Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Cadillac, Porsche, Lexus, Performance Tech all nab CTMP poles

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Qualifying is in the books for Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, a standard length race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in its lone trip to Canada this year in Bowmanville, Ontario.

With his third pole of the season and fifth for the Cadillac DPi-V.R, Ricky Taylor topped the overall timesheets for the overall and Prototype pole.

Both GT classes saw first-time 2017 polesitters at Porsche and Lexus, while PC as usual saw James French on top for Performance Tech.

PROTOTYPE

Ricky Taylor scored his third pole and the fifth for the Cadillac DPi-V.R in seven Prototype class races this season in qualifying for the Prototype class with a best time of 1:08.459.

Taylor shares the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac with brother Jordan and will look to resume on top after a rare off weekend at Watkins Glen, with suspension damage costing the team several laps in the opening minute of the race. After five straight wins to open 2017, the Taylors ended the sixth race in sixth place.

After barely missing the win at Watkins Glen last week, the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson was again an impressive second with Misha Goikhberg qualifying very well at a 1:08.587 in the “banana boat” car he shares with Stephen Simpson. That was first of the three LMP2-spec cars, and only 0.128 off the pole pace.

Tequila Patron ESM’s two Nissan Onroak DPis were third and fourth, with the No. 2 car qualified by Scott Sharp at 1:08.886. Sharp shares his car with Ryan Dalziel while Pipo Derani moves over to the No. 22 car this week, sharing it with Johannes van Overbeek, and JVO having done well to qualify fourth.

The first of two Mazda RT24-Ps made it all three DPi manufacturers in the top five positions, Jonathan Bomarito doing the business in the No. 55 Mazda at 1:08.959. He shares his Soul Red car with Tristan Nunez.

Impressively, all 10 cars in class were covered by only 1.5 seconds. Of note, the latest lineup in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson saw Nick Boulle do an excellent job of posting a lap of 1:09.958, one one thousandth of a second clear of Tom Long’s No. 70 Mazda. Boulle and David Ostella share the PR1/Mathiasen entry this week, both young drivers and PC class veterans in their Prototype class debuts.

GT LE MANS

Dirk Werner has returned to the Porsche family as a factory driver this year, and the experienced German has delivered the first pole for the new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR in its first season of global competition.

Werner’s best lap of 1:14.085 in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR edged his old manufacturer, BMW, with Bill Auberlen clocking in a 1:14.103 in his No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. Werner co-drives with Patrick Pilet, Auberlen with Alexander Sims, and the latter pair looks for its second straight win after winning at Watkins Glen last week.

The second Porsche (No. 912) and second BMW (No. 24) cars were next up, with the two Ford GTs ahead of the two Corvettes.

GT DAYTONA

Acura got its first pole with the new NSX GT3 last race in the hands of Andy Lally a week ago at Watkins Glen. The second new Japanese manufacturer got its first pole with its new car in the hands of another American driver today at Bowmanville, Ontario.

Sage Karam pulled off the feat for the 3GT Racing team today with the sole qualifying Lexus RC F GT3, the No. 14 Lexus he shares with Scott Pruett, following a storming lap of 1:16.563.

Teammate – and roommate – Jack Hawksworth was unable to qualify the sister No. 15 car following a heavy accident at Turn 3 in practice before qualifying. The Englishman was OK but the car has sustained heavy damage and is questionable to start the race.

With Karam on pole it makes seven drivers, from seven different manufacturers (Alessandro Pier Guidi, Ferrari, Tristan Vautier, Mercedes-AMG, Bryan Sellers, Lamborghini, Mathieu Jaminet, Porsche, Lawson Aschenbach, Audi, Andy Lally, Acura) who have been on the pole in GTD this season.

PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE

James French and Garett Grist figured to battle for the PC class pole, but unsurprisingly it was French taking the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports to his fifth pole this season and fourth consecutive. His best time was 1:11.471, 1.722 seconds clear of Grist.

French and teammate Pato O’Ward look for their sixth win in as many PC races this season for the Brent O’Neill-led team.

Grist, who along with fellow Canadian James Vance make their PC class returns after various starts in the past with Starworks Motorsport (Grist at Sebring this year) and Performance Tech (Vance, twice in 2015), are the latest pairing in the revolving door of the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports car.

Meanwhile Don Yount qualified the No. 20 BAR1 car third. He’ll share that one with Ryan Lewis, the Indianapolis-based Englishman deputizing for Buddy Rice this weekend as Rice oversees Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s GRC Lites program at Indianapolis.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”