Franzoni and Juncos. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Juncos Racing’s title double caps surreal year for team

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A year ago, Ricardo Juncos and his Juncos Racing team entered the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with far more questions and uncertainty about its future than it did at this year’s season finale at Watkins Glen International.

Twice a champion in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires ranks, Juncos was staring down the barrel of its first winless season in the series, and was all set to end its program and sell off its equipment following a challenging, disappointing campaign.

Additionally the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program had fell from title contention after Spencer Pigot brought home the 2015 championship. Kyle Kaiser had won his first couple races in the series but still made a few too many mistakes to have a realistic shot at capturing the crown. He debated whether he’d move into IndyCar and the team’s second driver, Zachary Claman De Melo, opted to leave after one year and move to Carlin for 2017.

For good measure, the team had its state of the art, 41,000-square foot new shop in downtown Speedway, Ind. it was all set to move into – all while not knowing what the state of its MRTI efforts for 2017 would be, and what the scale of its potential Verizon IndyCar Series program could be.

Although the shop’s grand opening occurred in early December to coincide with the Performance Racing Industry trade show, all that was settled on the driver front was Kaiser and Nicolas Dapero in Indy Lights. Meetings began between Juncos and INDYCAR, particularly Jay Frye and Mark Sibla, to see the team begin its entry into the primary series and fulfill his dream.

PRO MAZDA’S LAST-MINUTE RUN

All the while, Pro Mazda was only there as a back-burner option with the equipment sold and no plans to run… until the week before the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.

That’s when after a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway where Victor Franzoni and gentleman driver and automotive dealer Jeff Green out of Peoria, Ill. helped launch a story that will go down in open-wheel ladder history lore.

Jeff Green was the unsung hero of the Pro Mazda season. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Franzoni, the 21-year-old Brazilian, had planned for another year of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competition with ArmsUp Motorsports, where he overachieved for the Sheboygan Falls, Wis.-based team in 2016, before the Pro Mazda opportunity arose thanks in large part to Green’s support.

“We were in a tough situation looking at February and March when we decided three days before St. Pete to do Pro Mazda,” Juncos told NBC Sports. “Actually I was thinking, how can I avoid firing my guys? They have families and you’re always thinking about it.

“We actually tried to do GTS in Pirelli World Challenge (with Maseratis)… and we put out some news about it. But we didn’t do it and it didn’t happen.

“We had the IndyCar program coming but we didn’t know how to use my guys. I used the Pro Mazda guys for IndyCar. And we were able to do that without losing concentration on both our Indy Lights and Pro Mazda championships.”

Franzoni elaborated on how late in the game this all came together, but he was used to it given his previous three years in the Mazda Road to Indy.

“I had a big sponsor, then two terrible years in Europe, then I lost that. The Mazda Road to Indy was my only option, and my only place for hope,” Franzoni told NBC Sports. “In Europe, they don’t care for the drivers. They only care for the money. You pay; it’s done!

“But I’ve had help every year here. Afterburner was big help, M1 Racing was a big help, then ArmsUp was a huge help. But then Juncos gave me an amazing year.”

Green, Franzoni and Martin in St. Pete. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Franzoni and Green’s relationship grew at the outset of the year as Green acquired the equipment, advancing into the series from vintage racing, and saw the potential and effervescent smile from Franzoni to keep him going. And considering some of Franzoni’s teammates in Europe, in Formula Renault, a quote that followed next said a lot.

“For sure he’s the best teammate I’ve had… and I’ve had Daniil Kvyat and Ocon before!” Franzoni laughed. “I’ve had a lot of big names as teammates. But he was the best one for sure. He helped me a lot this year. Without him, the team wouldn’t have come back for the series.”

MONTH OF MAY PUSHES BOTH DRIVERS TO POINTS LEADS

The months ahead were crucial for Juncos Racing’s push towards its massive success in both series while also preparing for its landmark moment after 15 years in North America – making its debut in the Indianapolis 500.

Franzoni banked a pair of runner-up finishes in St. Petersburg behind Anthony Martin, but it was a weekend sweep at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that asserted himself as a true title contender. It followed on the team’s successful Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test where Franzoni and Juncos, working together for the first time, set a track record.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Additionally, Kaiser, the 21-year-old out of Santa Clara, Calif., had ironed out the mistakes that had plagued his first two seasons in the series and opened the year with great consistency. Finishes of sixth, fourth, second, second and third before his first win of the year on the IMS road course propelled him into the points lead in mid-May.

“I’ve always had huge confidence in the team. I have a ton of faith in their ability,” Kaiser told NBC Sports in May. “We’re never satisfied. The first two years, we struggled a lot here. We said we’d figure it out. This year, we were pretty quick the whole weekend. I love their drive and passion to get better, wherever we are. This will be a huge month for the team.

Kaiser elected not to run the Indy 500 this year as well with Juncos, instead focusing solely on Indy Lights – a move that ultimately paid dividends.

“You gather it up and remember the objective – it’s to win the Indy Lights championship. I wanted to, but it didn’t all line up, so it’s not the right time,” he said.

Franzoni added on the same weekend, “We tested, which was super important. We don’t have anymore tests planned. So it’ll be difficult here to the end of season. This was my second race with Juncos Racing. We need this for the championship.”

Despite the “any more tests” line, Green and Franzoni completed a one-day test at Watkins Glen later in the year, which paid huge dividends down the road.

Juncos Racing has debuted. Photo: IndyCar

Meanwhile, Juncos Racing completed the Indy 500 with both cars, Pigot coming home 18th after fighting an ill-handling car and Sebastian Saavedra overachieving for a solid 15th. With the former KVSH Racing equipment, this result was a culmination of Juncos’ dream, not fully secured until the checkered flag flew.

“The Indy 500 when we finished the race was everything,” Juncos said. “Starting was good, as I saw the ‘500 several times from outside. But inside, it’s very different. We were making history for my own country. But there’s so much tension. We had to finish and when the checkered flag flew, that was a relief. I will remember it forever.”

SUMMER TITLE BATTLES PUSH BOTH DRIVERS TO BRINK

Martin (8) and Franzoni (23) had an intense battle today. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Franzoni had Martin to deal with and the weekends at Road America and Mid-Ohio brought significant tension between the two of them at times.

Franzoni politely as possible accused Martin of blocking him at Road America, halting a potential last-to-first charge and ending a hard-luck second. Meanwhile, Martin felt aggrieved at Mid-Ohio when trying to lap Green, but instead thinking Green had spun on purpose to allow Franzoni through to the lead – as it was Green was actually trying to let both of the leaders through unscathed but just lost the rear end.

Kyle Kaiser with Peter Dempsey after victory in Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kaiser hadn’t solidified his stamp on the title until Toronto, as he had pressure from any of Nico Jamin, Colton Herta, Santiago Urrutia, Matheus Leist, Zachary Claman De Melo or Aaron Telitz – but none of them having had a consistent enough run to quite supplant it. Either through unreliability or mistakes, each of those other six drivers fell out of the picture, and Kaiser’s weekend sweep north of the border all but assured his title.

All the while, Juncos – at the helm – never lost focus of either program with sole attention back on the MRTI after the Indy 500 bow.

“That guy knows how to handle pressure!” Kaiser told NBC Sports at Watkins Glen. “He can be everywhere and take care of so much stuff to be a great team owner. Any stress he may have had in the Pro Mazda program, I haven’t had to worry about any of that in the Indy Lights program all year. It’s been great. He does a good job at separating the two.”

Franzoni, meanwhile, described how tough Martin pushed him over this summer stretch of races.

“Anthony was the best and worst guy to fight for championship,” he reflected. “As a driver he’s exactly like me, which is the problem! He’s so aggressive and fast. No mistakes. He’s good at setup. Fast all the time. It’s like competing with myself. It’s difficult. Any other driver would be easier for both of us to beat.”

THE GATEWAY TO TITLE SUCCESS

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The final oval for Indy Lights and the lone one for Pro Mazda – the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park – proved the ultimate test for both programs in their title pursuit, and it left Juncos concerned after a tough Mid-Ohio weekend. Kaiser’s pair of 12th-place finishes brought the field back to him while Franzoni trailed Martin and was behind on pace during the weekend.

“The lowest point this year was probably right before Gateway,” Juncos admitted. “We thought we couldn’t do it. We managed to do both. The formation of IndyCar team was a lot of stress, but I knew it was going to happen. These titles, we didn’t.”

What followed in both races was both huge gambles and huge tour de forces from Kaiser and Franzoni that all but assured them the titles heading to Watkins Glen.

Juncos made a radical setup change to trim out – Franzoni admitted post-race he went ahead with it despite zero confidence – and promptly passed Martin for the lead, and the win, on the outside of Turns 1 and 2. That netted him the title lead in Pro Mazda.

“Gateway showed how confident he was in the whole combination of the team, with the way we work and express our thinking,” Juncos said of Franzoni. “When you believe in yourself and the team and the setup, the driver will get it and it’s a combination. If there’s not the trust, you lose a bit.

“We didn’t have an option. When you don’t have an option, and I know myself, you just have to make it happen.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kaiser, then, delivered a statement, bounce back drive after Mid-Ohio. Fourth place came after a couple great passes, surviving incorrect tire pressure, a few near misses and a deep exhale. With a 31-point lead leaving, Kaiser needed only to start at Watkins Glen to clinch the title.

“Gateway was definitely the closing weekend. That weekend really sealed this,” Kaiser said. “We knew anything could happen here and we’d be fine. We just had to start the race. We executed, and we did what we needed to do. I wanted to get on the podium but knowing where I was, being fourth with three laps to go, I just had to bring it home.

“That restart, I almost put it in the wall but I didn’t – I saved it! That was a season-saving catch, for sure.”

SEALING THE DEAL IN STYLE AT THE GLEN

Before Watkins Glen, Juncos Racing had made two other pieces of news. The team announced a purchase of three Tatuus PM-18 cars for the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season. Additionally, it announced it’d be collecting donations for trucks of supplies to then drive from Indianapolis to Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief.

On track, Kaiser’s final race was simply about surviving – seventh wasn’t the ultimate result but knowing his race was in the rain and the importance of bringing the car in one piece, it was fine for him to cap off four years of growth with the team, the last three in Indy Lights.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But Franzoni’s weekend, first passing Martin for the lead on the outside in Saturday’s race, then crushing it in the wet on Sunday, was the stuff of legend that will be looked back on so fondly.

The dream for all three parties – Juncos, Kaiser and Franzoni – has been achieved, with Juncos becoming the first team to win two MRTI titles in the same year.

Kaiser and Juncos celebrate title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

For Juncos, these titles come after taking on a year with significant financial risk – and coming out the other side with everything achieved. He hailed every member of his team, and family, as family. As it stands now, he plans for an IndyCar program of at least three and up to five races next year, with or without Kaiser alongside.

For Kaiser, his title propels him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, which was an unlikely thought for those who saw him at the start of his MRTI career but shows how well the ladder works.

For Franzoni, it means he has his next season confirmed more than a week before the new year, and after a year of being a go-kart mechanic, sharing rooms, coming with his family and assisting the BN Racing team throughout its campaign, he now has his best shot at IndyCar. He expects to stay with Juncos Racing in Indy Lights next season, although that won’t be formally confirmed until Mazda Motorsports posts its scholarship driver release after December.

“Ricardo’s not only a team owner but he’s really a good mechanic and engineer. It’s a family,” Franzoni said. “Everyone, the engineers, mechanics… they all came from when they arrived in U.S. and started in go-karts. We have the same history, but in different ways. They started so small in go-karts, and made a great team; I started without money, also in go-karts. Now we’re together in Indy Lights. It’s the same kind of career. It’s why he believes in me and helps me.”

Juncos added, “It’s the best weekend ever so far. We’ve won championships in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights before, but both this year in the same year we did the Indy 500, it’s been amazing.

“We gambled big time. We knew it. Sometimes if I think more, I wouldn’t do it! Many things in my life I do without thinking. It was a huge risk. I talked to my wife, we said let’s do it, and here we are – we’re champions.”

Ganassi downsizes IndyCar program to two entries

Photo: IndyCar
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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.

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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