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.”
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.
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.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.