Mark Webber’s 1st WEC season to end in a very familiar place

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The World Endurance Championship wraps up its 2014 season this coming weekend at Interlagos with a six-hour race, and that will also mark the end of Mark Webber’s first campaign in the series.

Webber, now driving for the Porsche LMP1 factory team, knows the Sao Paulo track very well from his previous life in Formula One. The Australian took two of his nine career Grand Prix wins there, and also ended his F1 tenure there in 2013.

But now, he’s about to see the legendary Brazilian track in a whole new light.

“I always enjoyed driving there in Formula One,” he said in a Porsche release. “With the Grand Prix wins in 2009 and 2011, I have some very special memories of the place. The atmosphere is electric with the fans being very close to the track, different to modern circuits where the grandstands are farther away.

“At 4.3 kilometers, it means it is a small circuit and the WEC is a huge grid. It is a little bit of a shame they resurfaced the track, because the bumps were a special challenge that is taken away now. I think the 919 will like the track and, hopefully, we can push for our best result of the year there.”

Webber and No. 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid co-drivers Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley are coming off their third podium run of the season in the most recent WEC race in Bahrain.

That race also marked the first time that both sides of the Porsche 919 Hybrid program landed on a WEC podium, as the No. 14 team (Romain Dumas/Neel Jani/Marc Lieb) finished second.

Now, Porsche has one more opportunity in 2014 to take the next step: Winning.

“We can be proud of having achieved three pole positions and five podium finishes with such a complex race car in such strong competition,” said Porsche’s LMP1 head, Fritz Enzinger. “Even more important for the future: The way we improved race by race shows that we’ve got the structures right. This goes for the technical concept, as well as for the driver line-up and the operational side with a team growing so well together.

“We have learned from every situation and tried our utmost to reduce the competition’s advantage in terms of experience. In case a small opportunity would open up to climb on the next and final step of the podium in Brazil, we want to be ready to take it.”

All of the Porsche LMP1 drivers have been announced today as confirmed to continue their current roles in 2015. Additionally, the marque says that it will field a third 919 Hybrid for next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans (June 13-14) and, in a tune-up for that race, the WEC event at Spa-Francorchamps (May 2); Porsche says no decisions have yet been made regarding a driver line-up for the third car.

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.”