Photo: BMW Motorsport

De Phillippi joins BMW Team RLL; Auberlen shifted to endurance role

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American rising star in the sports car world, Connor De Phillippi, will be back racing on U.S. soil full-time for the first time in six years in 2018.

De Phillippi joins his third different German manufacturer, BMW, for 2018 as part of BMW Team RLL’s full-season lineup next year.

He’s been a Porsche Junior prior to that, and achieved his most notable GT racing success with Audi and Land Motorsport. He and Chris Mies won the ADAC GT Masters title in 2016 and this year, De Phillippi was part of the winning lineup at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and at Motul Petit Le Mans.

“To be part of the BMW family is something I am very proud of,” said De Phillippi. “Driving for BMW Team RLL is quite an achievement for me and I hope I can add to the success of the team next year.”

Bill Auberlen’s role as a full-time driver has ended, with BMW North America confirming he’ll become a brand ambassador and drive in the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule. Auberlen signed off his role as a full-time driver as a winner in his 400th race for BMW, at Petit Le Mans.

“I am honored to have been asked to become a BMW NA Brand Ambassador and look forward to additional opportunities with BMW of North America,” Auberlen said. “First and foremost I am a racing driver and am looking forward to four races with BMW Team RLL in 2018. My goal remains to get to the top of the list in all-time North American sports car victories and I want that achievement to be shared with BMW. We are only three wins away. We have not yet determined what else I may be driving but every opportunity in a BMW racing car is a good one.”

John Edwards was listed to return too and the 2009 Atlantic series champion now is set to run his third different BMW GT model, suddenly the team’s senior driver in terms of car experience only at age 26. He’s been a part of BMW’s previous Z4 and M6 programs before the M8 GTE, which just completed its first U.S. test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“The M8 GTE will be the third racing car I will have driven for BMW Team RLL and so far I believe it is the coolest,” said Edwards. “I look forward to continuing the ongoing development of the car and getting its first victory sooner than later.”

Martin Tomczyk and Alexander Sims made their debuts with BMW this past season and would figure to complete the four-driver full-season lineup beyond the pair of Americans, although Tomczyk was mentioned but Sims wasn’t in this particular release.

With Auberlen as one of its endurance drivers and Kuno Wittmer a free agent, BMW has anywhere from one to three potential vacancies for endurance drivers at Daytona (depending on if the team runs three or four drivers per car), although it has a number of viable candidates given its upcoming M8 GTE program in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Team MTEK and its link-up with Andretti Autosport’s Formula E program, called MS&AD this season in deference to its title sponsor. That Formula E lineup sees Kamui Kobayashi and Antonio Felix da Costa in the two cars starting with this weekend’s Hong Kong season opener.

BMW Motorsport is set to reveal the rest of its 2018 program on Dec. 15, 2017 during BMW Motorsport’s annual Season Review banquet.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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