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O’Connell back at Le Mans for first time since 2010, while Long seeks win he missed in 2015

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When it comes to this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Pirelli World Challenge GT Champion Johnny O’Connell has some time to make up for, while Patrick Long is looking to pick up from where he left off last year.

O’Connell is seeking his fifth GTE-Am class win on the 8.47-mile, 38-turn Circuit de la Sarthe, but also his first since his last win in 2009. He also won in 1994, 2001 and 2002, as well as finished runner-up four other times.

The Corvette Johnny O'Connell will race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Corvette Johnny O’Connell will race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

This will be O’Connell’s 15th start at Le Mans, but his first return to competing in the legendary event there since 2010.

“I’m very excited to go back to Le Mans,” said O’Connell, the four-time PWC GT champion. “Pratt & Miller (his former Corvette team as well as his current Cadillac squad) filled me in with what was going on, and then it was a matter of me letting the team know I was available.

“If I hadn’t been racing, I would be nervous, but the past five years have been highly productive for me. That’s why I’m very anxious to run Le Mans again.”

And now that he’s back, win No. 5 is his top priority.

“Racing at Le Mans is one of those special moments in life,” O’Connell said. “The spectacle of the entire world focusing on the challenge of running 24 hours flat out on an amazing circuit makes for an incredible atmosphere. It’s impossible to really put into words winning there. And finally, I’m going back.”

Patrick Long seeks to turn last year's runner-up finish into a win in this year's 24 Hours at Le Mans.
Patrick Long seeks to turn last year’s runner-up finish into a win in this year’s 24 Hours at Le Mans.

Long, meanwhile, is making his 13th career start at Le Mans and hopes to finish one position higher than he did in last year’s race, when he and teammates Patrick Dempsey and Marco Seefried ended up second in the LMGTE-Am class.

Long is a two-time winner at Le Mans (2004 and 2007) and a two-time runner-up, as well. The 2011 PWC GT champ will drive for the No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR with Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hansson.

“I finished on the podium in Le Mans last year and that’s where I want to go this year, too,” Long said. “I’m very familiar with the circuit and its quirks – after all, I’ve raced here 12 times before.

“But it’s still one of the toughest challenges you can imagine as a racing driver. I’m feeling very confident. Our class is very competitive, but we have good chances.”

This will be the seventh straight 24 Hours at Le Mans that Long has driven for Germany-based Proton Racing.

“I’m excited to continue with what we built on for a lot of years,” Long said. “I’ve driven for Christian (Ried, Proton team owner) on and off since 2010 and it’s great to just continue the momentum. I think the class is in a great place.”

The No. 88 Porsche that Patrick Long will drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The No. 88 Porsche that Patrick Long will drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Long (second place) and O’Connell (third place) are currently fighting for the 2016 PWC GT Driver’s Championship. Long already has three wins in the series in his Porsche 911 GT3 R, while O’Connell has one win.

PWC next races as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend June 23-26 at Road America in Wisconsin.

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.