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.

Mazda Road to Indy 2018 schedules are released

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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A handful of minor tweaks have been made to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires schedules for the 2018 season, but they’re not too different than 2017 and largely mirror the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that was put out last week.

The full details are below.

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires today unveiled its 2018 calendar of events. The most effective driver development program in the world with over $3.5M in scholarships and awards on offer will continue its momentum at premier road course, street circuit and oval venues in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The highly acclaimed platform – comprised of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will enter the new season with a trio of state-of-the-art chassis on display including the much anticipated debut of the new Pro Mazda PM-18 which completes the revitalization of the entire ladder system.

On deck for 2018 is a return to the Pacific Northwest and Portland International Raceway (PIR) in Portland, Ore. The 1.967-mile, 12-turn permanent road course will host the season finale for all three series. Indy Lights last raced at PIR in 2001, and Pro Mazda and USF2000 in 2006. The last IndyCar race took place in 2007.

The month of May will bring several new additions. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will return to Lucas Oil Raceway for the Carb Night Classic “The Race Before the 500” after a year’s hiatus. Mere hours after the conclusion of Carb Day activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 – including the Freedom 100, the crown jewel on the Indy Lights schedule – the two series will make their appearance on the .686-mile oval.

Additionally, the three Indianapolis oval races will see an increase in points for all series for the first time, and an increase in prize money.

In Pro Mazda, the National Class will be replaced by the Pro Mazda Classic (PMC) Series – a six-weekend, 12-race championship within the Pro Mazda Championship utilizing the older Pro Mazda rotary-powered cars from 2002 to 2017. The series will see a separate points chart, prize money and year-end awards.

While there is no limitation on PMC Series testing, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 will see amended testing rules. Indy Lights in-season testing is restricted to two days per team with two additional days available for use with current Pro Mazda and USF2000 drivers. Pro Mazda and USF2000 teams are permitted four days of in-season testing per driver but not at tracks yet to hold an event. Each series will continue with open tests at select venues.

The annual Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23- 26. Indy Lights will test on the 1.5-mile oval on February 23 and the 2.21-mile road course on February 26. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will run on the weekend – February 24 and 25 – to assist young drivers juggling their schedules alongside school commitments.

The Mazda Road to Indy Summit program – providing valuable education on a variety of topics including marketing/business, media training, career growth and development, fitness, social media and a comprehensive oval clinic – will continue to be in place next season.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into our schedule and I am pleased with the balance we have in place to properly train drivers to move up the ladder,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “We are excited to have Portland on the schedule, which will be a great circuit for our season finales in the three series, and to return to Lucas Oil Raceway on Carb Day for a great night of racing. The Freedom 100 is obviously the biggest race on our calendar and to be able to bring Pro Mazda and USF2000 back into the excitement surrounding the Indianapolis 500 was key. Increasing both the points awarded and the prize money gives these events the weight they deserve.

“The Mazda Road to Indy will take on new life next year with the competition debut of the PM-18. This completes the process we began several years ago to provide the best for our competitors with state-of-the-art race cars. We have a great program in place and it’s working. As always, I am looking forward to seeing many of our drivers take their next steps up the ladder including our recently crowned champions.”

Indy Lights will feature a 17-race schedule at 10 venues comprised of three oval, five road course and two street circuit events. In addition to hour-long race broadcasts on NBCSN, Indy Lights will also be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on indylights.com and indycar.com.

Coverage of all Indy Lights sessions is available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 7-8 Iowa Speedway .894-mile oval
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course*
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events

Open tests are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23 (oval) and 26 (road course), Barber Motorsports Park on March 5, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10 (road course) and 21 (oval), Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of nine test days.

Pro Mazda will expand to a nine-event, 16-race schedule which includes two ovals, five road course and two street course venues. Pro Mazda will be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on promazda.com and indycar.com.

Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course* + PMC
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course* + PMC
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course* + PMC
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course* + PMC
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course* + PMC
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course* + PMC

*Doubleheader events
+ Pro Mazda Classic Series

A total of 10 open test days are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, Barber Motorsports Park on March 3/4, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18.

The USF2000 series will continue with a 14-race format held at seven venues featuring one oval, four road course and two street circuit events. Coverage will be available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on usf2000.com and indycar.com.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course**
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events
**Tripleheader event

Open tests are schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of eight test days.

Two events still remain on the 2017 calendar – the seventh annual Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 21/22 and the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout on December 9/10 at the Bondurant Racing School near Phoenix, Ariz.