RHR joins Taylor Cadillac crew for Petit Le Mans

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ryan Hunter-Reay’s schedule after the Verizon IndyCar Series season concludes next month at Sonoma Raceway will grow a little busier with a return to Wayne Taylor Racing’s team, for his first drive aboard the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Hunter-Reay will deputize for Alex Lynn, on a potential Formula E schedule conflict, in joining Jordan and Ricky Taylor for Motul Petit Le Mans Oct. 5-7, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale.

Hunter-Reay has been drafted in to a number of Petit Le Mans before, having been with VISIT FLORIDA Racing last year and SRT Motorsports in 2014 and 2012 and Level 5 Motorsports in 2011.

The clear task here for the veteran of 33 career sports car starts is to aid the Taylor brothers in helping deliver them the Prototype class championship, as they hold a 26-point lead with just two races remaining.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Wayne Taylor and his sons once again,” said Hunter-Reay. “Through our runner-up finish at the Daytona 24-hour and since then, I’ve formed a pretty close relationship with the team as a whole – Wayne, Jordan and Ricky.

“The team has done an incredible job this season with five wins and leading the championship from the first round at Daytona. My goal is to fit in seamlessly, contribute in any way possible but, most importantly, do whatever I can to help this group win the IMSA WeatherTech championship. It goes without saying I’m really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the Cadillac DPi-V.R.”

Hunter-Reay will join a number of IndyCar drivers at this year’s Petit Le Mans. Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais are expected to reprise their roles as third drivers in Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs, and Team Penske’s debut of an Oreca 07 chassis ahead of its full plunge back into DPi in 2018 is expected to feature some combination of Juan Pablo Montoya plus one or two of its full-season IndyCar drivers. Dane Cameron, who was announced to the Penske Acura program a couple weeks ago, will be finishing his stint with Action Express Racing in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R that race.

Spencer Pigot’s usual bow at Mazda won’t occur since the Mazda RT24-P chassis will be undergoing testing in Europe shortly, while NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell will be back in action with longtime co-driver Bill Sweedler in Alex Job Racing’s No. 23 Audi R8 LMS.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Combined speeds