Photo: WeatherTech Racing

All-American Porsche lineup headlines recent Le Mans entry updates

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A bummer as it was to have not seen Bill Riley’s Riley Motorsports team and its Dodge Viper GTS-R get a spot on this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans entry list, as it’s turned out, things are shaping up fine for its planned lineup of drivers at Le Mans after all.

Ben Keating announced a deal to where he, Jeroen Bleekemolen and another Riley veteran in Marc Goossens would be in the No. 48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03R Nissan for Le Mans. It’s an open-top LMP2 car and one of the oldest in the field, but a tried-and-true package featuring two aces.

Marc Miller, meanwhile, will get the chance to return to the race for a second time as well – with an assist from Keating, Bleekemolen and Riley who were keen to see the talented American driver back on the grid in a GTE car.

Miller will be one of three drivers in an all-American driver lineup, along with Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen in the No. 89 WeatherTech-backed Porsche 911 RSR run by Proton Competition. Gianluca Roda had been that car’s nominated driver.

MacNeil and Bleekemolen ran the 2014 Le Mans race on their own in GTE-Pro without an available fill-in Bronze-rated driver in a backup Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, which proved an incredible story. Miller, meanwhile, will get to race a Porsche at Le Mans as he does in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

“My second time doing the race was an experience I will absolutely never forget,” MacNeil reflected. “Jeroen Bleekemolen and I finished fifth in GT Pro driving an antiquated car, compared to the competition, with all odds against us.

“We were a privateer team going up against strictly factory efforts with factory drivers while we were in an older car racing against the best in the world with one less man. Every time I got out of the car I would get some food and then lay down to sleep. As soon as my head hit the pillow there was a knock at the door for me to go back to the pits and prepare for my next stint in the car. I did over 11 hours in the car and the Dutchman did the rest.”

Added Miller, “When I think about Le Mans, I think about the 917’s and 911’s that have enjoyed so much success. It is incredible to have the opportunity to say that I will have raced a Porsche at the most storied race in the world. I have a huge amount of respect for Cooper and Leh and the entire WeatherTech Racing program. They have been front runners in the series and both also have experience at Le Mans, making this year even more focused and exciting.”

Some other changes/updates of note:

  • Joel Camathias has been confirmed at KCMG as its third driver of its Porsche 911 RSR in GTE-AM for the full FIA World Endurance Championship with Christian Ried and Wolf Henzler. Henzler was originally scheduled to step up as third driver of Dempsey Proton’s No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR in GTE-Pro for Le Mans with Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen. Assuming he stays there, the No. 78 KCMG Porsche would need a third driver for Le Mans.
  • Algarve Pro Racing has been promoted to the main entry list as the 23rd car in LMP2 with its No. 25 Ligier JS P2 Nissan that will run in the European Le Mans Series. Michael Munemann is the car’s nominated driver with Andrea Pizzitola the second confirmed driver. Indian driver Parth Ghorpade is testing with them this week in Paul Ricard, among several others.
  • Algarve Pro takes the place of TDS Racing, whose No. 59 Aston Martin Vantage was withdrawn from GTE-Am.
  • Greaves Motorsport’s Gibson 015S Nissan, which had been the first reserve, has withdrawn as have the Riley Viper (seventh reserve) and extra Proton Porsche (ninth reserve).
  • Clearwater Racing’s Ferrari F458 Italia (GTE-Am) will switch from No. 58 to No. 61.
  • The number of driver openings are dwindling. Some of the key spots not yet nominated include the third drivers for the Ferrari 488 GTE seats in GTE-Pro, Krohn Racing’s third seat in LMP2, and the Beechdean-backed Aston Martin in GTE-Am. There, Jonny Adam will be with Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard in the ELMS, but will be in a factory GTE-Pro entry for the WEC.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”