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IMSA: Continental Tire Road Race Showcase preview

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The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship headlines a busy weekend across the board for IMSA series at Road America as a part of this weekend’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase. Others on the calendar include the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America series.

With the calendar now having flipped to August, this starts the beginning of the run to the end of the season for IMSA.

IMSA held three races in four weeks in July, at Watkins Glen International, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Lime Rock Park, and that’s helped shape the championship going into its final four weekends of the year – Road America this weekend, VIR at the end of the month, Circuit of The Americas in September and finally Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta the opening weekend in October.

Action Express Racing seized the momentum in the Prototype class following back-to-back wins at Watkins Glen and CTMP, albeit split one race each between its two Corvette DPs. Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi took the No. 5 Mustang Sampling car to the win at the Glen, before Dane Cameron and Eric Curran won at CTMP in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox for their first triumph of the season. It gives the No. 5 pair a four-point lead over the No. 31 pair (220-216). The Taylor brothers in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP are nine points back (211).

Cameron and Curran won here last year in an AXR 1-2, and Fittipaldi and Barbosa won in 2014, so AXR seeks a Road America three-peat this weekend.

Hoping to stop them are the five other Prototype protagonists, the remaining Corvette DP from Visit Florida Racing, the pair of Mazda Prototypes, the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda and DeltaWing.

On the strength of three wins in the last four races, the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow has gone out to a 17-point lead on Robert Alon and Tom Kimber-Smith in Prototype Challenge (PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports).

The PC grid has grown by two with a couple interesting additions. The third Starworks entry has Gustavo Yacaman in for Sean Rayhall along with Jose Gutierrez. Then BAR1 Motorsports expands to two cars; race defending winner Bruno Junqueira joins in the No. 20 car alongside Matt McMurry, with Johnny Mowlem moved to the second car (No. 26) alongside Don Yount.

GT Le Mans has been something of a roller coaster year depending on the Balance of Performance adjustments, but the points title is shaping up nicely between the No. 4 Corvette C7.R pairing (Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner) and No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook), each of whom has three wins. They’re separated by 10 points – 228 to 218.

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet (defending class champion) and Nick Tandy has the other win, at Long Beach, while Ferrari is yet to win this year despite the pace of the new 488 GTE.

That pair won last year while Risi won in 2014, the SRT Viper won in 2013, and a BMW won in 2012.

In GT Daytona, Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan have the top spot in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, at 212 points. The No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS pair of John Potter and Andy Lally are second on 199.

Hanging in but needing the No. 63 car to have an issue are three pairs separated by only two points in third to fifth. The No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R pair (Mario Farnbacher, Alex Riberas), defending Road America winners the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R (Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen) and the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS (Andrew Davis, Robin Liddell) are on 187, 186 and 185 points, respectively.

Today’s also when IMSA rolls out the schedule and other platform announcements today for 2017, and that takes place at 11:45 a.m.

Tune-in info is below.

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).