Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Michelin GT Challenge provides second GT-only showcase in ’17

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Three race weekends remain in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, but not three races for all four of its classes.

While the Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes are off until Monterey and Road Atlanta, respectively, this weekend’s two-hour, 40-minute Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway provides the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona their second of two GT-only standalone showcase events this season (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET).

Like last race at Road America, variety has been the spice of life among GTLM winners. Risi Competizione, Porsche North America and Corvette Racing have won at VIR the last three years with the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia, No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR and No. 3 Corvette C7.R, respectively.

Each of those three car numbers is somewhat intriguing to note this weekend for different reasons.

Photo: Risi Competizione

Risi’s No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE is back after a several-race hiatus, the team having withdrawn temporarily after an expensive, crash-laden first half of the season through Le Mans. Out of the championship and with nothing to lose, the capable duo of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella can properly play spoiler.

Engineer Rick Mayer describes the challenge of picking the best Michelin tire compound for VIR depending on the temperatures: “Michelin tire selection might come into play here as the track is dark and if its sunny will get very hot, maybe favoring one tire compound over another. All GTLMs have Michelin options that span the temperature window. Predicting weather and the best tire compound could be important if the track temperature is variable.”

The No. 911 Porsche, driven this year by Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner, remains on the fringe of title contention in GTLM at 22 points back in fifth place and look to complete a sweep of the two GT-only races this year, having delivered the new mid-engined car’s first overall win at Lime Rock Park a month ago.

“I have fond memories of this storied racetrack deep in the heart of America. In 2015, we celebrated one-two finish there with Porsche. It’s an old school circuit with many fast curves where you can’t afford to make one mistake. If you end up on the grass, you might as well drive straight back to the pits to get the radiator cleaned,” Pilet said.

Meanwhile it’s No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen that, having weathered the storm of a few tough races where the Corvette has not had the Balance of Performance in its favor, maintains the points lead and looks for an encore of its win here last year. Magnussen has matched Garcia as one of the series’ best GT drivers really since this race last year. With Corvette having been given a bit of BoP help this weekend (a 0.5 mm air restrictor increase and an increased fuel flow restrictor), it should help the team get back to its usual race winning contention.

Two sets of pairings – Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand (No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT) and Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims (No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM) – remain within striking distance in points at eight and nine points back (239-231-230) of the lead. The second Ford pairing of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook needs a bit more help at 14 points back.

Consistency has kept the Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3) pairing atop the GT Daytona charts despite not winning a race yet this year. At 15 points clear (254-239) of closest rivals Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating (No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3), it’d take a poor finish in the 16-car GTD class to see them lose their grip.

Paul Miller Racing won this race last year, the first and thus far only IMSA win for the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 in the hands of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow, but its post-qualifying technical violation has all but killed any championship hopes here.

Elsewhere Patrick Long is back alongside Daniel Morad in Alegra Motorsports’ No. 28 Porsche 911 GT3 R, as he was at Lime Rock, while the WeatherTech team continues with its Porsche for a second straight race, 3GT Racing keeps its revised Road America lineups, Michael Shank Racing keeps its revised Road America liveries (albeit with a new frame needed to replace the damaged No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 after accident) and Lone Star Racing continues with its Mercedes-AMG GT3, hoping to start its second race after being unable to with various mechanical niggles at Road America.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

“The layout at VIR is an excellent track that makes you feel like you’re really driving somewhere when you’re going around,” explained Mike Skeen, one of Lone Star Racing’s drivers, in this week’s Continental Tire pre-race advance. “It feels like someone just meandered through some fields on a tractor to plan the layout. The result is a great combination of technical corners and flowing, high-speed sections with over 130 feet of elevation change.

“There is plenty of runoff area for the drivers to work with, but all of that beautiful grass proved to be an issue last year for many people that went off course and then had to pit to clean out the grill to avoid overheating. There are also many curbs that we have to use to improve lap times, but they can cause problems if taken too aggressively when the air pressures in our Continental tires are too low.”

Cautions are generally a rarity here with only eight total caution laps over the last three years. Additionally, Lime Rock went caution-free, so it’ll be interesting to see if that cleanliness keeps up.

OTHER NOTES

  • While Tequila Patron ESM with its Nissan Onroak DPi (Pipo Derani) and Team Penske with its Acura ARX-05 (Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron) have kicked off the IMSA driver market silly season, Mazda Motorsports’ John Doonan provided an update on the Mazda Team Joest status in this week’s Sportscar365 podcast, linked here.
  • In the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, a 31-car field heads to VIR for this weekend’s race as well. The GS class points standings are particularly tight with points leaders Dylan Murcott and Dillon Machavern just four points ahead of Cameron Cassels and Trent Hindman, and eight clear of Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer. Miller, who with Danny Burkett took CJ Wilson Racing’s first GS win at this race last year, and his new teammate will have a revised Andy Blackmore Designs livery this weekend with new partner Unit Nutrition adorning the team’s No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
  • Military appreciation at race tracks is always a good thing, and will be part of this weekend at VIR. Operation Motorsport is partnering with the USO of North Carolina this weekend at the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, with the organization hosting 11 wounded soldiers and veterans from the surrounding Raleigh, Ft. Bragg area and embedding them within a few teams so that they can be part of a motorsports experience as a recovery activity. The organization’s website is linked here.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”

Public clashes over future of Detroit Grand Prix

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DETROIT (AP) State officials are deciding whether to continue hosting the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, a state park and island that opponents say is negatively impacted by the annual event.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is considering whether to allow the race to continue after its current five-year contract expires after the 2018 race.

The department held a public meeting Wednesday at the Belle Isle Nature Center to gather feedback. Dozens of residents attended.

Opponents voiced concerns about the race’s environmental impact. Several conservation groups have requested a third-party environmental impact study on how the race affects island habitat.

But supporters say the race shines a spotlight on Detroit and stimulates the economy.

The Grand Prix has occurred on Belle Isle periodically since 1992 and annually since 2012.

FIA confirms Halo crash test details, International F3 plans and more

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Following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, France, a number of updates concerning the championships under the governing body’s umbrella for 2018 had been confirmed.

The stand-out news was the confirmation of a Formula E race in Zurich for June 2018, marking motorsport’s return to Switzerland after being outlawed back in 1955.

A number of tweaks have also been made to the FIA Super Licence points allocation from next year, placing a greater onus on drivers to race in Formula 2 before stepping up to Formula 1.

Here’s a run-down of all the other news from the WMSC’s meeting in Paris.

FORMULA 1

Following the F1 Strategy Group’s approval of ‘Halo’ cockpit protection being introduced to F1 from 2018, the WMSC gave its approval to the required updates in the technical regulations to allow its implementation.

The various technical details can be found in the regulations by clicking here (under Article 17), but the key point is that teams will now be able to finalize their chassis designs for 2018 now they know the crash test details.

The WMSC also confirmed that Sentronics will be the exclusive supplier of fuel flow meters in F1 for 2018 and 2019.

There is also a clampdown on oil burn in F1 for 2018 following the controversy with Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017, as well as continued plans to ban the ‘shark fin’ from next year’s regulations.

One point we already knew but is nevertheless of interest is the reduction in power unit elements permitted to each driver per season. As of 2018, each driver will be limited to just three internal combustion engines, three MGU-Hs, three turbochargers, two control electronics and two MGU-Ks per season, down from four for each element in 2017.

No updates were made to the F1 calendar for 2018, but Bahrain and China are tipped to switch places, the latter becoming the third round of the season.

INTERNATIONAL FORMULA 3

The WMSC confirmed plans to form an International Formula 3 series in 2019 in a bid to complete the pyramid from Formula 4 to F1.

Both the FIA European F3 and GP3 Series co-exist as the third rung on the single-seater ladder at the moment, with the international championship tipped to replace the latter.

The WMSC called for expressions of interest for chassis and engine suppliers for an international series, as well as a promoter.

Loose regulations have also been formed that are similar to GP3’s current rules, with a 24-car grid desired over a nine-to-10 round season featuring single-make chassis, engines and tires.

The FIA is also pushing to create more regional F3 series in the future to bridge the gap between F4 and International F3.

FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP

Following confirmation of Silverstone’s return to the 2018/19 ‘super season’ calendar last week, the WMSC ratified the schedule for the next WEC campaign that will last 13 months.

The technical regulation amendments for 2018 were also approved as part of the WEC’s bid to attract more manufacturers to the LMP1 class following Porsche’s shock exit.

“The FIA Endurance Commission was also encouraged to pursue a number of exciting and innovative proposals that it is currently working on, with the aim of enticing new manufacturers to the Championship,” part of the WMSC’s release reads.

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

The FIA confirmed its calendar for the 2018 WRC season, with the addition of a rally in Turkey being announced in place of Poland.

1. Rally Monte Carlo – January 28
2. Rally Sweden – February 18
3. Rally Mexico – March 11
4. Tour de Corse – April 8
5. Rally Argentina – April 29
6. Rally de Portugal – May 20
7. Rally Italia – June 10
8. Rally Finland – July 29
9. Rally Germany – August 19
10. Rally Turkey – September 16
11. Rally Great Britain – October 7
12. Rally Spain – October 28
13. Rally Australia – November 18

To see the full release from the WMSC, click here.

FIA tweaks Super Licence points allocation for 2018

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The FIA has tweaked its points allocation for the Super Licence required to race in Formula 1 for 2018, placing a greater onus on Formula 2 as being the final step on the single-seater ladder.

In a bid to tighten up on the route drivers took to reach F1, the FIA introduced a new points system for the Super Licence from 2016.

Drivers require a score of 40 points in a three-year period to be granted an FIA Super Licence, with different scores being awarded for success across a variety of categories.

Previously, drivers scored the full 40 points required for a top-two finish in GP2 (now F2) or winning the title in IndyCar, FIA Formula 3, Formula E or the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class.

As of 2018, 40 points will only be awarded for a top-three finish in F2 or winning the IndyCar drivers’ title, with the other series facing points reductions.

One of the most devalued championships is Formula V8 3.5, formerly seen as being equivalent to GP2, with a title win previously worth 35 points now worth just 20.

Here are the points breakdowns for the most valuable championships, running from P1 in the final standings to P10.

FIA Super Licence Points Allocations

Formula 2: 40-40-40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3
IndyCar: 40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
FIA F3: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
Formula E: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
WEC LMP1: 30-24-20-16-12-10-8-6-4-2
GP3: 25-20-15-10-7-5-3-2-1-0
Formula V8 3.5: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0
Super Formula: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0

You can see the full breakdown by clicking here.