All photos courtesy of IMSA

Shank embracing the newness of Acura NSX GT3 program

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Longtime Daytona Prototype-turned-LMP2 team principal Mike Shank is a perfect embodiment of a racing “lifer” (you can find out more about him here in his episode of this season’s Dinner with Racers), but is in the midst of his biggest transition yet as a team owner.

Far from running in the top class of either the GRAND-AM Rolex Series or IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Prototype, Shank’s now full-speed ahead in the testing and development process for the new Acura NSX GT3, with a two-car effort in the GT Daytona class.

Moving from a class where there were only eight full-time entries to one where a car count in the mid-20s is expected, with a brand new car, is a lot to take in.

But the test process – which concludes its 2016 calendar work this week at Daytona International Speedway – is going according to plan thus far. Besides the Shank crew, sister Acura team RealTime Racing (from Pirelli World Challenge) has been actively involved in helping preparations commence.

“Every time we take the car out, it’s getting better, literally,” Shank told NBC Sports at last week’s PRI Show in Indianapolis. “Every time it goes out the door, there’s more done to the car to make it endurance-worthy, comfortable for drivers, quick – it’s just a huge bucket list, a punch-out list of stuff to get done that we’re slowly taking care of.

“We’ll get our second car Tuesday (one from HPD) and that car will be at Daytona. The 93 car is one of our IMSA cars and the 86 car you see next week is kind of a test car.”

The aforementioned Nos. 93 and 86 represent the first year of Acura (1986) and the year Honda Performance Development was launched (1993).

Segal (left) and Lally (right). Photo courtesy of IMSA
Segal (left) and Lally (right). Photo courtesy of IMSA

The eight-driver lineup for the Tim Keene-led team has been confirmed with Ozz Negri and Jeff Segal (No. 86) and Andy Lally and Katherine Legge (No. 93) the expected full-season pairings. Tom Dyer and Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 86) and Mark Wilkins and Graham Rahal (No. 93) are endurance and Daytona extras. Barring any late changes, that’s how Shank expects the lineups to be processed.

Segal and Lally (above) are both GT past champions while Negri and Legge (below) move from longtime prototype careers into GT this season. That will require a bit of an adaptation, but Shank harbors no concerns about that.

Negri (left) and Legge (right). Photos courtesy of IMSA
Negri (left) and Legge (right). Photos courtesy of IMSA

“There’s no problem except for the ABS brakes, it just takes a little time,” Shank explained. “They’re a really different experience for drivers that aren’t used to it. We worked quite a bit on our ABS since our last test to get it better and I think we’ve made pretty good gains in. That’s just another system in the car we’re improving all the time.

“The difference between the P drivers, like Kat and Ozz getting used to ABS, that’s something Lally, Segal, Dyer and Wilkins all have a bunch of ABS time in different cars across the board. The beauty is we brought people in with lots of experience with other brands of GT3 cars, so we know where the bar is, we know where we have to be shooting for.”

The staff needed for the two-car, factory-supported effort is also a change. While Shank’s prototype team did run two cars for a number of years, the team has been largely a single-car effort for the last three seasons.

“We’ve added six or seven new full-time people, so we’ll bring 34 to Daytona to support two cars, which is a lot,” Shank said. “That’s just from the MSR side. Then you have the whole HPD aero, mechanical and engine side, and then the group from Italy that built the cars. So there’s quite a force of people to support this car.

“Not only is the car getting stronger, but all those relationships – because that’s really the backbone of it – are getting stronger too. We’re getting to know each other, getting to understand how information travels, what it takes to get things done, prioritizing things. It’s a big, big program. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to sell the car to people and we need to get it to that point, and we will. It just takes time.”

And GTD as a whole stacks up as a huge class next year. Acura, Lexus and Mercedes join the party along with existing manufacturers Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, BMW and potentially Aston Martin. That will make performance out of the gate for the cohesion of newness all the more important.

“If you look at all the competition, you’re really going to have to be good to be in the top-five, period, and check every category: pit stops, reliability, performance, you’ve got to work on the BOP thing, it’ll ebb and flow all year, I’m sure,” Shank said.

“They’re paying a lot more attention to fuel flows this year to try and get them equalized. That’s a big investment there. All the drivers, it’s very, very strong. But then again, across the board, the P category looks strong to me again, way stronger than it was predicted – and I’m happy to see that.

“So, in general, IMSA seems to have, to me, a lot of momentum going right now. Let’s see what we all do with it, but it seems pretty good.”

The one piece that’s meant so much to Shank – John Pew – will be a notable absence from the driving lineup. Pew went out on a high note as part of the winning lineup at Petit Le Mans in the team’s No. 60 Ligier JS P2 Honda.

However, that doesn’t mean the two haven’t been in touch. Far from it.

“Almost every week,” Shank said. “We were together for 10 whole seasons and every year for the last 10 years, it’s all exciting, new cars, new stuff, new cars and new programs. There’s a little withdrawal, I would say.

“It won’t surprise me at all if or when he’s going to race something again. He really changed our world, he really helped us a lot and we helped him. It’s a great relationship and if he wants to race again, we’ll be here for him.”

2006 MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden dies at 35

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2006 MotoGP champion and American World Superbike Championship rider Nicky Hayden has died at the age of 35 from injuries sustained in a road accident last week.

Hayden was struck by a car while out cycling in the Rimini region of Italy, leaving him in a critical condition after suffering trauma to his chest and head, the latter resulting in serious brain damage.

On Monday, the Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena confirmed through a medical bulletin that Hayden had died as a result of his injuries.

“It is with great sadness that Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team has to announce that Nicky Hayden has succumbed to injuries suffered during an incident while riding his bicycle last Wednesday,” Hayden’s WSBK team said in a subsequent statement.

“Nicky passed away at 19:09 CEST this evening at Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena, Italy. His fiancée Jackie, mother Rose and brother Tommy were at his side.”

“On behalf of the whole Hayden family and Nicky’s fiancée Jackie I would like to thank everyone for their messages of support – it has been a great comfort to us all knowing that Nicky has touched so many people’s lives in such a positive way,” Tommy Hayden said.

“Although this is obviously a sad time, we would like everyone to remember Nicky at his happiest – riding a motorcycle.

“He dreamed as a kid of being a pro rider and not only achieved that but also managed to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport in becoming World Champion. We are all so proud of that.

“Apart from these ‘public’ memories, we will also have many great and happy memories of Nicky at home in Kentucky, in the heart of the family. We will all miss him terribly.

“It is also important for us to thank all the hospital staff for their incredible support – they have been very kind. With the further support of the authorities in the coming days we hope to have Nicky home soon.”

Known as the ‘Kentucky Kid’, Hayden made his way up the American motorcycle racing ladder around the turn of the millennium, culminating with victory in the AMA Superbike championship in 2002.

Hayden moved into MotoGP, the world’s premier class of motorcycle racing, for 2003 with Honda, and finished his rookie season fifth in the championship.

Hayden scored his first win in 2005 before taking the championship one year later, picking up two victories on the way as he edged out Valentino Rossi in a final-race showdown.

Remaining with Honda until the end of 2008, Hayden then moved to Ducati where he spent five seasons, recording a best championship finish of seventh in 2010.

Hayden rekindled his partnership with Honda in 2014, racing with the satellite Aspar team for two seasons before then enjoying two one-off run-outs in 2016, a year in which he was focused on commitments in the World Superbike Championship.

Hayden took his first WSBK victory in Malaysia last year, finishing fifth in the final standings, and was 10 races into the 2017 campaign prior to the cycling accident.

Dixon, Franchitti OK after robbing at gunpoint at Indy Taco Bell

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INDIANAPOLIS – According to an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department police report, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were robbed at gunpoint at an Indianapolis Taco Bell on Sunday night.

A team spokesperson confirmed the incident to NBC Sports and that both drivers – Dixon, the leading active driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Franchitti, a four-time series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner – were OK, but would decline comment.

Dixon, who won the pole for next Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, and Franchitti were at a Taco Bell, located at 3502 W. 16th St., around 10 p.m. on Sunday night.

According to FOX 59 in Indianapolis, which reported the story via reporter Russ McQuaid and online, here, Dixon and Franchitti were in the drive-through lane there – being robbed before the suspects allegedly fled, and were arrested as of Monday morning.

“The victims stated 2 (black males) robbed them at gunpoint and fled north on Berwick (Avenue) on foot,” the police report stated.

Dixon, who along with wife Emma and their two daughters, Poppy and Tilly were present in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway press conference earlier Sunday afternoon, live in Indianapolis.

Dixon’s teammate, Tony Kanaan, spoke to Indianapolis TV stations WTHR (Indianapolis NBC affiliate) and WISH-TV on Monday morning from IMS. Video of that is linked below via the Indianapolis Star’s Brody Miller.

Kanaan led off the interview saying, “I was supposed to be with them. I’m from Brazil, so I’m a little bit more accustomed to this stuff (laughter). I’m glad they’re OK, and now I can make fun of them.”

Scott Dixon didn’t post anything on Twitter about his pole run on Sunday until earlier this morning. This report would seem to indicate that he had bigger things on his mind.

Chip Ganassi, meanwhile added in a joke about Taco Bell sponsorship.

Button: Monaco return feels ‘slightly surreal’

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Jenson Button hasn’t yet sat or tested the McLaren Honda he’ll be racing this weekend. But when you’re a past Formula 1 World Champion and Monaco Grand Prix winner (Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBC), as Button is, you should be able to adapt pretty quickly.

Button, who won both titles during the 2009 season, will make his first and thus far only planned start of 2017 this weekend as stand-in for Fernando Alonso, who’s hogged the headlines and embraced the challenge of his maiden run in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

With Monaco offering a good chance to score points for McLaren – it’s not power-dependent – Button is keeping expectations low up front as he prepares for his comeback.

“It feels slightly surreal to be back in the cockpit for the Monaco Grand Prix. When the call came from Eric there was no hesitation – it’s a totally unique situation and a great opportunity. I’m looking forward to stepping back behind the wheel for one of the most crazy, unpredictable and exciting races of the year,” he said in the team’s advance release.

“Monaco is truly unique as a track, and requires a lot of work to fine-tune the car and optimize the set-up for the narrow layout. It’s always a challenge – a huge challenge, for any driver – but a really exciting challenge, and has always been up there in my favorite races of the year.”

Button said he’s focused and prepared for the drive, for what will be his 306th career Grand Prix start – one which would draw him level with Michael Schumacher for second on Formula 1’s all-time start list. Button’s old teammate, Rubens Barrichello, holds that mark with 322 starts in 326 Grand Prix weekends.

“Although I haven’t turned a wheel on track yet in the MCL32, I feel well prepared,” he said.

“I know the track well, of course, and I’ve done quite a bit of work in the McLaren simulator already. I’m still fit, and I’ve been training probably more than ever, because I’ve had the time to focus on my triathlon preparation and competitions.

“I’m looking forward to working with the team again, and, as I’ll be on the other side of the garage this time around, I’ll do my best to look after the car for Fernando!”

McLaren Honda racing director Eric Boullier, who has been in Indianapolis with Alonso this week, said Button is up to the task.

“In the famous Monaco paddock, we welcome the return of Jenson, who we are all looking forward to working with again, and who is already doing a sterling job deputizing for Fernando, having already completed stints in our simulator in preparation,” he said.

Button’s story has, of course, generated some discussion. Mark Webber didn’t rate it a particularly big deal while Romain Grosjean said he does not expect Button to struggle.

Coverage for the Monaco Grand Prix begins on Thursday with free practice one coverage online at 4 a.m. ET, then free practice two live on NBCSN at 8 a.m. ET.

After Indy qualifying, Dixon unofficially moves into points lead

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INDIANAPOLIS – Points are not officially awarded for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil until after the race is completed next Sunday.

But as the Verizon IndyCar Series awards qualifying points for all 33 positions, the standings are different now today than they were 24-plus hours ago.

Pole position for Scott Dixon netted him 42 points in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon was second in points with 181, 10 behind Simon Pagenaud in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet at 191, heading into Indianapolis 500 practice, qualifying and the race.

But with Pagenaud having a frustrating qualifying – he only will start 23rd, scoring only 11 qualifying points – he now falls 21 points behind Dixon as Dixon netted 31 points. The unofficial margin is 21 points as Dixon now goes to 223, with Pagenaud also crossing the 200-point threshold at 202.

The respective good qualifying efforts from Andretti Autosport and tough ones for Team Penske have shifted their points totals.

Given how many points are available for the Indianapolis 500, via both qualifying and the race, it’s important to track how this progresses.

Here is how the points look now, after qualifying (unofficial as INDYCAR will add in the qualifying points next week).

It’s ranked by position, driver, total points, qualifying points and points/position entering qualifying:


1. 9-Scott Dixon, 223 (42, 181/2nd, +1)
2. 1-Simon Pagenaud, 202 (11, 191/1st, -1)
3. 12-Will Power, 171 (26, 145/5th, +2)
4. 2-Josef Newgarden, 164 (12, 152/3rd, -1)
5. 3-Helio Castroneves, 164 (15, 149/4th, -1)
6. 5-James Hinchcliffe, 154 (17, 137/6th, No Change)
7. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, 141 (24, 117/8th, +1)
8. 98-Alexander Rossi, 137 (38, 99/9th, +1)
9. 18-Sebastien Bourdais, 136 (Did Not Qualify, -2)
10. 26-Takuma Sato, 133 (36, 97/10th, No Change)
11. 10-Tony Kanaan, 127 (30, 97/11th, No Change)
12. 21-JR Hildebrand, 119 (32, 87th/14th, +2)
13. 19-Ed Jones, 115 (23, 92/12th, -1)
14. 15-Graham Rahal, 107 (20, 87/13th, -1)
15. 8-Max Chilton, 103 (19, 84/15th, No Change)
16. 7-Mikhail Aleshin, 100 (21, 79/17th, +1)
17. 27-Marco Andretti, 99 (28, 71/18th, +1)
18. 14-Carlos Munoz, 93 (10, 83/16th, -2)
19. 83-Charlie Kimball, 88 (18, 70/19th, No Change)
20. 4-Conor Daly, 78 (8, 70/20th, No Change)
21. 11-Spencer Pigot, 71 (66 ECR, 5 Juncos)
22. 20-Ed Carpenter, 66 (40, 26/22nd, No Change)


23. 22-Juan Pablo Montoya, 36
24. 29-Fernando Alonso, 34
25. 16-Oriol Servia, 22
26. 77-Jay Howard, 14
27. 40-Zach Veach, 13 (11 ECR, 2 Foyt)
28. 24-Sage Karam, 13
29. 88-Gabby Chaves, 9
30. 50-Jack Harvey, 7
31. 63-Pippa Mann, 6
32. 44-Buddy Lazier, 4
33. 17-Sebastian Saavedra, 3
34. 18-James Davison, 1