Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda rolling updates

DeltaWing and No. 5 Action Express cars. Photo: IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Good morning from a wet, soggy, and treacherous Road Atlanta, where today’s 10-hour Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda is due to take place.

We’ll update this post as we go, but suffice to say the story of the day is one word: rain.

Already we’ve had issues in this morning’s 20-minute warmup session. Following a heroic repair effort where Elan Motorsports assisted to fix the damaged No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda, Shank’s team is in a race against time to make the grid again after Ozz Negri had an off in the morning warmup, with right front and rear damage and suspension issues. Negri did limp the car back to the pit lane.

Alex Popow also had a spin in the No. 88 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 but was able to return to the pits.

The race is past the two-hour mark, with four full-course cautions having occurred.

Perhaps the scariest moments have involved cars going off course and then reversing back onto track, which has happened on several occasions.

The No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Racing Corvette DP, which was leading, has had an off with Michael Valiante driving.

Both Corvette C7.Rs have also had issues during the race.

Michael Shank Racing’s nightmare weekend is over, the team has confirmed, following an accident for John Pew once again this weekend.

Heavier rain has put the race under a red flag in the sixth hour.

Speaking to IMSA Radio, IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield had this to say:

“We felt it appropriate to take a pause and let this cell get past us, which I’m confident it will, once we get the track regained, we are prepared to wait it out and restart this race.

“I brought my channel digging shoes today. I’ve worked here long enough, back in my pre-officiating days, I know where the water goes on this track. This gives us our strategy for what we need to focus on before we can go back racing.”

More to follow…

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.