbergen will leave his McLaren factory role at year’s end, he still has a one-off role with them still to go. Along with PWC GT champion Alvaro Parente and Côme Ledogar, van Gisbergen will drive K-PAX Racing’s McLaren 650S GT3 at the Motul Sepang 12 Hours on December 11 – this is part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge. More here from Speedcafe.
  • Flying Lizard Motorsports has entered a second car for the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill, with Tommy Sadler, Andy Wilzoch, Charlie Hayes, and Will Owen in the No. 74 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR running on Toyo Tires. That joins the Audi R8 LMS in the field, which won last year. Earlier in November, Flying Lizard signed young charger Nate Stacy to a one-year deal with an option for a second, to race one of two FLM Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MRs in PWC’s GTS class.
  • Newly crowned Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup champion Sven Mueller has been promoted to become a Porsche works driver. Italian Matteo Cairoli (20) and Mathieu Jaminet (22) from France are bumped up to being “Young Professionals,” and Norway’s Dennis Olsen (20) now advances from the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland up to the next level of the Porsche motorsport pyramid to contest the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup. The full release from Porsche is linked here. Porsche is set to announce its driver lineups and programs for 2017 at its year-end event this weekend in Germany.
  • Shea Holbrook, PWC TC driver/team owner, will be in this weekend’s NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill. She’ll join Honda Racing/HPD as a development driver for the race, Dec. 2-4, for the first competition test of HPD’s 10th generation Honda Civic.
  • TDS Racing will run an Oreca 07 in next year’s FIA World Endurance Championship with Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Matthieu Vaxviere. More here from Endurance-Info.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

Photo: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”