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Mid-Ohio returns to IMSA schedule in May 2018

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will make its return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship calendar in 2018, marking the first time Mid-Ohio has been part of an IMSA calendar since the 2014 merger that brought together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

Mid-Ohio’s return to the calendar will occur in May 4-6, 2018, and will serve as the venerable Lexington, Ohio permanent road course’s kickoff to its new season.

This race replaces Circuit of The Americas, which is off of next year’s calendar.

It’s been since 2013 when GRAND-AM last competed there and 2012 when ALMS did, and from 2007 through 2012 ALMS was always on the same weekend as the Verizon IndyCar Series raced at the track.

Besides IMSA’s Scott Atherton and Mid-Ohio track president Craig Rust, Mike Hull (Ford Chip Ganassi Racing), Bobby Rahal (BMW Team RLL) and Mike Shank (Michael Shank Racing) were also present at today’s announcement.

The full release from IMSA is below.


In a news conference this morning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) President Scott Atherton and Mid-Ohio President Craig Rust jointly announced the return of IMSA racing to the historic, 2.258-mile road course on the weekend of May 4-6, 2018.

The event weekend will be headlined by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which will compete at Mid-Ohio for the first time. In addition, the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will return for the first time since 2013.

“Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has a long and storied history of hosting world-class sports car races in front of a loyal and knowledgeable fanbase,” said Atherton. “We will build on that legacy next May with a field of Prototype and GT race cars that represent the pinnacle of the sport. Many of our stakeholders have long been supportive and quite vocal regarding a return to Mid-Ohio and we are pleased that we can finally say ‘We’re back.’”

The most recent top-level IMSA race to be held at Mid-Ohio was a GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series event on June 15, 2013 won overall by Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, who went on to win back-to-back WeatherTech Championship Prototype titles in 2014 and 2015. The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) raced at Mid-Ohio for the final time on Aug. 5, 2012 won overall by co-drivers Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf.

There were a total of 13 GRAND-AM races and 11 ALMS events at Mid-Ohio. GRAND-AM and the ALMS merged following the 2013 season to form the WeatherTech Championship, which began operation in 2014.

“We are thrilled to announce that the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be joining our schedule in 2018. It is a great way to kick off our season,” said Rust. “We have a tremendous following of sports car fans, and they ask us every year when we might be able to bring the IMSA series to Mid-Ohio. We are very proud that we were able to work with Scott Atherton and his team to get this done for them, for us – and most importantly for our fans.”

As part of the announcement, it also was confirmed that IMSA will not be returning to Circuit of The Americas in 2018. IMSA and Circuit of The Americas mutually agreed on the decision and the two companies continue to have a positive, healthy relationship. Both are open to working together again in the future.

Entire 2018 schedules for the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire Challenge will be announced next Friday, Aug. 4 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Graham Rahal tries to get up to speed in IndyCar iRacing Challenge

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Although he’s just 31 years old, Graham Rahal has been driving an Indy car since the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he still a teenager.

When it comes to the virtual world, however, Rahal is an admitted “newbie.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver hopes to get up to speed in time to be competitive in Saturday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama virtual race. It’s part of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge and will be televised live by NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

The six-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner got his virtual racing rig before last week’s American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International but was still learning the nuances of the iRacing platform. He started 12th and finished 14th out of 25 cars in the contest. The first 12 finishers were on the lead lap. Rahal was one lap down.

“I had never done it before,” Rahal said Friday. “At least it probably had been 10 years since I had driven any sort of sim. It’s addicting…rather addicting. Second of all, it’s bad for your marriage, but it’s a great way to kill a day of quarantine.

“But I think it’s been a big challenge just to get used to the way that you feel a car, the way that you drive a car in the sim, it’s all completely different than real life. To get used to that sensation, to get everything set up right is a huge part of it.”

Inside the cockpit of his No. 15 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal feels at comfortable in his own element. It has taken him time to find that comfort level in the virtual world.

“For me it has been a challenge to just figure out the right settings, what to do from afar, too,” Rahal said. “Obviously you don’t have anybody here (at his home) that plays iRacing or anything to help you firsthand. It’s been a bit of a challenge; but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Next up is Barber Motorsports Park, which in the real world is a very challenging course but it puts on some of the best road course racing on the real IndyCar schedule. Rahal believes it will also be quite a challenge on iRacing.

“I think Barber is going to be actually more difficult than Watkins Glen,” Rahal said. “The track has a little bit less grip than Watkins Glen did last week. Although everybody was still crashing at Watkins Glen, I think you can get away with more than what you can at Barber. In real life it’s that way, too.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be fun.”

Rahal is married to former drag racing star Courtney Force. Both are playing it safe by staying home by statewide order from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. But Rahal still has to find the balance between husband and virtual race driver.

By contrast, some of the other IndyCar drivers are spending 10-12 hours a day practicing on iRacing.

“That’s the challenge,” Rahal said, responding to a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I could definitely spend way more time on it. My line to Courtney is, ‘Just give me two laps.’ Then, one hour and 45 minutes later I’m still sitting there. It’s frustrating.

“As Robbie Wickens said, the frustrating part is you go out, you put in a good lap, then it’s, ‘I need to go beat that.’ You spin and you spin, and you spin. Then you get mad. The competitiveness in you, two more laps, two more laps. You try to go and go and go.

“You sit there for hours and hours and hours.”

Rahal admits he can’t stay away from iRacing for long. He is genuinely curious and interested in seeing what the competition is doing.

“I go on pretty frequently to see what’s going on,” Rahal said. “A lot of guys are on all the time. Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais has been on a load, Tony Kanaan, Willie P (Will Power). I think everyone is enjoying it. But it’s a huge challenge.

“There are a couple of guys that are clearly quicker than everybody else, Will being one of those. I’m trying to figure out where and how to find the lap time. I’m telling you, it’s so different than reality in that way.

“But it’s been fun, man. I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s good for the exposure, good because people are paying attention. You can see it on our Instagram. If you look at the clicks or page views in the last seven days, they’ve been doubled since we started to do this stuff. While it’s great for that, it also does help kill a ton of time.”

These are unique times as the world has essential shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more humans are testing positive of the potentially deadly virus, the threat becomes more real.

It has also created a tremendous void as people try to find something to do to pass the long times of isolation.

By giving race fans a few hours of entertainment, even if it is virtual instead of real, then Rahal believes it’s worth it.

“I think a lot of people are just dying for something to do, something to watch,” Rahal said. “The competitiveness in all of us wants to see some sort of sport.

“I know there are other buddies like hockey players that are watching it because they just want to watch something. They need something to do. So, I think that’s a big part of it.

“I think it’s great that NBC Sports is covering it this weekend other than just being online. I think it will be tremendous to see how that turns out.

“This is very realistic. When you see the cars on track, you watch a replay, see the photos, it’s eerily real looking. I did a race at St. Louis last weekend. It was extremely entertaining I think for the drivers that were participating. Other than 400 yellow flags, which happened early in the race, it was really, really entertaining to be a part of. People who watched that race would have loved the show that they had been seeing. I think there’s a lot of realism to it.

“I think it’s also people just want something right now. The desire and the demand is there to log in or tune in and see something competitive on TV.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500