(Photo by Dean Treml/Red Bull via Getty Images)

Updated Le Mans entry list, Toyota driver swap, revealed Tuesday

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A handful of driver swaps and additions have been confirmed as part of the near finalized entry list for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Here’s the full entry list.

Chief among them is Toyota Gazoo Racing switching two of its drivers around between two of its three Toyota TS050 Hybrids. The recovering Jose Maria Lopez is shifted to the No. 9 entry with Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre, while Toyota veteran Stephane Sarrazin is slotted in alongside Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the team’s No. 7 car.

“Our circumstances have changed over the last few weeks as a result of the injury to José María,” Toyota team president Toshio Sato said in a release. “He is in the unfortunate position of having completed very few racing laps this year in WEC, so we all felt it was appropriate to adjust the driver line-up.

“I am very confident that Stéphane will fit well into a No. 7 line-up which can fight for the win. José María, like Yuji, will learn a lot at Le Mans this year, familiarizing himself with the track and the event in general, and this is an important step for the future as well.”

Elsewhere the ByKolles lineup retains the same trio of Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and James Rossiter, Jose Gutierrez joins the DragonSpeed-operated G-Drive entry in LMP2 replacing Leo Roussel, Graff Racing has finalized its LMP2 lineup and a handful of others have been swapped around in GTE-Am, notably at JMW Motorsport (in Will Stevens) and Proton Competition. Only the third seat in the No. 88 Porsche 911 RSR for Proton remains to be filled.

Breaking down the entry list a bit, Porsche looks for its third straight win and Toyota its elusive first.

Three full-season IndyCar drivers are set to participate in Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin, the three of them all set to miss the Le Mans Test Day at June 4 (will be racing in Detroit) and will then fly after the Texas race (June 10, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for scrutineering early in the week. NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell is also set to compete. Bourdais (GTE-Pro) and Bell (GTE-Am) will seek to defend their class wins last year in the same team and driver lineups with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Scuderia Corsa, respectively.

A trio of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires veterans – Gutierrez, Felix Rosenqvist and Will Owen – enter into a highly competitive 25-car LMP2 field for their debuts. Their runs will be interesting to watch.

From an American entry standpoint, there are seven teams and 12 cars, listed below:

  • 21-DragonSpeed-10-Star, Oreca 07, Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, Felix Rosenqvist
  • 32-United Autosports, Ligier JS P217, Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, Filipe Albuquerque
  • 43-Keating Motorsports, Riley Mk. 30, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Ricky Taylor
  • 63-Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor
  • 64-Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R, Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler
  • 66-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, Ford GT, Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke, Billy Johnson
  • 67-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, Ford GT, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Pipo Derani
  • 68-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Ford GT, Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais
  • 69-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA, Ford GT, Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon
  • 82-Risi Competizione, Ferrari 488 GTE, Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, Pierre Kaffer
  • 62-Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GTE, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Cooper MacNeil*
  • 65-Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GTE, Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan, Bret Curtis

*Only all-American driver lineup in the field.

There are 18 American drivers entered. They are, Will Owen, Gustavo Menezes, David Cheng, Ben Keating, Ricky Taylor, Mark Patterson, Matt McMurry (LMP2), Jordan Taylor, Tommy Milner, Billy Johnson, Joey Hand (GTE-Pro), Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Cooper MacNeil, Bret Curtis, Tracy Krohn, Patrick Long and Mike Hedlund (GTE-Am).

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”