Photo courtesy of IMSA

Continental out; Michelin in for IMSA from 2019

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The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and its two primary Challenge series, what are now called the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series, will have a new tire manufacturer partner from 2019 as Michelin replaces Continental.

Respective releases from both Continental and IMSA about the change are below. NBC Sports will have more to follow on this story later.

2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship/Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring/Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, FL USA/Saturday 18 March 2017/Continental tire/World Copyright: Michael L. Levitt/LAT Images

At the end of their International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) contract term in 2018, Continental Tire’s sponsorship of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Prototype Challenge series‘ will come to an end. After submitting a proposal for a multi-year extension, that included a significant increase in investment, IMSA has chosen not to extend the partnership. Continental Tire will remain a partner through the 2018 season and supply tires for those series’.

Over the past eight years, Continental Tire and IMSA/GRAND-AM have enjoyed a great partnership. Since 2010, Continental Tire made a considerable investment to develop and produce race tires that fit IMSA’s specifications. In addition, Continental Tire has invested substantially to help grow sports car racing in the U.S. with a focus on fans through various marketing activities.

“We are extremely proud of the contributions we’ve made to sports car racing in the U.S.,” said Travis Roffler, director of marketing of Continental Tire the Americas. “We worked diligently to continue our support of IMSA, and the growth of the sport, and are disappointed in IMSA‘s decision to go a different direction. We remain committed to making the 2018 IMSA season a fantastic year for the fans, drivers, and all the teams.“

Roffler continued, “The relationships we’ve built over the years are many, and we thank everyone for their continued support of the Continental Tire brand. We also want to thank the fans. Without you, there would be no racing.“

7-10 August, 2014, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec Canada/Michelin tire and Porsche wheel/©2014, Scott R LePage/LAT Photo USA

The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) today announced that Michelin will become the “Official Tire of IMSA” in its premier series – the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and its two major Challenge series – beginning in 2019.

The multi-year agreement calls for Michelin tires to be on every Prototype (P) and GT Daytona (GTD) race car competing in the WeatherTech Championship in addition to its continued participation in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. The GTLM class will continue to be open to multiple tire manufacturers.

The 2019 IMSA Michelin SportsCar Challenge will feature the Grand Sport (GS) class for cars built to international GT4 specifications and Touring Car for TCR-spec race cars. The IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, featuring LMP3 race cars, also will ride on Michelins.

“The significance of this expanded partnership with Michelin, one of the world’s most recognized premium brands, cannot be overstated,” said IMSA President Scott Atherton. “IMSA has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with Michelin, and we are proud to confirm this long-term agreement. Our expanded partnership with Michelin – which also enjoys strong relationships with many of our participating automotive manufacturers – will be a catalyst for accelerating the growth of the WeatherTech Championship and IMSA as a whole.

“We are extremely grateful for the role Continental Tire played in helping to grow our racing platforms throughout our partnership dating back to 2010,” Atherton added. “Continental has been an outstanding partner and was instrumental in elevating the status of the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire Challenge to new heights. We extend heartfelt appreciation to our friends at Continental for their unwavering support.”

As the “Official Tire of IMSA,” the WeatherTech Championship, IMSA Michelin SportsCar Challenge and IMSA Prototype Challenge, Michelin also becomes the entitlement partner of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup beginning in 2019. The four-round competition recognizes top competitors in each class in the four WeatherTech Championship major endurance races. The Cup consists of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International, and the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

“We are tremendously pleased by today’s announcement,” said Scott Clark, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Michelin North America. “The continued growth and success of the WeatherTech Championship and IMSA’s related series provides a great platform for us to engage performance enthusiasts and showcase our MICHELIN® Pilot® Sport family of ultra-high performance tires.

“Michelin does not enter into long-term collaborations lightly or solely for our own benefit,” Clark added. “We are committed to IMSA, the competitors and fans to help continue the growth and success of the series on and off the track. This is a tremendous opportunity to work together to grow the sport. We are enthusiastic and eager to make our MICHELIN tires available to the entire field beginning in 2019.”

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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