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Red Bull GRC: Loenbro Motorsports launches own Supercar program

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The Chip Ganassi Rallycross program will now be known as Loenbro Motorsports, owing to Loenbro’s increased commitment to Red Bull Global Rallycross and a drawdown for Ganassi to instead focus on its core programs elsewhere in racing, NBC Sports has learned.

Loenbro Motorsports announced plans to field its own multi-car effort in GRC’s Supercars class this year on Tuesday, with Steve Arpin continuing and a second driver to be confirmed at a later date in a pair of Fords.

A Ganassi team spokesperson confirmed Ganassi is no longer involved with this effort, which will still be based in Charlotte but at a different shop.

The 2017 Red Bull GRC season will be Loenbro’s third in an ownership position and fifth year overall within the series. The last two years, Loenbro was co-owner of Loenbro Chip Ganassi Racing and has now fused into the new Loenbro Motorsports banner.

“We’re excited to build upon the incredibly successful foundation that we’ve laid in Red Bull GRC,” Paul Leach, who owns the team with his brother, Jon Leach, said in a release. “We made big gains from the creation of this team in 2015 into the 2016 season, and we’re laser-focused on continuing to improve this year.”

Arpin, who won his first Red Bull GRC final at Daytona last year and finished fourth in points behind teammate Brian Deegan, has had Loenbro support for years. The Montana-based company has locations in seven Western plains states, and is an energy services company specializing in Pipeline, Industrial Construction, Insulation, Inspection, Fabrication & Oilfield Services.

He explained how he and Loenbro’s relationship has come together and how they will now move forward under this banner.

“They’ve saw the inner workings of motorsports, both good and bad,” Arpin told NBC Sports. “They saw an opportunity; they saw the potential of Red Bull Global Rallycross as well as a chance to come in and change the mindset.

“We partnered with Ganassi our first two years. As we got to 2017, we still have a great relationship. They’ll focus on their core business of NASCAR in Charlotte, and IndyCar/IMSA from their Indianapolis shop.”

Arpin said the program will continue with the same core personnel, led by lead engineer Carl Goodman. With Deegan and Arpin finishing third and fourth in points last year, the independent team was best of the rest among the privateers, behind the factory-backed Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team that went 1-2 last year.

“It’s a different shop. But the reality of it is that it’s the same exact program, where we retained our key people. Everyone came with it,” Arpin said.

“It’s the same truck/trailer and same cars; it’s just a different shop, 10 minutes up the road, and is Loenbro Motorsports instead of Loenbro Chip Ganassi Racing.

“For us, it’s an open dialogue with Ganassi. We’ll still have the potential to get together with the team in the future.”

Arpin is hopeful the Loenbro Motorsports team will get two tests in before the season opener at Memphis in late April, but if they only get one, they’ll try to have one be “extremely productive.”

Considering the strides he and the team made in 2016 from 2015, they’re optimistic of more growth and progression this year.

“We had a lot of down time between ’15 and ’16, and we weren’t able to do a lot of things yet,” Arpin explained. “With Loenbro making such an early commitment this year, we can get the bull by the horns and say ‘Let’s go do this.’ When we finished 2016, we were laser focused on the next steps and progression. Now it’s asking what we can do better at, with all the right people and the early commitment. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to get testing.”

Arpin’s relationship with Loenbro is more than just being a driver; he’s also developed a business relationship with them.

“I love it. I see it as a long-term career opportunity,” he said. “I’m intrigued by what happens behind the scenes and what makes professional race teams. So much happens to get there.

“There’s two rushes for me. First and foremost getting behind the wheel. Then it’s getting together the planning side of it, working with partners, and figuring out unique, creative ways to deliver more to the partners. That’s it’s own type of rush.”

The two-car Loenbro confirmation joins other multi-car efforts announced from Andretti and Subaru. Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE is yet to reveal its 2017 program yet, while Bryan Herta Rallysport is expected to announce its replacement for Patrik Sandell on Wednesday.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).