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United Autosports exploring U.S. LMP3 option

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United Autosports is exploring the possibility of fielding an LMP3 entry in next year’s IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series.

The Anglo American team’s Richard Dean was on site at Road America this weekend to gauge the possibility of United Autosports – which has starred in LMP3 in the European Le Mans Series this year – adding a U.S. component to its program. Dean and Zak Brown are co-owners, although Brown’s work with his Just Marketing Inc. (JMI) company occupies a significant chunk of his time.

“It’s interesting. That’s why we’re here,” Dean, United Autosports team owner and managing director, told NBC Sports. “We have a facility in Indianapolis that’s underused. We have a facility. We can store cars and equipment.

“We’re looking to see if we can do it. I wanted to see what the announcement was about. We have the facility here; we have a good background to the series in Europe, and it’s something we could maybe complement it.”

LMP3’s role in the global sports car ecosystem will differ in North America compared to Europe.

In Europe, it’s the second rung in the three-class European Le Mans Series, in-between LMP2 and ahead of GTE.

Here, with LMP3 not going to replace the outgoing Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2017, LMP3 is now placed in a separate series.

“(The ELMS way) does make a lot more sense, doesn’t it?” Dean explained. “Going LMP3 to LMP2 in the same series is an easy, uncomplicated step. And as you quite rightly say, every team’s ambition is to go to Le Mans. We’re no different, as in terms of logistics, pit crew, it’s basically the same P3 as P2. It’s an uncluttered thing.

“Here, even next year with DPi, they’re going their own way with those cars. PC never took off in Europe. It’s always a little bit different here.”

In case you’re not really aware of United Autosports’ prowess in Europe, Dean provided a quick primer on some of the team’s accomplishments and pedigree.

“LMP3 has been fantastic for us,” he said. “We have been in GT3 for a long time. Audi, we ran with good success. And then Audi brought out a new car.

“As a team you look at the new generation of GT3 cars. Between the obstacles of price, which car do you go with and Balance of Performance, you don’t know if you’re going to have the right car, and if you’d be fashionable and popular.

“We didn’t know what we’d be doing. Then LMP3 came along and answered all those questions. It’s cost-capped, affordable, good spares, and engine life is guaranteed. With no Balance of Performance, that, for me, is fantastic.”

Dean also explained the balancing act between he and Brown about how the team works.

“He’s got a very important day job ranging from all series from Formula 1 down,” Dean said. “He loves the team. It’s his passion. We own the team 50 percent each.

“We complement each other quite well. I do the day job, day-to-day running, and with Zak having everything from bringing some financial backing to this team, to his commercial ability, marketing, and direction, we sort of complement each other.

“He was first person on the phone, the minute the press announcement wrapped. He’s thinking about the American market. I do the big picture stuff.”

The team would be a valuable addition to the U.S. shores; we’ll see if it comes to fruition.

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

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Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500