Photo courtesy of IMSA

Magnus Racing heads for PWC with two Audis

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Magnus Racing will, in fact, saddle back up for another tour of racing in 2017. The difference is, rather than competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship as they have since 2014 (and its forerunner, the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, prior to that since 2010), the team that balances humor and professionalism in equal doses will now run a two-car effort in Pirelli World Challenge.

Magnus will have a two-car Audi R8 LMS program. Team owner John Potter will be one of the cars, with an Audi Sport customer racing factory driver to be revealed at a later date in the second car.

As PWC shifts formats to both Sprint (50-minute races, on IndyCar weekends, one driver) and SprintX (60-minute races, standalone weekends, two drivers), Magnus will compete in both components.

“When evaluating our options for 2017, we thought it was a good opportunity to pursue a new challenge,” stated Magnus Racing team owner and driver John Potter. “When I consider that I’ve driven in pro racing for 10 years, I realized that very little of it has been in a sprint format, and the timing seems right to see how we enjoy it.

“This will be a new era for the team, not only because of the new series, but with the emphasis on sprint racing and solo driving we have to take a whole new approach. Running a two-car team has been an ambition of ours since the beginning, and while we’ve had some experience with two-car programs at The Rolex 24 at Daytona, the unique format of the Pirelli World Challenge provides us an opportunity to really explore this.

“We really appreciate the friendly and open nature of everyone we’ve met in the Pirelli World Challenge so far, and of course to everyone at Audi for their renewed partnership.”

Magnus’ IMSA run has ended after last year’s Petit Le Mans, following the team’s second post-race penalty assessed in the final three races. Although Potter’s co-driver Andy Lally delivered a storming final stint that saw him pass Jeroen Bleekemolen for the GTD class win, Magnus was dropped to the rear of the field following a minimum drive-time violation where Potter, the paired Silver-rated driver, did not complete his necessary time. A ride height infraction at VIR after contact from another car two races earlier saw the team score no points altogether.

For Pirelli World Challenge President/CEO Greg Gill, the opportunity to bring in a team with the heritage and character of Magnus Racing is a welcome one.

“We are extremely honored to have the team at Magnus Racing join our series for 2017,” Gill said. “Their success on-track speaks for itself, and coupled with their reputation for fan engagement and off-track fun is something we really enjoy, and we’re confident the team will have a great experience here.”

Tristan Herbert, Manager of Motorsport and Customer Racing at Audi of America, hailed Magnus’ contribution to the manufacturer. After running Porsches for years, Magnus won its Audi debut at last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“The strength of Magnus Racing became instantly apparent when we won our first race together, at the biggest event of the year.” Herbert said. “From there the team has seemed to go from strength to strength, and it’s been impressive to watch how they operate.”

The Magnus confirmation joins the CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Ryan Dalziel) and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (Jon Fogarty) as high profile either team or car additions to the GT championship this year. RealTime Racing has also added SprintX drivers Mark Wilkins and Tom Dyer to complement full-season drivers Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox in their two Acura NSX GT3s.

Plenty of other GT class confirmations should follow from other manufacturers over the next couple months, before the St. Petersburg season weekend opener March 10-12.

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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