24 Hours of Le Mans

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Lucas di Grassi ‘likely’ to make Le Mans, WEC appearances in 2017

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Lucas di Grassi says that he is “likely” to race in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans despite Audi’s withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of 2016.

Di Grassi previously balanced duties between Audi’s LMP1 team and with its affiliated ABT Schaeffler operation in Formula E, with the latter now becoming his priority for 2017.

A number of drivers involved in both WEC and Formula E face dilemmas over which to prioritize later in the year.

Most notably, the New York Formula E double-header clashes with WEC’s visit to the Nürburgring, ruling out a number of drivers from the electric event including Sebastien Buemi, Jose Maria Lopez and Sam Bird.

Di Grassi believes it will be hard for Formula E to avoid clashing with other series as it expands, and thinks that drivers will need to fully commit to the championship down the line.

“With Formula E expanding, I think it will be hard not to have clashes in the future. I hope there are no clashes,” di Grassi told NBC Sports.

“For me with Audi, they told me: ‘The priority is Formula E. If you want to do one or two other races, you can.’ They even told me if you want to do WEC, you can, but the priority is Formula E. You have to miss the WEC.

“It’s a very clear, straightforward view for us, for ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport. For the team the priority is Formula E. That I understand and I agree that Formula E is getting to a level where it is getting very complicated, very detail oriented, so you need to focus on that.”

When asked if he would be racing at Le Mans and making other WEC appearances, di Grassi said it was “likely”.

“My interest is in the Pro categories. Either LMP1 or GTE Pro,” di Grassi added.

“I think GTE is the future. P1, you have very little cars, only two manufacturers. For GTE the tendency is to grow. GTE is very interesting in a career point of view.

“But still to be discussed if Audi would release me or not to do it.

“But normally Audi understand quite well if I want to do another race in which they don’t compete.”

Bell, Sweedler back to defend Le Mans win with Scuderia Corsa

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NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell and his longtime sports car co-driver, Bill Sweedler, will have the chance to defend their 24 Hours of Le Mans victory in the GTE-Am class as Scuderia Corsa has confirmed its lineups for both of its cars.

Bell, Sweedler and the previously announced Cooper MacNeil will be in the team’s No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE, thus providing the three drivers their first run in the new GTE-spec version of the 488 after running previously in the F458 Italia. This entry will feature a partnership with WeatherTech Racing.

Meanwhile Christina Nielsen will have her full-season IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship co-driver Alessandro Balzan making his overdue debut at Le Mans, and Bret Curtis on board as third driver in the No. 65 Ferrari 488 GTE.

Mattioli, Segal, Sweedler and Bell. Photo: Scuderia Corsa
Mattioli, Segal, Sweedler and Bell. Photo: Scuderia Corsa

Bell, Sweedler and Jeff Segal podiumed in class in their 2015 Le Mans debut before the trio’s dominant win last year. Segal, who’s since been upgraded from Silver to Gold in the FIA Driver Rating system, is ineligible to join that lineup as a result this year, but is expected to still attend Le Mans anyway as a driver coach.

“I’m so excited to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and defend our race win along with Scuderia Corsa and Ferrari,” Sweedler said in a release.

“Le Mans is such a unique and special place that has the most passionate residents. The city literally shuts down for a week to welcome racers, teams, and fans from around the world into their city. I’m truly honored to be able to participate again after two successful years. My hope is that Townsend, and our newest teammate, Cooper MacNeil, can take our collective experience and deliver another strong finish for Scudera Corsa and Ferrari in 2017!”

Team principal Giacomo Mattioli said of his lineup: “The opportunity to bring two Ferraris in defense of our Le Mans victory is a great honor. To debut in 2015 with a podium, and win last year was an absolute dream-come-true. To return now with the Ferrari 488 GTE is a brand new challenge that we are all excited for. It’s of course great to see Bill and Townsend back with us for another year, and now with Cooper MacNeil joining us, we should be very strong.

“It goes without saying we had an incredible 2016 together with Christina and Alessandro, and Bret Curtis is a long-time member of the community that we’re very excited to work with. We’re definitely confident for another Ferrari victory!”

The two entries come via an automatic entry for winning in class last year, and a second as an at-large invite from IMSA.

The race takes place June 17-18 at Circuit de la Sarthe.

American team presence again represented at Le Mans

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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It’s a nearly identical presence for this year’s American teams racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans compared to 2016 within the entries revealed for the 2017 race. A total of seven teams and 12 cars entered under the U.S. flag comprise a full 20 percent of the 60-car field.

Teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing are in the GTE classes. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing (four cars), Corvette Racing (two) and Risi Competizione (one) make up seven of the 13 cars entered in GTE-Pro, while Scuderia Corsa adds two cars in GTE-Am.

Ganassi’s four cars come from the two Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, one as an auto-invite for winning with one of the Team USA entries last year (the Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller/Sebastien Bourdais No. 68 car), and a fourth as a full-time IMSA entrant.

“When we came to Le Mans last year there was a lot of pressure on the team to deliver a win to commemorate the Ford GT40 1-2-3 finish in 1966,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president of Global Product Development and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Company. “It was fantastic to win but we will not rest on our laurels. We return to Le Mans in June with another year of experience racing the Ford GT behind us, seven wins including the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and we can’t wait to compete again at this incredible event.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

Corvette and Risi, as full-time IMSA entrants, also gained spots in the field.

Corvette, a regular Le Mans contender and race winner, won last in 2015. Last year, Risi provided the only realistic threat to Ford in GTE-Pro as a single-car entry, up against the phalanx of Fords.

Scuderia Corsa gains two entries, one as an automatic entry for winning GTE-Am last year and a second as an at-large invite from IMSA. This gives them two Ferrari 488 GTEs in the 16-car class.

The LMP2 class sees three U.S. teams present among the 25 cars.

DragonSpeed. Photo courtesy of IMSA
DragonSpeed. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed team will make its Le Mans debut; the European Le Mans Series full-time entrants have run in two marquee U.S. races at Sebring (fourth overall in 2016) and Daytona last weekend but not yet at Circuit de la Sarthe.

Henrik Hedman’s journey from Ferrari Challenge to Pirelli World Challenge and now to the ELMS, sees the Florida-based Swede the nominated driver of the team’s No. 21 DragonSpeed 10 Star Oreca 07 Gibson.

Ben Keating now will race at Le Mans under his own banner of Keating Motorsports, as the second of IMSA’s at-large invites. Keating raced under the TI Automotive/Riley Motorsports flag in 2015 in the final competitive outing of the Dodge Viper GTS-R in GTE-Am, and a year ago made his first LMP2 start at the race in the open top Oreca 03R with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens for Murphy Prototypes. Now, the Texan will be in his No. 43 Riley Mk. 30 Gibson.

Lastly, Zak Brown’s United Autosports team is entered under the U.S. banner. Brown and business partner Richard Dean have long desired and dreamed of racing at Le Mans and will do so with its No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson. Mazda Road to Indy veteran and TCU student Will Owen is the team’s nominated driver with Swiss teenager Hugo de Sadeleer the second driver, those two having been confirmed at Autosport International last month.

Usual U.S. teams Extreme Speed Motorsports and Krohn Racing are among the notable absences this year, with ESM focusing instead on its Nissan Onroak DPi program in the States and Krohn Racing off a Le Mans entry list for the first time since 2005.

Michael Shank Racing, which made its Le Mans debut last year, now has its Acura NSX GT3 program it’s focusing on.

Already a good amount of FIA WEC, Le Mans entry list details are known

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The release of the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans entry lists on Thursday provide full details and car numbers to what have trickled out in announcements over the last couple months.

So while there’s designated drivers that are listed today, that doesn’t mean they’re the only drivers that are known.

By class, here’s a breakdown of what drivers are known for the FIA WEC and Le Mans. Bold drivers are the designated ones from the Le Mans entry list.

LMP1

All that’s left to fill here is the third seat at ByKolles and second and third seats in the third Toyota. For the first time since its WEC arrival in 2012, Toyota has the majority of the entries in LMP1.

1-Porsche LMP Team-Neel Jani/Andre Lotterer/Nick Tandy, Porsche 919 Hybrid
2-Porsche LMP Team-Timo Bernhard/Brendon Hartley/Earl Bamber, Porsche 919 Hybrid
4-ByKolles Racing Team-Robert Kubica/Oliver Webb, ENSO CLM P1/01 NISMO
7-Toyota Gazoo Racing-Mike Conway/Kamui Kobayashi/Jose Maria Lopez, Toyota TS050 Hybrid
8-Toyota Gazoo Racing-Sebastien Buemi/Anthony Davidson/Kazuki Nakajima, Toyota TS050 Hybrid

9-Toyota Gazoo Racing-Stephane Sarrazin, Toyota TS050 Hybrid

LMP2

Gustavo Menezes (Signatech Alpine) and Renger van der Zande (Keating) are two of the names you’d expect to see added here. Manor was a round-robin last year of drivers, while the Jackie Chan DC Racing team now has a technical partnership with Jota Sport.

13-Vaillante Rebellion-Nelson Piquet Jr./Mathias Beche/David Heinemeier Hansson, Oreca 07 Gibson
31-Vaillante Rebellion-Nicolas Prost/Bruno Senna/Julien Canal, Oreca 07 Gibson
24-CEFC Manor TRS Racing-Tor Graves, Oreca 07 Gibson
25-CEFC Manor TRS Racing-Roberto Gonzalez, Oreca 07 Gibson
26-G-Drive Racing-Roman Rusinov/Pierre Thiriet, Oreca 07 Gibson
28-TDS Racing-Francois Perrodo/Emmanuel Collard/Matthieu Vaxviere, Oreca 07 Gibson
35-Signatech Alpine Matmut-Stephane Richelmi, Alpine A470 Gibson
36-Signatech Alpine Matmut-Nicolas Lapierre, Alpine A470 Gibson
37-Jackie Chan DC Racing-David Cheng, Oreca 07 Gibson
38-Jackie Chan DC Racing-Ho-Pin Tung, Oreca 07 Gibson

17-IDEC Sport Racing-Patrice Lafargue, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
21-DragonSpeed-10 Star-Henrik Hedman, Oreca 07 Gibson
22-G-Drive Racing-Memo Rojas, Oreca 07 Gibson
23-Panis Barthez Competition-Fabien Barthez, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
27-SMP Racing-Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara P217 Gibson
29-Racing Team Nederland-Jan Lammers/Rubens Barrichello/Fritz van Eerd, Dallara P217 Gibson
32-United Autosports-William Owen/Hugo de Sadeleer, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
33-Eurasia Motorsport-Chris Hoy, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
34-Tockwith Motorsports-Nigel Moore, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
39-Graff-James Allen, Oreca 07 Gibson
40-Graff-Enzo Guibbert, Oreca 07 Gibson
43-Keating Motorsports-Ben Keating, Riley Mk. 30 Gibson
45-Algarve Pro Racing-Mark Patterson, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
47-Cetilar Villorba Corse-Roberto Lacorte, Dallara P217 Gibson
49-ARC Bratislava-Miro Konopka, Oreca 07 Gibson

GTE PRO

Sam Bird (AF Corse Ferrari), Fred Makowiecki (Porsche) and Giancarlo Fisichella (Risi) are expected back at those places, with Corvette Racing’s Le Mans lineup also rumored to be similar in nature to past ones. Porsche has a number of GTE works drivers it could plug-and-play to fill its two works cars. Gianmaria Bruni’s status within the category arguably remains its biggest question mark at the moment.

51-AF Corse-James Calado, Ferrari 488 GTE
71-AF Corse-Davide Rigon, Ferrari 488 GTE
66-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK-Stefan Muecke/Olivier Pla/Billy Johnson, Ford GT
67-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK-Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell/Pipo Derani, Ford GT
91-Porsche GT Team-Richard Lietz, Porsche 911 RSR
92-Porsche GT Team-Michael Christensen, Porsche 911 RSR
95-Aston Martin Racing-Nicki Thiim/Marco Sorenson, Aston Martin Vantage
97-Aston Martin Racing-Darren Turner/Jonny Adam, Aston Martin Vantage

63-Corvette Racing-Jan Magnussen, Corvette C7.R
64-Corvette Racing-Oliver Gavin, Corvette C7.R
68-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA-Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller/Sebastien Bourdais, Ford GT
69-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA-Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon, Ford GT
82-Risi Competizione-Toni Vilander, Ferrari 488 GTE

GTE AM

Quite a lot remains to be filled in in the GTE-Am class, with only a handful of cars having more than just the designated driver listed.

54-Spirit of Race-Thomas Flohr/Francesco Castellacci, Ferrari 488 GTE
61-Clearwater Racing-Mok Weng Sun/Keita Sawa/Matt Griffin, Ferrari 488 GTE
77-Dempsey Proton Racing-Christian Ried, Porsche 911 RSR
86-Gulf Racing-Michael Wainwright, Porsche 911 RSR
98-Aston Martin Racing-Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda, Aston Martin Vantage

50-Larbre Competition-Ricky Taylor, Corvette C7.R
55-Spirit of Race-Duncan Cameron, Ferrari 488 GTE
60-Clearwater Racing-Matt Griffin, Ferrari 488 GTE
62-Scuderia Corsa-Cooper MacNeil, Ferrari 488 GTE
65-Scuderia Corsa-Christina Nielsen, Ferrari 488 GTE
83-DH Racing-Riccardo Ragazzi, Ferrari 488 GTE
84-JMW Motorsport-Robert Smith, Ferrari F458 Italia
88-Proton Competition-Wolf Henzler, Porsche 911 RSR
90-TF Sport-Salih Yoluc/Euan Hankey/Rob Bell, Aston Martin Vantage
93-Proton Competition-Patrick Long, Porsche 911 RSR
99-Beechdean AMR-Andrew Howard, Aston Martin Vantage

Kubica joins ByKolles for 2017 WEC season, marking full-time circuit racing return

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Ex-Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica will make his full-time return to circuit racing in 2017 after being announced as one of the ByKolles team’s drivers for the FIA World Endurance Championship season.

Kubica claimed one grand prix victory during his stint in F1 from 2006 to 2010, before being forced to quit due to injuries sustained in a rally crash during the off-season before the 2011 season.

The severity of the injuries to his right arm and hand meant that Kubica could not return to single-seaters, instead making his comeback in the World Rally Championship in 2013.

The Pole won the WRC2 title in his debut season before stepping up to the main WRC class, only to find minimal success before leaving the series following the 2016 Rally Monte Carlo.

Kubica tested an LMP1 car for the first time last November with ByKolles in Bahrain, and was receptive to the idea of racing in the WEC full-time.

On Thursday, the FIA and ACO confirmed the entry lists for both Le Mans and the upcoming WEC season, with Kubica being named as ByKolles’ lead driver on both, confirming his return to circuit racing on a full-time basis.

Kubica will race alongside Oliver Webb for ByKolles, with the team still yet to decide on its third driver. ByKolles will be the only privateer LMP1 team racing in the WEC this year.

“After my time in rallying I’ve been looking for something as close to Formula 1 as possible. This is exactly what I’ve found in LMP1,” Kubica said.

“At the end of last year’s WEC season, I was able to do my first laps behind the wheel of the CLM P1/01. I felt comfortable in the car very quickly and was able to increase my pace accordingly. With even more experience I’m sure I will be able to extract more performance.

“I’m already very much looking forward to the Prologue at Monza and the season start at Silverstone. The professional team of ByKOLLES Racing will continue to make important improvements to the car during the season. I’m happy to be a part of it.

“The WEC is racing on circuits that I know well from my time in Formula 1. The exception is Le Mans. I’ve heard so many good things about the event at the Sarthe. I’m very excited about my first start at this 24 hour race.”