Petit Le Mans preview: GT (GT, GTC)

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This weekend marks the end of an era for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron.

The last Petit Le Mans to feature the ALMS, before its assets are integrated and merged into the new-for-2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, will take place this Saturday at Road Atlanta.

It will additionally be run with heavy hearts following the loss earlier this week of British rising star Sean Edwards, a Porsche driver killed in a training accident in Australia.

We’ll still take a look through the field in the prototype and GT classes to see who stands the best shot of scoring a win in the ALMS swan song.

GT is wide open after 2012 Petit winners Extreme Speed Motorsports have moved to P2.The 2011 winner was AF Corse, an Italian team that mainly competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Porsche RSR. Neither are in GT this year.

GT (11)

  • Corvette Racing: Swan song for the venerable Corvette C6.R, which surprisingly has only one prior Petit win (2010). Rolex DP champion Jordan Taylor joins ALMS points leaders Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen in No. 3 as they seek to close out the title, while Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook offer ample support in the No. 4.
  • BMW Team RLL: Winless since Lime Rock but you’d expect the Z4 to do better at Road Atlanta, a track where handling plays a greater role than outright power. The car is at a straight line speed disadvantage to some of its rivals. Slightly altered driver lineups with Joey Hand unavailable on DTM duty; the No. 56 of Bill Auberlen, Dirk Mueller and John Edwards is a more likely winner than the sister No. 55 of Maxime Martin, Jorg Mueller and Uwe Alzen.
  • Risi Competizione: Ferrari has this going for it – it’s won Petit two years running – but Risi’s Petit luck has been awful the last three years. A late fuel stop cost them the win and GT title in 2010; in 2011, the team didn’t start due to an accident, and in 2012, they missed the race altogether. The only redemption for Olivier Beretta, Matteo Malucelli and new recruit Robin Liddell will be a win for the No. 62 F458, as they can play spoiler.
  • SRT Motorsports: The factory Vipers made their first significant gains as an organization at Petit a year ago (pictured) and should be considered one of the favorites. Either of the No. 91 (Dominik Farnbacher, Marc Goossens, Ryan Dalziel) or No. 93 (Jonathan Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer, Tommy Kendall). The No. 91 is the pace setter of the two and the No. 93 the sentimental choice, having not yet won a race this year despite two poles from Bomarito.
  • CORE autosport: New to Petit from a GT standpoint but the No. 06 Porsche is a top sleeper in the hands of factory shoe Patrick Long, emerging talent Colin Braun and ALMS debutante/Porsche junior driver Michael Christensen.
  • Team Falken Tire: Resilient squad will run its last race with its 2010-spec Porsche, a new livery, and as solid a lineup as there is in Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers and Nick Tandy. Third at Sebring and can achieve a similar result with a bit of luck.
  • Paul Miller Racing: Unlucky Porsche squad of late, but one that always seems to overachieve in the endurance races. A steady lineup with Porsche factory driver Marco Holzer, Bryce Miller and Emmanuel Collard.
  • Team West/AJR/Boardwalk Ferrari: Townsend Bell’s made a handful of miracles on the Yokohama-shod No. 23 F458 and Johnny Mowlem’s as good a shoe to replace him with Bell in Fontana on IndyCar TV duties for NBCSN. Leh Keen and Bill Sweedler are good alongside, but the car will likely need attrition to score a top-six result.

GTC (9)

  • Alex Job Racing: Presumptive favorites in class as Cooper MacNeil seeks another GTC class crown, joined by brothers Jeroen and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen in the No. 22 WeatherTech-sponsored entry.
  • Flying Lizard Motorsports: Spencer Pumpelly seeks a home race victory in the No. 45 with co-drivers Nelson Canache and Madison Snow, while the sister No. 44 is a podium contender in the hands of Dion von Moltke, Seth Neiman and Brett Sandberg.
  • Dempsey Racing: Like Pumpelly, Andy Lally’s an Atlanta-based ace seeking to deliver Patrick Dempsey his first ALMS victory and with Joe Foster back as third driver in the No. 27. Team adds a second car with Charlie Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Darren Law a possible podium finisher in the No. 10.
  • TRG: One car to round out the season but Damien Faulkner, Ben Keating and Craig Stanton seek the third straight win for the No. 66.
  • JDX Racing: A win would be no less than what Jeremy Dale’s No. 11 team deserves for its effort throughout the year, and Jan Heylen, Mike Hedlund and Jon Fogarty are as good a lineup as can be assembled in GTC.
  • NGT Motorsport: Racing with heavy hearts and a revised driver lineup for its two cars. Still, the No. 30 of Henrique Cisneros, Kuba Giermaziak and Mario Farnbacher won its class last year; the No. 31 of Nicolas Armindo, Christina Nielsen and Angel Andres Benitez is an unknown quantity. 

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.