Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Street fight in Detroit brings season to halfway point

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The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship continues its 2016 campaign with the one-hour, 40-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Belle Isle Park this weekend and more or less brings the year to the halfway point.

It’s the fifth overall round of the season, though with the GT Le Mans class off this weekend – most of its cars are in France for the Le Mans Test Day – and the GT Daytona class having not been at the prior street race in Long Beach, those classes are only at four rounds complete apiece. The Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes head into their fifth rounds, respectively.

Detroit’s usually been a stomping ground for the Corvette DPs and like Long Beach, they figure to be the favorites this time around as well. Action Express Racing got its No. 31 Whelen Engineering-backed crew of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran into victory lane for the first time last year, while the Taylor brothers prevailed in a thriller here in 2014 over the No. 5 Action Express car of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. The Taylors also won at Long Beach this year; the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP pair of Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens sees Dalziel in his first street race start of the year after missing Long Beach owing to a FIA World Endurance Championship conflict.

Elsewhere in class the DeltaWing’s one-race absence has opened an opportunity for Katherine Legge to substitute for John Pew at Michael Shank Racing in the team’s No. 60 Ligier JS P2 Honda alongside Ozz Negri, while Pew and some of the MSR crew are at Le Mans prepping for the test day. It’s a complex labyrinth Shank has weaved, using a combination of his crew and Kevin Doran’s crew in Detroit, and with a couple others due to go to Le Mans straight after the race on Saturday. The Mazdas, meanwhile, got a 15 kg minimum weight addition following their pace at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but neither figures to be a major threat on the streets this weekend. If they are, it will be a pleasant surprise.

PC on a street course is often a war of attrition and JDC/Miller Motorsports will look to double up on the streets with Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports won in Monterey with Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon and no doubt have the desire to win for Andrew Palmer this weekend, the young driver recovering in hospital in Connecticut from his serious injuries sustained in Lime Rock Park. Palmer was part of PR1/Mathiasen’s run to the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup crown in 2015.

GTD is generally a more wide-open affair, although getting through the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R team remains a challenge. Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas dominated at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and passing was difficult. The No. 23 team won this race last year primarily on strategy when it changed drivers. Scuderia Corsa (Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan) and Turner Motorsport (Jens Klingmann, Bret Curtis) also enter on hot streaks with both having bagged successive top-fives, albeit months apart in Sebring and Monterey.

Notably absent from the weekend is the second Change Racing Lamborghini of Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, both doing Le Mans prep, while the remaining four Lamborghinis entered make their street race debut. Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen will look to win on Dodge’s home soil in the customer Gas Monkey Garage-supported Riley Motorsports Viper GT3-R.

With the eyes of the motorsports world fixated primarily on Indianapolis domestically, as well as Monaco and the Nürburgring on a worldwide scale in May, the focus does shift a bit back to sports cars for June.

Several IMSA drivers – Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Keating and Bleekemolen, Goossens and Dalziel, Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen, plus Nielsen, Negri and Joerg Bergmeister – are all due to participate in Sunday’s Le Mans Test Day and as such will be making a mad dash for the airport after the race on Saturday afternoon. Joao Barbosa is unable to attend but isn’t required to; Marc Miller, a Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competitor for CJ Wilson Racing, is running in Trans-Am this weekend and also heads from Detroit to France after the race. Additionally, Johnny Mowlem is due to participate in one of the Le Mans support races and will head over as well; he’ll be with BAR1 Motorsports this weekend and Tomy Drissi back alongside him.

IMSA has also, in the past few weeks, debuted a new website designed to improve navigation and planning to integrate the Alkamel timing & scoring into the site. A full release with more details is linked here.

Meanwhile, the entry list for this week is linked here.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.