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.”

F1: Lewis Hamilton chases history at US Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton is closing in on the F1 championship. Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — From New York to Texas, Lewis Hamilton returned to the United States this week with yet another Formula One championship ready for the taking.

Finish off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel once and for all at the U.S. Grand Prix this weekend and the British driver would climb another step among racing’s greatest drivers. A fifth season championship would tie him with Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio for second all-time behind only Germany’s Michael Schumacher, who won seven.

Hamilton storms into what could be a chilly, rainy Texas weekend with a commanding 67-point lead over Vettel heading into the last four races of 2018. If Hamilton wins Sunday, Vettel has to finish no lower than second to keep the championship going another week to Mexico City. Any Hamilton finish that leaves him eight points or more clear of Vettel clinches the title.

Yet facing constant reminders of what’s at stake, Hamilton refused to get dragged into talking about his place in F1 history.

“None of us are saying how cool it would be. We are not focusing on `ifs.’ We are focusing on making sure we deliver,” Hamilton said Thursday. “We expect Ferrari to punch back hard here this weekend.”

Others were happy to do it for him.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, sitting next to Hamilton in the drivers’ news conference, ranked Hamilton among his top five champions in F1 history, no small compliment considering Alonso won championships in 2005 and 2006.

“Lewis showed talent from day one fighting for the championship his rookie year, then winning in 2008,” Alonso said. “He was able to win races when the car deserved to win it, but he was able to win races in seasons when the car wasn’t in top form … It’s impressive.”

If he’s feeling any pressure about the weekend, Hamilton isn’t showing it.

He spent the first part of the week in New York with an appearance on “Good Morning America” and a trip to Times Square to see his image on one of the towering video boards. On Thursday, he cracked jokes about fictional NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby from the movie “Talladega Nights,” quipped about his love of American pancakes and talked up a Circuit of the Americas track that brings out his racing instincts.

“They really don’t make tracks like they did in the old days. Some of the new tracks really aren’t that good. This is one that is,” Hamilton said. “You can actually race here. I’ve had the chance to race here. Real races.”

Hamilton has dominated this track since it opened in 2012, winning five times and starting from the pole or second each time he won. He won the inaugural race with McLaren and his victory in the rain with Mercedes in 2015 clinched the season championship (his third). He comes back to Austin having won six of the last seven races this season, a streak interrupted only by Vettel’s victory in Belgium back on Aug. 26.

With 100 points still available, Vettel is still mathematically alive in the championship but would need a run of Ferrari victories and a historic collapse by Hamilton and Mercedes to win it. And it has to start this week.

The German is the only driver to beat Hamilton in Austin. That came in 2013 during his dominant season with Red Bull that won Vettel his fourth championship. Last year, Vettel led after the start but Hamilton easily reeled him in and passed on lap 14 and the Ferrari never threatened an easy Hamilton victory.

The circuit won’t quite be the same. Race officials installed new kerbs on turns 1, 16 and 17 to keep the cars from running off track. Vettel snatched the lead at the start last year when Hamilton forced him left but he was able to cut the corner and head downhill.

The 2017 race ended in controversy when Red Bull’s Max Verstappen passed Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen around turns 16 and 17 on the final lap to finish third. Race officials determined it was an illegal overtake because all four of Verstappen’s wheels left the track and a 5-second penalty knocked him off the podium.