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.

IMSA PRACTICE

  • 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.

RACES

  • 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).

NOTES

  • 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.

F1 2017 driver review: Kevin Magnussen

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Kevin Magnussen

Team: Haas
Car No.: 20
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P7 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 19
Championship Position: 14th

Kevin Magnussen’s move to Haas proved to be a win-win situation for both parties through 2017 as they banished the struggles of the previous Formula 1 season.

For Magnussen, the move came after a difficult one-season stint with Renault who despite offering him a way back into F1 after a year on the sidelines were unable to produce a car allowing the Dane to fight far up the order.

Haas had not expected to be able to be that much further ahead, but Magnussen nevertheless immediately offered an uplift in performance after replacing Esteban Gutierrez, who failed to score a single point through 2016.

Magnussen picked up Haas’ first points of the season with a solid drive in China, and was able to capitalize on the bonkers Baku race to take P7, which would ultimately be his best result of the season.

Consistency was a real issue for Haas throughout the year as it continued to have teething problems most new teams encounter, and while Magnussen was more able to drive around the problems than teammate Romain Grosjean, he lacked the ultimate pace of his teammate.

That said, Magnussen’s season highlight came in Mexico, a track Haas expected to be its worst of the season. The ex-McLaren driver qualified on the last row but produced a stunning display to finish eighth, soaking up pressure from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton late on.

The signs are positive moving forward. Next year should be Haas’ best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations, presenting a good opportunity for Magnussen to prove his star quality.

Season High: Taking P8 in Mexico when Haas expected to be slowest.

Season Low: Lagging home P15 at Spa as Grosjean hit the points.