Photo courtesy of IMSA

Petit Le Mans weekend, Thursday practice and notes

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BRASELTON, Ga. – It’s been a busy 13 hours of track activity from Road Atlanta at Motul Petit Le Mans, with a mix of practice, qualifying and race activity.

Quick notes and results links are below.


  • The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson and No. 6 Team Penske Oreca 07 Gibson topped the charts in the day’s first two practice sessions, with the VISIT FLORIDA Ligier up top in the morning and the Penske Oreca up top in the afternoon. (Practice 1, Practice 2)
  • Night practice saw a third different car up top in the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi (Practice 3)
  • C360R (Practice 1) and KohR Motorsports (Practice 2) topped Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge practice in GS, with the CRG-I Do Borrow Nissan Altima leading both sessions in ST.


  • In the first of two Prototype Challenge races, winners were Kenton Koch (LMP3) and Kyle Masson (MPC) this afternoon (Results).
  • Jake Eidson, the series champion and Haywood Scholarship recipient, won the first of two Porsche GT3 Cup races (Results).


  • In night practice, the nine GT Le Mans cars all eclipsed last year’s best race lap, the top three cars were all under last year’s pole time, and from first (No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, 1:17.818) to ninth (No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, 1:18.508) were covered by a marginal 0.690 of a second!
  • Both Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge, who have been podium regulars this year in the GT Daytona class, are among the free agent list of drivers among those working to figure out what they’re doing next year after this weekend. Nielsen is poised to wrap her second straight GTD title with Scuderia Corsa this weekend with co-driver Alessandro Balzan in the team’s Ferrari 488 GT3, and the soon-to-be two-time defending champions are free agents. Legge, meanwhile, has won twice this year co-driving with Andy Lally in the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, and would be an asset to any GT or Prototype team given her extensive experience in both categories.
  • Besides the champions-elect, there’s a general indication within the paddock that a number of drivers in the GTD class are free agents for next year. Little is set yet in the class, which could see a car count reduction from the 15 usual full-time entries this season.
  • Riley Motorsports seeks to return to running two of the same GTD cars in 2018, after a midseason switch by the Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette pairing from a Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a Porsche 911 GT3 R.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya has shifted from testing the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit IndyCar to the Oreca 07 Gibson this week. Having driven both the Oreca and the Acura ARX-05 at Road Atlanta thus far, Montoya told NBC Sports that the Oreca compares favorably and seems better suited to this track. As for the Acura, Montoya noted it’s different being a purpose built manufacturer prototype vs. a customer car, which can be acquired for pro-am lineups.
  • The presentation Team Penske has displayed this weekend is markedly different from every other team in the paddock. The Penske crew, which could be seen cleaning and shining the car as night practice was still ongoing, had pit signs that separated its pit location from the walkway behind it, as the only team in the field with this type of barrier. These are common in Verizon IndyCar Series pit lanes, but not in IMSA.
  • Porsche factory stars Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber are back this weekend. With the pair as yet unsure where they will be placed next season following the impending end of the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 program – Porsche usually announces its lineup at its season-ending Night of Champions event in Germany in December – both told NBC Sports they would love to make racing returns on a more regular basis to the U.S. if they present themselves. Further breakouts with both will follow.
  • Gustavo Menezes makes his first IMSA Prototype start of the year (ran Rolex 24 at Daytona with 3GT Racing in a Lexus RC F GT3) the young Californian having starred in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the Signatech Alpine team over the last two years and as part of the Oreca 07 entered by Rebellion Racing. Menezes told NBC Sports he concluded a late deal to be in the car as third driver. Like others within the paddock, he’s not quite sure his plans for 2018 as yet, but he’d be an asset as a rare young American driver with significant prototype experience at his disposal.
  • It’s actually Sheldon van der Linde, not Kelvin van der Linde, as third driver along with Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies in the No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS. The younger van der Linde, Sheldon, is a Silver-rated driver while the older one, Kelvin, is not, and therefore would disqualify the car per the regulations as two Silver or Bronze-rated drivers are needed in a three-driver lineup.
  • Kyle Masson (Mazda Prototype Challenge, MPC class) and Trent Hindman (Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, GS class) are bouncing between the WeatherTech Championship paddock and another series this weekend.
  • 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice, full-time driver in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, noted he flew in early enough to ensure he could watch his beloved Arizona Diamondbacks topple the Colorado Rockies on TV here in Atlanta in the National League Wild Card play-in game.
  • John Falb makes his first IMSA PC start since the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the class finale, third driver in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 alongside Garett Grist and Tomy Drissi. Grist, the young Canadian, makes his third PC start of the year (Sebring, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park).

More to follow tomorrow.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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