James Stewart, Marvin Musquin win first-ever Red Bull Straight Rhythm

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In an event that seemed tailor-made for the two-time 450 Class Supercross champion, James Stewart delivered a flawless performance to win the inaugural Red Bull Straight Rhythm.

The event pitted 32 riders (16 in the Open Class, 16 in the 250 Class) head-to-head down a half-mile straightaway of rhythm sections, jumps, whoops and sand sections in a four-round, best-of-three bracket format.

Stewart made it through all four rounds of head-to-head competition, sweeping each matchup along the way.

After disposing of Scott Champion in the opening round and Josh Hansen in the quarterfinals, Stewart faced a much tougher test in the semifinals, where he was matched up with his own brother, Malcolm Stewart. Headed into the matchup, it was Malcolm who held the fastest lap of the day from any rider, but James stepped things up and needed only two runs to get the better of his sibling and advance into the final round.

The other Open Class semifinal featured a heated contest between Dean Wilson and Justin Brayton, both of whom just switched teams this week and have only been on their new bikes for a few days. Red Bull KTM’s Wilson beat BTO Sports KTM’s Brayton in the first run, but Brayton made a hard charge through the final whoops section on his second run to defeat Wilson in a near-photo finish and force a rubber match.

With a win in his third run vs. Wilson, Brayton completed the come-from-behind victory to earn a trip to the final round. He was no match for Stewart though, as the Yoshimura Suzuki rider only needed two runs to eliminate Brayton and lay claim to the first-ever Red Bull Straight Rhythm win in the Open Class.

“I’m more tired now than I am after I do 20 laps [at a supercross race],” Stewart admitted after the event. “I think it’s a great test for us as racers, and for the fans, it’s simple – it’s head to head racing. Win or go home, baby.”

Throughout the day, the make-or-break feature of the track proved to be the whoops section right before the finish line, with the right lane seemingly offering a slight edge. The more powerful bikes also proved to have a distinct advantage in that section.

The most powerful bike in the field may have been the “RM-Zilla” of Travis Pastrana, a 500cc two-stroke Suzuki whose power was clearly on display in the whoops section. In his much-anticipated return to motocross racing today, Pastrana didn’t make it out of the first round though after being eliminated by Josh Hansen, but he clearly had fun at the event. Pastrana beat Hansen in the second of their three runs and then landed a backflip over the final jump in celebration, much to the delight of all the fans in attendance.

In the 250 Class, the inaugural event win went to Marvin Musquin, who like James Stewart, was dominant throughout the day. He defeated his brand-new Red Bull KTM teammate Justin Hill in the final round of competition to secure the victory.

“Everything went perfect,” Musquin said. “Each run, everyone was getting better and faster, so I just had to be really consistent and hit the whoops perfect and the rhythms perfect.”

Open Class Top Four
1. James Stewart
2. Justin Brayton
3. Malcolm Stewart
4. Dean Wilson

250 Class Top Four
1. Marvin Musquin
2. Justin Hill
3. Jessy Nelson
4. Justin Bogle

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).