IMSA titles set to be decided at Petit Le Mans

Titles to be decided at Road Atlanta. Photo: Getty Images

All championships are on the line ahead of the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season finale at Road Atlanta this weekend, for Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda.

IMSA has outlined what’s at stake for both the full season and Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup championships. The points system breakdown is linked here. Those two releases are posted below:

All four TUDOR United SportsCar Championship class titles are up for grabs entering the 2015 season-ending Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda at Road Atlanta on Saturday, Oct. 3.

The 10-hour endurance classic will decide the driver, team and manufacturer championships in the Prototype (P), Prototype Challenge (PC), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes.

Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook, drivers of the No. 90 Corvette DP, enter the finale leading both Action Express Racing driver pairings by six points, 279-273, in the Prototype championship race.

Defending champions Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa share the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP, while Dane Cameron and Eric Curran co-drive the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP, both fielded by Action Express Racing. Also in the running are Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who won the most recent race at Circuit of The Americas in the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley, with 268 points.

“Both 2013 and 2014 were difficult years for us, but we’ve come back stronger this year,” said Westbrook, who joined Valiante in winning two races this season. “The fact that only six points are separating the three Coyotes [Corvette DP chassis] shows how even it is. I’m sure the championship is going to go down to the last hour of Petit Le Mans, which – from a fan perspective – is incredible. The championship would be an incredible achievement, but we haven’t won it yet.”

Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner won in the GTLM class at Circuit of The Americas to close to within three points of Porsche North America driver Patrick Pilet, 279-276. Pilet joins 2015 24 Hour of Le Mans overall winner Nick Tandy in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, with Auberlen and Werner in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL IHG Rewards Club BMW Z4 GTLM. Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, drivers of the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, are 10 points back with 269, while No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer are 13 points back with 266.

The closest battle is in GTD. TRG-AMR’s Christina Nielsen – on the cusp of becoming the first female driver to win a championship in major international sports car competition – leads Christopher Haase and Dion von Moltke by only one point, 256-255. Nielsen co-drives the No. 007 Royal Purple/Orion Energy/LaSalle Solutions/PassTime USA Aston Martin Vantage with Kuno Wittmer, while Haase and von Moltke are in the No. 48 Castrol EDGE Audi R8 LMS for Paul Miller Racing.

Scuderia Corsa drivers Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, who co-drive the No. 63 Robert Graham/Royal Purple Ferrari 458 Italia, are only four points out of the lead with 252 points. Others in contention include Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R with 245 points; Mario Farnbacher and Ian James in the No. 23 Team Seattle/Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT America with 242; and Leh Keen and Cooper McNeil in the No. 22 Alex Job Racing WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT America with 238.

CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun hold a 12-point lead in their bid to defend their 2014 PC title, with a total of 289 points in the No. 54 Flex-Box/Composite Resources ORECA FLM09. Should they stumble, two teams are separated by two points in the battle for second. Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith have 277 points in the No. 52 Cuttwood/Spyder ORECA from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, while RSR Racing co-drivers Chris Cumming and Bruno Junqueira have 275 points in the No. 11 AutoMaxUSA ORECA.

The 18th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda, Round 12 of the 2015 TUDOR Championship and Round 4 of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, will be broadcast live. Coverage begins on FOX Sports 2 at 11 a.m. ET, and will alternate throughout the day with, including the finish and post-race coverage on FOX Sports 2 beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.

There also will be a three-hour highlight telecast airing at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1 on Sunday, Oct. 4.

Multiple championships will be decided in next weekend’s Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda at Road Atlanta. In addition to the four class titles in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup also wraps up its four-race competition in each category.

Adding spice to the mix is that each of the four classes – Prototype (P), Prototype Challenge (PC), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – has different leaders in both the TUDOR Championship and Patrón Endurance Cup, opening the possibility of different driver pairings achieving the coveted top step on the podium following the 10-hour sports car classic.

Each of the four classes are still to be determined in the Patrón Endurance Cup, which encompasses 52 hours of racing including the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida and Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

In the Prototype competition, defending Patrón Endurance Cup champs Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP hold a seven-point lead over Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Joey Hand and Scott Pruett, 35-28.

“We’ll put a little emphasis on winning the Patrón Endurance Cup,” Fittipaldi said. “We’re so close, but if we don’t pay attention we can lose it. Hopefully we’ve put a wrap on the Patrón Endurance Cup at the four-hour mark, which is a possibility. After that we can control our own destiny and do everything we can to win the TUDOR Championship.”

There is a six-way tie for the number three spot in the Prototype standings, among Max Angelelli, Sebastien Bourdais, Jordan and Ricky Taylor, Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook, all with 27 points. drivers Valiante and Westbrook currently lead the TUDOR Championship points.

The battle for the top spot in GTLM has gotten tighter as Corvette Racing’s No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia’s lead has shrunk to four points over the team’s No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin, 33-29.

“While our main goal is the drivers’ championship, the Patrón Cup is also very important,” Garcia said. “We will try to achieve every championship we have on the line. Petit Le Mans is going to be back to endurance racing, and that’s where we’ve had success this year. We’ll see how our pace compares to the competition, and we will give it everything we have.”

Team Falken Tire’s collective eight points from the Sahlen’s Six Hours — five of which came from their victory in the race — has bumped the team and drivers Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler up to third in the GTLM standings with 27 points. The No. 911 Porsche North America team of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet is fourth with 26 points.

In GTD, the Daytona and Watkins Glen-winning No. 93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R of Al Carter and Cameron Lawrence hold a seven-point advantage in GTD over the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia of Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, 37-30.

“This Petit Le Mans is more interesting for us than in any previous Petit,” said Viper owner Ben Keating, who drove in the winning car in the Rolex 24 in addition to winning two races in the No. 33 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R. “It’s been obvious that our strategy this year is score points at the right times. It’s made it a lot of fun. We’re going into the last race with the lead, but not a lock. Ferrari is bringing a second car to make it more interesting. I love the longer races – the longer the better for me – and I’m excited to be going to Road Atlanta, I love the track.”

In Prototype Challenge, the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Cuttwood/Spyder ORECA FLM09 team of Mike Guasch, Tom Kimber-Smith and Andrew Palmer holds a three-point advantage over the defending champion No. 54 CORE autosport Flex Box/Composite Resources team with Jon Bennett, Colin Braun and James Gue, 36-33.

“We’re going to go in prepared,” Guasch said. “I think we’re going to have to be cautious. We need to finish the race. We need to be as fast as we can without taking big chances. Two years ago, we got taken out at Petit Le Mans. Stuff happens. We’ll run the race, and try to get points wherever they land.”

Points in the Patrón Endurance Cup are awarded at specific intervals throughout each race, with the leader at the end of each segment scoring five points, four points for second, three points for third, and fourth place on back receiving two points. Points will be scored at four hours, eight hours and 10 hours at Petit Le Mans, for a maximum of 15 points.

Patrón Endurance Cup round-winning drivers at each event receive a limited edition bottle of Gran Patrón Platinum, numbered and signed by Francisco Alcaraz, the creator of the Gran Patrón Platinum recipe and Tequila Patrón’s Master Distiller and Blender. Round-winning team owners win specially designed PRS Guitars.

Season-ending Patrón Endurance Cup awards will be presented during the TUDOR Night of Champions at the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta on Monday evening, Oct. 5.

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment
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DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

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Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and six red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500