U.S., European sanctions could impact careers of Russian racers

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American and European sanctions related to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine could threaten the careers of dozens of Russian drivers that are backed by the SMP Racing organization – including  those of Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Mikhail Aleshin (pictured) and Sauber Formula One tester Sergey Sirotkin.

According to RIA Novosti, the group issued a statement that says its European financial accounts have been frozen as a result of the sanctions, which were handed down last month.

SMP has gone as far to dub the sanctions “political blackmail” but also asked the U.S. and the European Union to “listen to the voice of reason by removing the limit on Russian athletes’ participation in international competitions.”

The SMP project was set up by billionaire Boris Rotenberg, who was included in the sanctions. Mr. Rotenberg was a childhood friend of current Russian president Vladimir Putin and also is part of the project himself as a sports car racer.

Said project utilizes the branding of Russian-based SMP Bank, which is co-owned by Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and Yuri Kovalchuk; all three men have been hit with U.S. Treasury sanctions.

In regards to Aleshin, who races alongside veteran Simon Pagenaud for IndyCar squad Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, his career has not yet been affected by the sanctions according to SMP’s sports director, Sergey Zlobin.

SMP is a key supporter of the Schmidt Peterson camp, and it should be noted that the team has yet to acquire a steady primary sponsor for Pagenaud since the departure of computer company HP over the winter.

The Frenchman has had two different primary backers in as many races this season: Environmental Rail Solutions at St. Petersburg, and Charter Communications this past weekend at Long Beach.

As for SMP drivers in European-based series, Zlobin adds that they may be under a more immediate threat, as they could soon be unable to pay equipment costs or participation fees.

“The problems that our European office is facing in connection with the impossibility of using funds in the account will result in our drivers not being able to take part in European championships,” Zlobin said to R-Sport/RIA Novosti.

Political turbulence also impacted Venezuelan drivers late last year but in this case, it was thanks to a sports currency scandal that stemmed from one of the country’s state agencies.

In response to the scandal, the Venezuelan government froze all disbursements of hard currency for their race car and motorcycle drivers that compete internationally.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.