DiZinno: Long Beach weekend analysis, musings and observations

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One of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ marquee races is in the books for 2015. While not a classic, the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend had its usual highlights, and here’s a quick look back at the few days on the West Coast:

  • Dixon’s humility shines through again. The pieces from veteran IndyCar scribes Robin Miller and John Oreovicz do a good job of highlighting the humble hero that is Scott Dixon, and he is just that. I’ll add this – Dixon isn’t even 35 yet, as he’ll turn 35 in July, and he still has at least a solid five or six years ahead of him to add to his 36 career wins. It’s rare you find a driver with the combination of speed, maturity, poise, focus, candor, humor (Dixon’s hilarious but you rarely see it), humility and commitment to family, but Dixon is the model for that. His lovely wife Emma was there to share the spoils on site, and daughters Poppy and Tilly were no doubt watching at home.
  • A nice Ganassi bounce back. With Dixon winning, it was easy to overlook the good runs turned in by Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Tony Kanaan (finished fifth) and Sebastian Saavedra (finished 10th). That made for Ganassi’s first race this year with three cars in the top-10, compared to Team Penske, which has done that in all three races. Poor Charlie Kimball has been something of a battering ram this season, having incurred contact from Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal and Sage Karam already and this weekend, a piece of errant debris.
  • A needed clean, green weekend. With spare parts angst, littered debris fields and cautions dominating the opening two weekends of the season at St. Petersburg and NOLA Motorsports Park, the full field did a good job of bringing the cars home in one piece all weekend. Long Beach – usually a land mine for debris and cautions – produced only one yellow for four laps on Sunday. And throughout the remainder of the weekend, the red flag interruptions were minimal too. It was an impressive job all around.
  • A packed house. This year marked my 10th trip to Long Beach – it’s a race I grew up attending as a kid and have been fortunate enough to cover for the last six years. And quite honestly, I can’t recall a Friday as packed as it was, with an easy 50,000 to 60,000 people in the grandstands and on the grounds. Overall, attendance was on point: the Long Beach Press-Telgram reported more than 180,000 patrons for the weekend. Alas, you may not have known that from some of the comments in the media center, as some maligned the current state of the series.
  • Events on top of events. Whether it was the Road Racing Drivers’ Club dinner, the Hollywood screening of the new Paul Newman documentary, or the RACER party Saturday night, Long Beach always seems to hit it out of the park in terms of making the race weekend feel so much bigger. The buzz and atmosphere of the events, and the quality of people in the industry at said events, always adds to the overall weekend – where actual human interaction seems to trump time in the media center.
  • PWC’s rough Sunday. I have a soft spot for the Pirelli World Challenge series, given its quality of people, level of competition and volume of awesome FIA GT3-spec machinery. To put it politely, Sunday was not its finest day. The level of driving was simply not up to scratch. Instead of long cautions as there were in St. Petersburg a few weeks earlier, there were frequent, consistent short ones to where it was easy to lose count of how many there were. The race was called the “Roar by the Shore presented by Replay XD” but post-race, you’d need to change the first word to “uproar” to describe the level of angst from drivers, participants, media and fans alike. This is a series with massive potential, but has been unable to feature it fully during successive trying weekends in St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

The Verizon IndyCar Series, the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy series and the Pirelli World Challenge GT/GTA/GT Cup presented by MOMO and GTS classes will be in action next week at Barber Motorsports Park.

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.