Petit Le Mans gets rolling at Road Atlanta

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The 2013 Petit Le Mans – the final race of the American Le Mans Series – is now underway at Road Atlanta. The race is expected to run for 10 hours or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Early morning rains soaked the 2.5-mile circuit, but the asphalt was in the process of drying as the field took the green flag at 11:30 a.m. ET. As expected, the Rebellion No. 12 Lola/Toyota of pole sitter Neel Jani and the Muscle Milk No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03c of Lucas Luhr quickly ran off in the early going from the rest of the 34-car field.

But on Lap 6, Luhr was able to chase down Jani, popped to the inside going into Turn 10a, and made the pass to put Muscle Milk in the lead. Shortly afterwards on Lap 8, Jani brought the No. 12 to the pits in order to flip from the wet tires to dry slicks, but his car was dropped before the left rear wheel was on, causing a slow stop. However, Luhr too would have to pit for slicks on Lap 10, and although he had a smoother first stop, Jani was eventually able to get back to the overall lead.

Meanwhile, the GT fight quickly heated up between the Ferrari, BMW and Chevrolet camps. Pole sitter Matteo Malucelli (No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia) sustained rear end bodywork damage while battling for third with John Edwards (No. 56 BMW Team RLL) and Jan Magnussen (No. 3 Chevy Corvette), who is trying to claim the ALMS’ GT driver’s championship with co-driver Antonio Garcia this afternoon. That happened behind the two early class leaders, the No. 91 SRT Viper of Dominik Farnbacher and the No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin.

As the race went past the one-hour mark, Jani was in the lead but then made contact with the No. 52 Prototype Challenge entry of Dane Cameron as it was coming out of pit road, causing suspension and radiator damage to that car. Jani was promptly hit with a 60-second stop-and-hold penalty for avoidable contact, causing him to lose the overall lead to Luhr in the No. 6 Muscle Milk car.

Your respective class leaders after one hour:

P1 – No. 6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c

P2 – No. 552 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b

PC – No. 8 Bar1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09

GT – No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia

GTC – No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”