TUSC: Team Sahlen drops Prototype program for 2014; MacNeil, Keen team up at Alex Job Racing

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The new Prototype class for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship has taken a blow this weekend, as Team Sahlen has announced that it will not be running its two-car Daytona Prototype program in the TUSC’s inaugural season.

Last month, the team had said it would field the same No. 42 (pictured) and No. 43 BMW/Riley Daytona Prototypes in 2014 that they fielded in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series this past year. Wayne Nonnamaker and Dane Cameron were slated to drive the No. 42, while Joe and Will Nonnamaker were to drive the No. 43.

This past year, Wayne and Cameron logged two Top-5 finishes en route to 10th in the Rolex Series DP championship, with Cameron almost securing a win for the No. 42 at Road America before a gearbox failure knocked him out late. Joe and Will finished 16th in the standings.

“We’re still going to be racing somewhere within the IMSA family, and believe very heavily in the direction the Frances have taken the series,” Will Nonnamaker told RACER Magazine’s Marshall Pruett. “We will be back next year, and will announce those plans in the next few weeks.”

As for where the Sahlen camp will end up in 2014, that remains to be determined.

Cooper MacNeil, who enters the TUSC after winning back-to-back driving titles in the American Le Mans Series’ GTC category, will once again be behind the wheel of the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche next year. But he’ll have a new partner.

Leh Keen, the 2009 GRAND-AM Rolex Series GT champion, is now on board at AJR, replacing Jeroen Bleekemolen as MacNeil’s teammate. Keen and MacNeil worked together during the latter’s 2012 GTC title run, and together, they won three races that season (Lime Rock, Road America, Virginia).

Now, they’ll focus on becoming the first champions from the TUSC’s GT Daytona (GTD) class.

“We get along really well and he’s a damn good driver,” MacNeil said of Keen in a statement. “He helped me win my first championship in 2012 and we will try our best to do the same in 2014.

“At the same time, I’m upset to see Jeroen become my competition, because I really liked him driving with me, not against me. But I wish him the best with Viper.”

As for Keen, he’s happy to be able to continue his history with the AJR camp.

“I really have to thank [sponsor] WeatherTech and Alex for bringing me on board for the full season,” he said. “My history with Alex shows how strong our relationship is and he runs the best program out there.

“Next year will be extremely competitive, but with a car like the new 991, a team like Alex Job Racing, and with Cooper as my co-driver – we have won championships in the past and will be going for the first GTD championship ever.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”