Nur Ali on GRC Lites: “I can tell you wholeheartedly, I’m having a blast”

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Versatility in terms of competing in different forms of motorsport, and learning once you’re in a new one, are keys to success in modern racing.

This is, in a sentence, the description that sums up Nur Ali’s first season in the Red Bull Global Rallycross GRC Lites division.

Ali, now 40, is embarking on his first season in the rally championship after a diverse career that has included past stints in A1GP, NASCAR and ARCA.

The atmosphere and adaptation to the world of GRC has been an eye-opening experience, which is saying something since Ali’s originally from Pakistan, moved to Germany as a youth where he got bitten by the racing bug and then moved to Texas (as an eight-year-old in 1983).

That blended experience ties in nicely as Red Bull GRC heads to Washington, D.C., this weekend, which serves as something of a homecoming for the Texan, who drives the No. 42 AF Racing entry with support from Valvoline and Tweaker Energy Shot.

Ali interned under U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and besides racing, has been a diehard political junkie. He got his bachelor’s degree in International Relations from American University.

“Yeah I’m looking forward to D.C. – it’s my second home. I was fortunate enough to live there as a student,” Ali told MotorSportsTalk.

“My dad has been involved in local politics since I moved. I was 8 years old and intrigued on what my dad was doing, whether it was events, functions, or other things. I remember he was a polling judge at elections. He was fully involved.

source: Getty Images
Ali with A1 Team Pakistan in A1GP. Photo: Getty Images

“Growing up in U.S., but having been born in Pakistan, lived in Germany, then adapted to the American system – not instantaneously – he fell in love with the system in the U.S. I started going to polling systems and I got interested in the political system.

“In some sense, yeah I’m a political junkie. I’d be doing something in D.C. if I wasn’t racing. To work with Congressman Barton showed me how it works. We may not have a perfect system, but in my estimation it’s the best one around.”

Politics may be the side job but in terms of the day job, Ali’s numbers are trending upward as he enters the second half of the season.

He’d finished sixth in the first two races but after a series of three tough races, recorded a season-best fourth in the most recent round at Detroit Belle Isle, race two. He now sits seventh in points.

Having only had a brief preseason test to acclimate to racing on dirt, Ali has spent the first half of the year learning, while being optimistic of better results in the second half.

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Ali at Fort Lauderdale. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“Halfway through the season, with Detroit past and heading to Washington next weekend, I feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “The first weekend, luckily the dirt portion was really small there. It wasn’t too difficult.

“I’ve had some coaching and testing in Austin at some facilities there. By New River, I felt a lot more comfortable. At one point I pulled the hand brake/e-brake too early in the race. I wish it would have happened in practice. But I’ve gotten comfortable; I’m not 100 percent there yet but much more compared to where it was.”

Besides driving, Ali also spoke highly of the GRC open paddock and overall atmosphere. It was one of the elements that attracted him and his partners to the series.

As a tentative plan, Ali is looking to do a second season in GRC Lites before any jump to Supercars, which could come as early as 2017.

As a whole though, having been in open-wheel cars and stock cars, adding rally cars only adds to his career record.

And being from Pakistan originally, being able to embark on a full career is something Ali fully appreciates since it’s a rarity.

“I feel very humbled honestly; I come from a culture without race car drivers. I only had a passion,” Ali said.

“I was very fortunate I had supportive parents, so long as I got my education. I wanted to race cars. I grew up in Germany watching Formula 1. I was a student of the Autobahn, my father drove on it, it was instilled or built in me as a young child.

“It was difficult but having had 17 years in the industry, 17 years as a driver, I’m humbled and fortunate to do A1, small stint in NASCAR, ARCA, some Indy Ligths testing.

“Now it’s a new challenge. I never thought I’d be driving on dirt. But circumstances have brought us here.

“Without even thinking, this is the most fun I’ve had this year. The paddock is wide open and the races aren’t that long. I can get the result in 10 minutes! Don’t have to wait three to four hours. We’ve done six races, had five or six different winners, and many are rookies. There’s an opportunity to podium or even win this year. It makes it an equal level playing field.

“A1 was fun, NASCAR fun, but this has been awesome. Today I can tell you wholeheartedly I’m having a blast. I hope it grows from year-to-year.”

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.