Photo courtesy of IMSA

American team presence again represented at Le Mans

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It’s a nearly identical presence for this year’s American teams racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans compared to 2016 within the entries revealed for the 2017 race. A total of seven teams and 12 cars entered under the U.S. flag comprise a full 20 percent of the 60-car field.

Teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing are in the GTE classes. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing (four cars), Corvette Racing (two) and Risi Competizione (one) make up seven of the 13 cars entered in GTE-Pro, while Scuderia Corsa adds two cars in GTE-Am.

Ganassi’s four cars come from the two Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, one as an auto-invite for winning with one of the Team USA entries last year (the Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller/Sebastien Bourdais No. 68 car), and a fourth as a full-time IMSA entrant.

“When we came to Le Mans last year there was a lot of pressure on the team to deliver a win to commemorate the Ford GT40 1-2-3 finish in 1966,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president of Global Product Development and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Company. “It was fantastic to win but we will not rest on our laurels. We return to Le Mans in June with another year of experience racing the Ford GT behind us, seven wins including the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and we can’t wait to compete again at this incredible event.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

Corvette and Risi, as full-time IMSA entrants, also gained spots in the field.

Corvette, a regular Le Mans contender and race winner, won last in 2015. Last year, Risi provided the only realistic threat to Ford in GTE-Pro as a single-car entry, up against the phalanx of Fords.

Scuderia Corsa gains two entries, one as an automatic entry for winning GTE-Am last year and a second as an at-large invite from IMSA. This gives them two Ferrari 488 GTEs in the 16-car class.

The LMP2 class sees three U.S. teams present among the 25 cars.

DragonSpeed. Photo courtesy of IMSA
DragonSpeed. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed team will make its Le Mans debut; the European Le Mans Series full-time entrants have run in two marquee U.S. races at Sebring (fourth overall in 2016) and Daytona last weekend but not yet at Circuit de la Sarthe.

Henrik Hedman’s journey from Ferrari Challenge to Pirelli World Challenge and now to the ELMS, sees the Florida-based Swede the nominated driver of the team’s No. 21 DragonSpeed 10 Star Oreca 07 Gibson.

Ben Keating now will race at Le Mans under his own banner of Keating Motorsports, as the second of IMSA’s at-large invites. Keating raced under the TI Automotive/Riley Motorsports flag in 2015 in the final competitive outing of the Dodge Viper GTS-R in GTE-Am, and a year ago made his first LMP2 start at the race in the open top Oreca 03R with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens for Murphy Prototypes. Now, the Texan will be in his No. 43 Riley Mk. 30 Gibson.

Lastly, Zak Brown’s United Autosports team is entered under the U.S. banner. Brown and business partner Richard Dean have long desired and dreamed of racing at Le Mans and will do so with its No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson. Mazda Road to Indy veteran and TCU student Will Owen is the team’s nominated driver with Swiss teenager Hugo de Sadeleer the second driver, those two having been confirmed at Autosport International last month.

Usual U.S. teams Extreme Speed Motorsports and Krohn Racing are among the notable absences this year, with ESM focusing instead on its Nissan Onroak DPi program in the States and Krohn Racing off a Le Mans entry list for the first time since 2005.

Michael Shank Racing, which made its Le Mans debut last year, now has its Acura NSX GT3 program it’s focusing on.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.