All photos courtesy of IMSA

Continental Tire secures IMSA’s PC series tire deal

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IMSA’s Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series will be one to watch in 2017 with the introduction of LMP3 cars to the championships, joining the existing Prototype Lites cars which will be fused into a secondary class next season.

What was initially called PC1 and PC2 will now be rebranded as more accurate LMP3 and Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) classes. Continental Tire earlier this week was confirmed as the series’ exclusive tire supplier, replacing Cooper Tires.

This is a natural expansion of Continental’s relationship with IMSA; Continental Tire serves as exclusive provider to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Prototype, Prototype Challenge (class) and GT Daytona classes and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series, as well as entitlement sponsor of said series.

“We’re thrilled to announce the integration of the Prototype Challenge series into our portfolio of racing properties,” said Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire. “We’re honored to increase our partnership with IMSA to include this series and we look forward to showcasing our abilities on a global platform like the Prototype Challenge stage.”

There will be a dry and a wet compound provided in each class. The tires will be part of Continental’s ExtremeContactTM line of tires, similar to the ExtremeContactTM Dry Race and ExtremeContactTM Wet tires seen in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. These tires were designed to have high levels of grip throughout a full fuel stint and will help maintain peak performance to make it fun for the drivers and entertaining for the fans.

“IMSA continues to enjoy a strong and mutually productive partnership with Continental Tire,” said David Pettit, IMSA vice president, marketing. “We appreciate Continental increasing its already deep commitment to our sport through this new agreement. The exciting competition coming in 2017 and beyond in the new-look IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda platform will be enhanced by the consistent durability and performance of state-of-the-art Continental tires.”

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

While the Continental deal continues with this expansion, it’s worth noting the Cooper and Mazda relationship remains as strong as ever, following conversations with both manufacturers – even though this tenure with those two united under IMSA sanction is temporarily at an end.

The series name has changed from Cooper Tires Prototype Lites presented by Mazda, to Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires, to now its new name of Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda in the last three years.

“Most relationships are always deeper than a piece of paper,” John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports North America, told NBC Sports. “Many are years long, and with Chris (Pantani), we have one of those with Cooper.

“With (IMSA) Prototype Lites, we wouldn’t be involved if it wasn’t a long-term platform of developing young talent.

“IMSA has great relationships and after the RFPs were put out, this decision was made. While change may be difficult, we remain confident in IMSA continuing to develop the Prototype Challenge series as a place where drivers can gain experience in a good platform.”

“There was a lot we did to help support the series, with help with the technical inspection area, and help with ups and downs of the fields. We believe in drivers and teams to move on up for their sports car careers. We were happy to be part of it,” Chris Pantani, Director of Marketing, Event Marketing and Motorsports at Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, added to NBC Sports.

“Both David Pettit and Brandon Huddleston of IMSA kept us informed throughout the entire process. We have nothing but high regards for them. We appreciate them. And we may come back around.”

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.