Formula 1 Roundtable: Summer Break

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While the Verizon IndyCar Series may be springing back into life this weekend with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, there is still one more week of summer to soak up before Formula 1 returns with the Belgian Grand Prix on August 27.

Sebastian Vettel moved into a 14-point lead at the top of the F1 drivers’ championship with victory in Hungary at the end of last month, leaving Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton on the back foot once again after reeling him in at Silverstone two weeks prior.

With the early season blows being exchanged, Vettel and Hamilton are now gearing up for the home stretch to Abu Dhabi, starting at Spa next weekend.

In the third edition of our Formula 1 Roundtable series this season, MST writers Luke Smith, Tony DiZinno and Kyle Lavigne cast their eye on the year that has been so far and look ahead to what may come in the next three months.

1. What has been the biggest storyline for you in Formula 1 so far this season?

Luke Smith

There are so, so many to choose from. The most surprising storylines have to be Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 run and Robert Kubica’s comeback from injury (more on that later), but the biggest? Ferrari’s return to the front of the pack, led by Sebastian Vettel.

It was an alliance born with great expectations, but after such a miserable 2016 season, it seemed possible that Vettel could leave Maranello in the same fashion Fernando Alonso did: frustrated, disappointed and without another title to his name.

Alas, Vettel has been in supreme form so far this season, with Ferrari’s SF70H car easily being the best it has produced in almost a decade. The pre-season testing showing was not a bluff, and while Mercedes may have since bridged the gap and perhaps even moved ahead in the development race, Vettel is in with a real shot of a fifth title this year.

There may be no favorites in F1, but having its most visible brand fighting at the very front of the field once again can never be a bad thing.

Tony DiZinno

A welcome championship battle between two teams again, and two of this generation’s best drivers in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Some circuits have favored Hamilton’s Mercedes and others Vettel’s Ferrari. Their rivalry was healthy and in good spirits at Spain; by Baku it had become tense once again.

Championship battles are the best in F1 when they feature either the greatest drivers or the greatest teams duking it out between themselves and after a period of Mercedes dominance, followed previously by a period of Red Bull dominance, it’s been nice to have a genuine back-and-forth cage match this season.

Kyle Lavigne

Most likely, the three best drivers on the grid are Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Yet, despite being on the grid together since 2008, rarely have all three clashed together on the track, let alone of a full season. The only time all three entered the final race of the season with a shot on the world championship was in 2010, the first of Vettel’s four Formula 1 world championships.

While Alonso is unfortunately saddled with subpar equipment (his McLaren-Honda saga has been well-documented all year), Vettel and Hamilton each finally have the right tools to succeed in the same year…and we are being treated to a truly titanic duel. And not just between the drivers, but also between the teams, as the still relatively new Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team goes head-to-head with the powerhouse Scuderia Ferrari.

The ebb and flow of the season has Vettel on top right now (202-188), while Mercedes leads the constructor’s world championship (357-318).

As Tony previously mentioned, having a genuine championship between two of the sport’s best drivers and two of the sport’s best teams, especially after years of dominance first by Red Bull Racing and then Mercedes, is a welcome change.

2. Silly season is ramping up in F1 – but which story has grabbed your attention the most?

Luke

Robert Kubica’s possible comeback has been the real story of silly season so far. For a driver largely seen as one of the sport’s lost talents, the Pole’s return from serious injury has been nothing short of staggering. No-one could have seen this happening.

But it is happening. After an initial run in a 2012 Lotus F1 car ‘for fun’ – like Kubica ever does things for fun – two further tests followed, the final one being against the rest of the F1 field. Kubica was on the pace and consistent as anything.

It all boils down to whether Kubica feels physically ready to get back into F1 full-time. The pace is there. Renault should jettison Jolyon Palmer at the end of the season, if not earlier, and if Kubica is ready to step up, it would be amazing to have him back in action where he belongs.

Tony

The Robert Kubica story is huge, no doubt, because of its surprise element and then the reality that oh, he’s still got it, and is in serious contention for a race return. I’m not sure what else to add here because Luke does a really good job of it above.

Elsewhere, the season-long McLaren, Honda and Fernando Alonso saga has been a talking point. One feels the combination can’t all continue together but yet where else do each of them have to go?

Kyle

Where Fernando Alonso goes is probably the most intriguing silly season story, mostly because he could literally go anywhere. It’s possible he stays at McLaren if Honda shows dramatic improvement, or at least plans for dramatic improve. He could jump to another team within Formula 1 as well.

And, of course, he could completely leave the sport all together for something in the World Endurance Championship or the Verizon IndyCar Series. Or maybe he tries something completely out of the left field and gives the NHRA or power boat racing a go. (Okay, this last part is jest).

In all seriousness, any one of a number of scenarios surrounding Alonso seem equally possible, and it will likely be the biggest domino that impacts F1’s silly season.

3. Who has been your driver of the season so far?

Luke

There have been a number of excellent drivers through this year – Vettel, Hamilton, Carlos Sainz Jr., Esteban Ocon all rank highly for me – but I have to go with Valtteri Bottas. For a driver many were uncertain about as Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes replacement, the Finn has surpassed all expectations and become a real challenger at the front of the pack.

Bottas has raced like a true champion, soaking up pressure from Vettel in both Russia and Austria to hang on for victory. Not only were those defensive drives important for his own standing, but they could prove crucial come the end of the season in Vettel’s title fight with Hamilton.

Is Bottas in the race for the championship? Yes – but only just. In reality, this should boil down to Vettel and Hamilton in Abu Dhabi. But as number twos to have in your corner, there is no-one better right now than F1’s newest flying Finn.

Tony

This largely boils down to expectations – we knew Hamilton, Vettel and the Red Bull pair would be fine but we didn’t know how Valtteri Bottas would have slotted in to Mercedes at late notice, and replacing outgoing World Champion Nico Rosberg. He’s done rather well.

Bottas has been a far more consistent scorer than Hamilton, making fewer mistakes and then seizing the opportunities when he’s had them himself against Vettel. Neither his Russia nor Austrian Grand Prix wins were thrillers in the traditional sense of passing in-race beyond the start, but that he didn’t crack owed to his steely resolve. He’s lived up to the task at hand.

Further down the grid I’ve been fully impressed by Esteban Ocon at Force India. It’s easy to overlook this is his first full-time season although he isn’t classed as a rookie owing to his starts last year. Pushing Sergio Perez to the edge, occasionally overstepping it, has seen him take up the reins nicely vacated by Nico Hulkenberg and solidified Force India’s standing as best of the rest beyond the top four. It’s been impressive work so far by the young Frenchman.

Kyle

I’m with my MotorsportsTalk colleagues on this. Valtteri Bottas has done a great job into the Mercedes team late in the game and getting himself up to speed. With a pair of wins and and eight podiums to his name this year, he has done more than enough to solidify his place as a big player on the F1 grid.

It’s highly unlikely he’ll emerge as a world championship contender this year, but future seasons could certainly see him as a legitimate title contender.

Honorable mentions: Esteban Ocon (for pushing Sergio Perez to the limit and helping to make Force India nip occasionally nip at the heels of Red Bull for third best amongst, Daniel Ricciardo (for getting as much of the Red Bull, and it’s under-powered Renault power unit, as he can, even sneaking out a win at Azerbaijan), and Alonso (his P6 at Hungary may be the drive of the year, and he has handled a very difficult situation with great dignity and humor).

4. Who will win the F1 drivers’ championship in 2017?

Luke

I’m torn – but I’m going to tip Sebastian Vettel to claim a fifth world title. I do believe that Mercedes has made serious gains on Ferrari in recent weeks to move ahead in the development race, but the Prancing Horse remains strong.

Spa and Monza will play towards Mercedes, but Ferrari should smash Singapore. The rest of the tracks on the calendar are fairly balanced, so it may come down to who out of Vettel and Hamilton can deal with the title pressure better.

The formbook favors Vettel. His second-half form in all four of his title wins was remarkable, particularly in 2012 when he overturned a 42-point deficit to Fernando Alonso to win the title, and in 2013 when he won the final nine races of the year.

This will go all the way to Abu Dhabi, but I’m thinking we will get – only just – a first Ferrari world title win since 2007.

Tony

The title will come down to the mental and psychological battle between Hamilton and Vettel as the year goes on – both have been tested so far, and it’s a question of who can respond when a big moment is needed.

Vettel, since joining Ferrari, has alternated between helping to lead the team’s rally back and then falling into a trap of petulant radio messages and outbursts. Quite how he handles adversity if he faces it the rest of the way – let’s say Mercedes gets on a mini-run at some point – will be fascinating to watch. His one bit of help is that he has a teammate in Kimi Raikkonen, who is undoubted second fiddle.

Hamilton has a more complex scenario to factor in the rest of the way. Bottas risks taking points off him at various races, but, Bottas has also proven more adept at denying Vettel points when the opportunity is there. Hamilton is also keen to get to a fourth World Championship, which would match Vettel. Beating him in a straight fight is something he hasn’t done in either of his previous three. His motivation to not lose a second straight title is incredibly high. For that, I’ll tip the Englishman to get the title this year.

Kyle

Although Vettel maintains the upperhand at the moment, until someone firmly unseats Mercedes, who still lead the constructor’s championship, I have stick with Hamilton. Vettel’s propensity to occasionally come unglued (see Azerbaijan) is a definite chink in his armor. Although he somehow got away without losing points to Hamilton that day (he can thank Hamilton’s cockpit surround working its way loose for that), that propensity could ultimately cost points and/or a race suspension if it surfaces again, which swing momentum in a big way toward Hamilton’s favor.

I genuinely believe this year’s title will be a knockdown, drag-out duel to Abu Dhabi, but I see Hamitlon coming out on top.

Ganassi downsizes IndyCar program to two entries

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Chip Ganassi Racing has officially confirmed a rumored reduction to two entries for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018. The team increased its fleet to four full-time entries in 2011 and, save for one year (2013), in which the fourth entry was a one-off Indianapolis 500 effort with driver Ryan Briscoe, the team has fielded four full-time entries ever since.

In a statement released earlier today, team owner Chip Ganassi confirmed the long-rumored news. He also added that while Scott Dixon will remain in the No. 9 entry, a driver for the No. 10, piloted by Tony Kanaan since 2014, has not yet been determined.

“We will be returning to a two car team beginning in 2018 with Scott Dixon in the No. 9 and a yet to be determined second driver in the No. 10,” said Ganassi. “This decision was based on the fact that we felt we needed to get back to our core business of running TWO championship caliber teams.”

Ganassi added, “It was a tough decision to make as it affects a lot of people. With news like this comes contraction and as such we had to let a number of good people go. The decision was not taken lightly but we felt it was best for our business.  It is one of the toughest things you experience as a business owner – especially because I am all too aware that it is the people that make any company tick. We will be back in 2018 and ready to compete for our 12th INDYCAR championship.”

As previously described, the downsizing of the team has been rumored for several weeks, with drivers Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton linked to other teams for next year.

The team’s original expansion to four cars included both Kimball and Graham Rahal in 2011, with Kimball piloting the No. 83 machine while Rahal was at the helm of the No. 38. The latter effort was reduced to an Indy 500 entry and renumbered as No. 8 in 2013 after Rahal left for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The aforementioned Ryan Briscoe served as its driver for that one-off effort in 2013 before once again becoming a full-season entry for 2014, still with Briscoe at the helm. Sage Karam and Sebastian Saavedra shared the car in 2015, with Max Chilton taking over in 2016.

Follow @KyleMLavigne

 

 

IMSA: Pre-Mazda Raceway notes roundup

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Lots of notes from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and a number of other of its series going into the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca round this weekend, the America’s Tire 250. The renamed event is the headliner for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

CONTINENTAL’S BEGINNING OF THE END

The releases from Continental Tire and IMSA about their impending divorce, coming at the end of 2018, are linked here. Here’s a further explanation into Continental Tire’s process from Travis Roffler, director of marketing of Continental Tire the Americas.

Both Continental and Michelin have coexisted nicely in IMSA over the last several years and it’ll be interesting to see if the dynamic changes from here, with Michelin set to take over as IMSA’s official tire from 2019.

STEVENSON’S NEARING THE END

Shortly after the race at VIRginia International Raceway was news Stevenson Motorsports would shut down its IMSA team at the conclusion of the 2017 season. Its Audi R8 LMS and Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R will be available for other teams after Road Atlanta.

“After 15 years of racing professionally, the difficult decision to remove ourselves from motorsports competition is nothing less than heart-felt,” said Team Owner Johnny Stevenson. “We regret to inform you all that we are ceasing racing operations following the close of the 2017 season in all classes and series. But, we find it is time to move on. We thank you for all your friendships, respect, help, and of course the successful competition you all have provided throughout those years. We will miss you all at the track. Hopefully we can finish on a real high note at Road Atlanta.”

It’s a tough blow for the series, as the family operation led by Johnny Stevenson wracked up wins and championships along the way. Lawson Aschenbach and Andrew Davis share the team’s No. 57 Audi and Matt Bell and Robin Liddell share the team’s No. 57 Camaro GT4.R.

MAZDA COMPLETES FIRST RT24-P TEST WITH JOEST

Mazda Motorsports’ first run with Joest Racing took place this week, at Hockenheim in Germany. Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez were the two official Mazda drivers undertaking the testing.

A couple photos are below with the car, based on the Riley Multimatic chassis but now with Multimatic having undertaken the next round of development work in tandem with Joest Racing, making its paces.

PENSKE ACURA DOES FURTHER RUNNING AT SEBRING

It’s not just Mazda testing its prototype, but also Acura, with its new ARX-05 running at Sebring on Monday. Video footage from Fans Of The 12 Hours was provided to Sportscar365, and that’s linked below.

Helio Castroneves told USA Today Sports’ Brant James at Sonoma that he’d be testing the car on Monday. Castroneves’ future has not been formally confirmed by Team Penske, but the rumors he’ll be transferred over to the prototype program away from Penske’s fourth IndyCar have been percolating over the summer months.

DALZIEL, JVO CONFIRMED BACK WITH ESM

Photo: Patron ESM

In addition to Pipo Derani, confirmed on August 15, two other Tequila Patron ESM veterans will be back in the team’s Nissan Onroak DPis next season. Johannes van Overbeek will continue with the team for his ninth straight year, sharing the No. 22 car with Derani, with that news confirmed on Sept. 5. Ryan Dalziel was confirmed back on Monday, Sept. 18, in the No. 2 car, which he’ll share with Scott Sharp.

“Tequila Patrón ESM is beyond excited to welcome Ryan back in 2018 for his 5th year with the team,” said Sharp. “We picked Ryan because we felt we was one of the fastest guys out there, and that hasn’t changed.  He’s a great teammate, super hungry to win, and seldom makes mistakes. He’s the complete package!”

The team sought to have Brendon Hartley for a full season effort next season but with the New Zealander poised for an IndyCar bow with Chip Ganassi Racing, that option now is off the table. He will join Dalziel and Sharp as third driver in the No. 2 car for Motul Petit Le Mans this year, with Bruno Senna third driver in the No. 22 car alongside Derani and “JVO.”

PORSCHE BRINGS BACK TANDY, BAMBER FOR PLM

Nick Tandy was part of the Porsche 911 RSR’s famous overall win at the rain-soaked 2015 Petit Le Mans with Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz, as Pilet won that year’s GT Le Mans class championship. Earl Bamber won the pole for that race. Together, the two of them were part of the 24 Hours of Le Mans-overall winning lineup with Nico Hulkenberg in the third Porsche 919 Hybrid that year. And now Tandy (No. 911) and Bamber (No. 912) will be back at Motul Petit Le Mans this year as third drivers for both cars.

We’re delighted to welcome two good old acquaintances to the Porsche GT Team for this classic,” said Head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser. “They won Le Mans outright and are very excited to be racing the new 911 RSR for the first time, particularly after playing a key role in its development.

“We couldn’t wish for better support in the fight for the prestigious North American Endurance Cup, which will be decided at Petit Le Mans.”

HINDMAN IN FOR PLM WITH PMR

Add the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to the list of vehicles Trent Hindman’s driven this year. The 2014 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS champion races full-time in both that (with Bodymotion Racing) and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America (with Prestige Performance) this season and impressed in a one-off fill-in role at VIRginia International Raceway for Ben Keating alongside Jeroen Bleekemolen. Now he’ll join Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow for Motul Petit Le Mans in the Lamborghini, marking his step up from the Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 Super Trofeo car into a Huracán GT3.

PLA SET FOR MAZDA RACEWAY DEBUT

There aren’t many U.S. circuits Olivier Pla hasn’t visited, but the rapid Frenchman will make his first voyage to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson alongside Jose Gutierrez. Gutierrez has track experience there from his Mazda Road to Indy days in Pro Mazda.

“It will be the first time for me at Laguna Seca, so I just cannot wait to race at this place,” Pla said. “I have heard a lot about the Corkscrew and how fast turn nine is, so I’m really looking forward to the challenge of racing at a new track. I will have to learn the track quickly and make sure the car balance is okay, but I think this place should be very good for our car.”

GAVIN’S CAREER MEMORIES

Courtesy of Mobil 1 The Grid, here’s a highlight video of Oliver Gavin’s career, largely with Corvette Racing. The lanky Englishman has been a staple with Corvette Racing since the early 2000s.

SHANK, BMW RAHAL LATEST NEW LIVERIES

More new liveries head to the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend. Michael Shank Racing ditches its all-red and all-blue liveries run at Road America and VIR for literally no success for a golden brown and all-black cars this weekend. Shank won this race in Prototype last year with Ozz Negri and John Pew driving, and Shank also has the Motul Petit Le Mans win to defend as well courtesy of Negri, Pew and Pla.

BMW Team RLL will split its liveries on its pair of BMW M6 GTLMs. The team’s No. 24 car for John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk goes all-black this weekend while Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims’ No. 25 car stays all-white.

MANN, HOLBROOK BACK; FREIBERG SIDELINED

While Pippa Mann and Shea Holbrook will be back in action for Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America racing this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Prestige Performance, another talented female driver in Ashley Freiberg got late news Wednesday she won’t be driving with DAC Motorsports. She posted thoughts on her Twitter page and will be in attendance at Monterey regardless, looking for her next opportunity.

NEXT STEPS FOR TWO PC TEAMS?

Official confirmation from both teams are forthcoming but since VIR both Brent O’Neill (Performance Tech Motorsports) and Brian Alder (BAR1 Motorsports) have expressed interest in their next steps as an outfit, after the Prototype Challenge class concludes. O’Neill told RACER his team is exploring running a Ligier JS P217 chassis next year while Alder told Sportscar365 his is looking at an Oreca 07 chassis. Performance Tech has won the first seven races of 2017 in PC this year while BAR1 has fielded two cars in every event, but failed to topple Performance Tech on track.

TRANSFORMERS ENTRY?

Ian Dawson, an off-and-on sports car entrant who most recently ran the Libra Racing Radical prototype team a few years ago, announced plans to enter back into IMSA with a yet undecided LMP2 chassis and a partnership with Transformers, to create the D3+Transformers Racing Team. The team said to expect its driver line-up and other information to be announced at Petit Le Mans.

“We are very pleased to collaborate with D3 and the Dawson family to be part of this exciting racing program,” said Tom Warner, senior vice president, Transformers franchise. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to be more than meets the eye and connect Transformers with families and fans of all ages. We are excited to team up with a first-class racing team and series with a brand that has a natural fit for cars and fans of all ages.”

“From the minute we met the Hasbro people, we knew this was the partner we were looking for to introduce D3 to the world through their immensely popular Transformers line,” Ian Dawson, CEO of D3. “I have been working on giving new opportunities to young drivers and engineers who are looking for a way to progress their talents in motorsport and with Simon’s commercial awareness and interest in the business we developed a vision.”

Mann, Holbrook back for second run in Lamborghini ST this week

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini
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Pippa Mann and Shea Holbrook will return to action for their second start as teammates in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America championship this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, following a debut that was good for both friends and their partners last month at Road America.

Key to this deal, which will see the pair share the No. 57 Prestige Performance Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 in the Am class, is the debut of the Driven2SaveLives campaign in the IMSA paddock. Mann has teamed up with Donor Network West, Holbrook and BUBBA burger for the IMSA paddock.

This campaign hopes to register IMSA fans to become donors in honor of the late Justin Wilson and Bryan Clauson at this weekend’s races.

In addition to showcasing their support with on-car branding, Mann, Holbrook and BUBBA burger are partnering throughout the weekend with Donor Network West to help drive on-site registration of race fans as organ, tissue and eye donors.

These efforts will be highlighted through a “Got the Dot” autograph session sponsored by BUBBA burger, with Mann and Holbrook at the Donor Network West booth on Saturday, September 23rd. Over the race weekend, fans will also be able to register to win a pair of autographed driving gloves worn by Mann.

The two races are 10:20 a.m. Saturday and 11:25 a.m. Sunday, both times PT, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Mann scored a class podium co-driving with Dion von Moltke at Watkins Glen, and she and Holbrook were both close to the podium first time out at Road America. Holbrook has Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca track experience from her time in Pirelli World Challenge. This will mark the first weekend in four race weekends this year where Mann has had the same co-driver for a second weekend, which should build continuity and confidence for both drivers.

Further information about organ transplants and the autograph session are linked below.

FACTS:
*    More than 118,000 people nationwide are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants.
*    In the U.S., another person is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.
*    Each day, 22 people on average in the U.S. die because a donated organ wasn’t made available in time.
*    Approximately 90 percent of Americans support organ donation, yet only 50 percent are registered.
*    You can register to become an organ, tissue and eye donor here.

AUTOGRAPH SESSION/DONOR REGISTRATION EVENT:
*    Location: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, likely at the Donor Network West booth
*    Date: Saturday September 23rd
*    Time: 12.35 – 1.35 during lunch break for on track activity
*    Event Goal: To encourage sign up of race fans as organ and tissue donors on site with at the race track as part of the Driven2SaveLives campaign’s racing activation.

Continental Tire looking ahead to ‘new adventures’ from 2019

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The fact Continental Tire’s tenure in IMSA will end after 2018 comes as a bit of a surprise to the sports car world, following a prolonged period of negotiation to extend its role into 2019 and beyond following its initial five-year contract.

IMSA has announced Michelin for the new contract in 2019 and beyond in a multi-year agreement. Both Continental and Michelin have been within the same top-level series – either the American Le Mans Series or IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – since 2013.

Continental was the PC class single supplier in 2013 and from 2014 in the merged championship, the single supplier for the Prototype, PC and GT Daytona classes, while Michelin raced in GT Le Mans, the series’ lone class for open tire competition.

“We are extremely grateful for the role Continental Tire played in helping to grow our racing platforms throughout our partnership dating back to 2010,” Scott Atherton, IMSA President, said in a release. “Continental has been an outstanding partner and was instrumental in elevating the status of the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire Challenge to new heights. We extend heartfelt appreciation to our friends at Continental for their unwavering support.”

Continental, throughout its tenure, had sought to activate and promote sports car racing heavily. Continental served as title sponsor of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and a race sponsor at numerous tracks, notably at Road America and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Some of the areas where it invested off-track was with using some IMSA drivers to develop a new street tire, podcasts featuring IMSA drivers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, veteran IMSA driver Ryan Eversley with “Dinner with Racers” podcast co-creator Sean Heckman, its at-track displays and in other areas of marketing. It also supports IMSA Radio and its Continental Tire pit lane team.

On-track, the company responded without fail to numerous customer requests and made changes to either its constructions or compounds of tires as the series evolved.

This included working through the merger period as the top level Prototype class combined both Daytona Prototype and LMP2-spec machinery through 2016, before the new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and LMP2 2017-spec cars came in this year and saw Continental create a new Prototype class tire.

It’s with all those elements in the backdrop that IMSA’s decision and the waiting to announce this news comes as a shock to the system at Continental, but also something they feel they can bounce back from.

Travis Roffler, director of marketing of Continental Tire the Americas, explained the process behind the decision and where Continental Tire goes from here.

“We were informed a few weeks ago. I’d say we’ve been in active negotiations for most of this year talking to them about it and getting more information about what they were looking for,” Roffler told NBC Sports.

“We were given a framework or target to shoot for. We believe we gave a very fair response to that proposal, including a significant increase to our current investment level, which I can tell you throughout our entire contract we always outspent our contractual obligations. This was a step above our current spend.

“Our investment has been there to have the huge display at every race, engage with the fan base, and go through some challenging years of sports car racing, switching from DPs to P2s to DPis, going through when car counts dropped, we stuck through it.

“It was disappointing to go through that and now feel there was a good alignment moving forward… before getting ousted.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA

While disappointed with IMSA’s decision, Roffler hailed Simon Hodgson, IMSA Vice President, Competition, for his transparency and dialogue throughout the process.

“In a spec series you’re never going to satisfy every team, because one team, make, model, or competitor feels another one is getting a better deal,” Roffler said.

“Simon has been wonderful to work with and great in letting us improve development of the tire, whereas in the past… (IMSA) wasn’t so receptive. We felt in a good place.

“But this announcement… we’d been involved in the timing. We’ve been sitting on it, knowing you were getting a divorce and waiting to announce it until the last minute. It’s been a challenge to say the least.”

Continental has given quite a lot to sports car racing over the years and following its acquisition of Hoosier Racing Tires last October, is still confident of moving into other areas in motorsports. Therein lies the challenge and the next opportunity, which Roffler said the company will embrace with open arms.

“With the purchase of Hoosier Racing Tire, we’re invested in motorsports globally. We look globally to grow,” he said.

“We’ll continue to develop on platforms like GT3, which is a global platform. That might look strange, given we’re being escorted out of IMSA. But that platform lives globally in other series around the world. So we’ll look to move that platform forward in other series going forward.”

Roffler was heavily concerned about the Continental Tire staff who have sunk a lot of time and investment into tire design and production, and their jobs. But he’s thankful for what they’ve accomplished in IMSA as they look forward to their next motorsports opportunity.

“It’s bittersweet at this point,” he admitted. “This entire team have dumped a lot of heart and soul into this program and as I said before, lived through some lean years. We were touted the merger would be a ‘holy grail’ but it took two-three years to get there. Our whole model was challenged, but we stuck through it. We were determined to do what we could do for our consumers, and move the needle.

“The first renewal came up and we kind of got the legs kicked out from underneath on this first one. It’s a shock to the program.

“But we’re tough. We’ll get over this, dust ourselves off, we have ’18 still in front of us, and we’ll be looking forward to the new adventures in ’19 and beyond.

“The big man says every time a door shuts, another one opens. I full well believe that we’ll find something even better.”

2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship/Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring/Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, FL USA/Saturday 18 March 2017/Continental tire/World Copyright: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Images