Gordon's return is a big story. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Nearly a dozen IndyCar drivers, only Gordon for NASCAR, set for Rolex 24

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Upon the release of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona entry list comes the release of all the drivers who are among the guest stars at the season-opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign.

Interestingly, NASCAR’s presence of drivers at this year’s race is reduced, while the Verizon IndyCar Series still has a strong presence.

As both Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Shank Racing have moved to the GT categories, with Ganassi running four Ford GTs in GT Le Mans and Shank running two of the new Acura NSX GT3s in GT Daytona, their usual NASCAR extra drivers at Daytona aren’t present in 2017.

Neither Jamie McMurray nor Kyle Larson will have their usual Rolex 24 outing with Ganassi. Both drivers were part of the No. 02 Riley Ford entry that won overall in 2015 with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, two of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, rounding out the lineup. McMurray has eight career Rolex 24 starts, starting in 2005 and then continuing through last year. Larson only has three career Rolex 24 starts, each of the last three years.

Meanwhile with Shank’s team running the factory Acura program, AJ Allmendinger is not part of the Shank lineup. Allmendinger has been part of every Shank run at the Rolex 24 since 2006, including the popular winning lineup in 2012 with Ozz Negri, John Pew and the late Justin Wilson.

This means there isn’t a single full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver in the Rolex 24 field. Instead, only Jeff Gordon, who comes out of his brief retirement, will make his second Rolex 24 start with the Konica Minolta-backed Wayne Taylor Racing team in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Gordon shares that car with the car’s usual trio of Jordan and Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli.

Gordon was the center of attention at the December IMSA test and recapped his first running in the car last month. He said during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 that his focus for endurance racing was only on Daytona.

Austin Cindric, who will race full-time for Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, would be considered the lone full-time NASCAR driver in the field. The 18-year-old son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric has already established himself as one of the most versatile drivers in the country, and will share a Lexus RC F GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Rahal (center) joins No. 93 Acura lineup. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Rahal (center) joins No. 93 Acura lineup. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IndyCar, meanwhile, boasts more than a third of its 2017 full-season lineup, plus a number of others who raced at least once in 2016 as part of its 2017 contingent at the Rolex 24.

Here’s the full breakdown, with each driver’s car and co-drivers:

  • Spencer Pigot, No. 55/70 Mazda Motorsports Mazda MRT24-P (Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez)
  • James Hinchcliffe, No. 55/70 Mazda Motorsports Mazda MRT24-P (Tom Long, Joel Miller)
  • RC Enerson, No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson (Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Mike Guasch)
  • Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller)
  • Scott Dixon, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook)
  • Tony Kanaan, No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell)
  • Sage Karam, No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Scott Pruett, Ian James, Gustavo Menezes)
  • Jack Hawksworth, No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, Dominik Farnbacher)
  • Townsend Bell, No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS (Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer)
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer)
  • Graham Rahal, No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins)

Of those 11 drivers, Bourdais, Dixon, Kanaan and Rahal have overall wins at the Rolex 24, with Bell adding a class win. Hunter-Reay has come close on a couple occasions. The other five younger drivers, in Pigot, Hinchcliffe, Karam and Hawksworth look for a breakout Rolex 24 race, while Enerson makes his sports car debut.

This doesn’t factor in others with past IndyCar experience prior to 2016, who are peppered in elsewhere in the field.

There’s plenty of other standout sports car drivers as well among the guest drivers, as the field is pretty well-stocked this year from top to bottom.

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.