Photo courtesy of IMSA

Petit Le Mans weekend, Thursday practice and notes

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BRASELTON, Ga. – It’s been a busy 13 hours of track activity from Road Atlanta at Motul Petit Le Mans, with a mix of practice, qualifying and race activity.

Quick notes and results links are below.

IMSA PRACTICE

  • The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Ligier JS P217 Gibson and No. 6 Team Penske Oreca 07 Gibson topped the charts in the day’s first two practice sessions, with the VISIT FLORIDA Ligier up top in the morning and the Penske Oreca up top in the afternoon. (Practice 1, Practice 2)
  • Night practice saw a third different car up top in the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi (Practice 3)
  • C360R (Practice 1) and KohR Motorsports (Practice 2) topped Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge practice in GS, with the CRG-I Do Borrow Nissan Altima leading both sessions in ST.

RACES

  • In the first of two Prototype Challenge races, winners were Kenton Koch (LMP3) and Kyle Masson (MPC) this afternoon (Results).
  • Jake Eidson, the series champion and Haywood Scholarship recipient, won the first of two Porsche GT3 Cup races (Results).

NOTES

  • In night practice, the nine GT Le Mans cars all eclipsed last year’s best race lap, the top three cars were all under last year’s pole time, and from first (No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, 1:17.818) to ninth (No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, 1:18.508) were covered by a marginal 0.690 of a second!
  • Both Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge, who have been podium regulars this year in the GT Daytona class, are among the free agent list of drivers among those working to figure out what they’re doing next year after this weekend. Nielsen is poised to wrap her second straight GTD title with Scuderia Corsa this weekend with co-driver Alessandro Balzan in the team’s Ferrari 488 GT3, and the soon-to-be two-time defending champions are free agents. Legge, meanwhile, has won twice this year co-driving with Andy Lally in the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, and would be an asset to any GT or Prototype team given her extensive experience in both categories.
  • Besides the champions-elect, there’s a general indication within the paddock that a number of drivers in the GTD class are free agents for next year. Little is set yet in the class, which could see a car count reduction from the 15 usual full-time entries this season.
  • Riley Motorsports seeks to return to running two of the same GTD cars in 2018, after a midseason switch by the Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette pairing from a Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a Porsche 911 GT3 R.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya has shifted from testing the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit IndyCar to the Oreca 07 Gibson this week. Having driven both the Oreca and the Acura ARX-05 at Road Atlanta thus far, Montoya told NBC Sports that the Oreca compares favorably and seems better suited to this track. As for the Acura, Montoya noted it’s different being a purpose built manufacturer prototype vs. a customer car, which can be acquired for pro-am lineups.
  • The presentation Team Penske has displayed this weekend is markedly different from every other team in the paddock. The Penske crew, which could be seen cleaning and shining the car as night practice was still ongoing, had pit signs that separated its pit location from the walkway behind it, as the only team in the field with this type of barrier. These are common in Verizon IndyCar Series pit lanes, but not in IMSA.
  • Porsche factory stars Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber are back this weekend. With the pair as yet unsure where they will be placed next season following the impending end of the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 program – Porsche usually announces its lineup at its season-ending Night of Champions event in Germany in December – both told NBC Sports they would love to make racing returns on a more regular basis to the U.S. if they present themselves. Further breakouts with both will follow.
  • Gustavo Menezes makes his first IMSA Prototype start of the year (ran Rolex 24 at Daytona with 3GT Racing in a Lexus RC F GT3) the young Californian having starred in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the Signatech Alpine team over the last two years and as part of the Oreca 07 entered by Rebellion Racing. Menezes told NBC Sports he concluded a late deal to be in the car as third driver. Like others within the paddock, he’s not quite sure his plans for 2018 as yet, but he’d be an asset as a rare young American driver with significant prototype experience at his disposal.
  • It’s actually Sheldon van der Linde, not Kelvin van der Linde, as third driver along with Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies in the No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS. The younger van der Linde, Sheldon, is a Silver-rated driver while the older one, Kelvin, is not, and therefore would disqualify the car per the regulations as two Silver or Bronze-rated drivers are needed in a three-driver lineup.
  • Kyle Masson (Mazda Prototype Challenge, MPC class) and Trent Hindman (Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, GS class) are bouncing between the WeatherTech Championship paddock and another series this weekend.
  • 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice, full-time driver in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, noted he flew in early enough to ensure he could watch his beloved Arizona Diamondbacks topple the Colorado Rockies on TV here in Atlanta in the National League Wild Card play-in game.
  • John Falb makes his first IMSA PC start since the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the class finale, third driver in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 alongside Garett Grist and Tomy Drissi. Grist, the young Canadian, makes his third PC start of the year (Sebring, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park).

More to follow tomorrow.

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix

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Here’s what the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had to say, courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations, after Saturday qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s nice when you have the car to do it. We had the speed on Friday, so to finish it off today is nice. It’s only goal one. Two races; one for pole, one for the race. We need to close it out. Verizon has been very good to us, and Team Chevy as well. Engine package has been phenomenal to get the most out of it. You see how well we work together with Team Penske and Team Chevy. We just have to be smart and get through the first couple laps. Save the tires, save some fuel and be smart if a caution comes out in the middle of the race. We’ll see what we have for tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying today. We’ve been struggling a little bit finding the best setup for the car. We need to concentrate for tomorrow so that we have a great car for the race. It’s a long race and you never know what can happen. We will keep working, improving and doing our best and will try to have a top 10 tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We’re struggling a little bit with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) – we just didn’t find the gain like everybody else did. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. Obviously, Robbie (Wickens) is doing well, so it’s a bit of a mystery for us. We went more towards his (Wickens’) setup and the balance kind of went out the window for me. It’s weird because we’ve been able to copy and paste setups all year long between the two of us and it just didn’t work here. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics boys – obviously, the car’s capable of more. We just didn’t get it today.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Overall, it’s been a good weekend – we’ve still never been out of the top five in every session. Hopefully, me and the Lucas Oil boys can keep chipping away and come up with a slightly better car for the race tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I just didn’t think we had great space to work in out there on the track. There were about five other guys before us and they are all trying to get their spacing right, as well. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just there’s a tight window for everything. Maybe we should have waved off a third lap on the black (Firestone primary) tires and got ourselves better time on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It is what it is, though, and we only really had one lap to try and get something going. Then, we had people starting to back up in front of us and never got to show our speed. I think the PNC Bank car had enough for the Firestone Fast Six, but we’ll have to show that speed tomorrow in the race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda):
 “The guys on the First Data car made some great changes today after we struggled a little bit early on in the weekend here at Road America. That was the most confident I’ve felt with the car so far this weekend and I felt we were going in the right direction. We were capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six today, but we got held up a bit. On the upside, we have a really fast First Data car and something we can use to improve on up the grid for tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was close. We were off the whole time. I gave it everything the last lap. A surprise front row. I keep getting front rows every weekend. Not the pole, but yeah, I’m pretty happy. But only five hundredths off, come on. I think I did a really neat lap. Josef (Newgarden) did a great lap. That was all I had.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): 
“I got traffic on my fast lap, but it would have just put us in the top 13, not enough to advance. The car is understeering all weekend. We tried something overnight that didn’t work, so it put us behind a session and we’re back to the car we had yesterday. It was the same car, so we were going to do the same lap time as yesterday when we tried the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but getting traffic didn’t help. But it wasn’t going to change a lot – maybe a few positions, which always helps, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We wanted to be further up and get the GEHL Honda in the top six. We’ve started in the top six every year, but there was nothing more in the car today. For maybe the first time this year, I’m confident saying that; there was nothing more. We only lacked one-tenth (of a second) over four miles from fourth (place), but that’s what Indy car racing is now. Yeah, we qualified ninth, but when you think that a tenth of a second over four-plus miles can move you five spots, it’s crazy, but that’s the reality of Indy car. We’ve just got to try to find a little more improvement for tomorrow, make the car a little more consistent for the race, and hopefully, we can go out there and attack. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions for the race. There is no warmup this year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): (About if he feels he’s in a good position to win tomorrow): “Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure I believe it myself. It’s been a bit of a tough day. I thought after yesterday we thought we had everything under control, and things were looking good, and this morning we rolled out and struggled with grip and then we went into qualify and really struggled for good. I think I only did one good lap to be honest with you in Q2 on that new set of option tires. Everything was really scrappy and really difficult to put anything together. In (the Firestone Fast Six), I really didn’t get anything done properly. We tried one lap on both sets, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do – hindsight 20/20. Just one of those where you come out of the car and you’re not quite sure what else you should or would have done, but not super happy with the way things have gone. The guys did a really good job, but I just — yeah, I’m struggling to read anything that’s happening out there, it’s up and down, making a lot of mistakes, so don’t really feel great about it.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s so competitive out there. I thought we had a really good chance at doing better in qualifying, but we ended up on the wrong end of the timing sheet. We just missed making it to the second round by a few tenths, so that’s a bit disappointing. That said, tomorrow is a long race and a lot can happen. I’m confident we can move up the field and get that good result we’ve been chasing the last few races.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We’ve been making progress throughout the weekend, little steps at a time and qualifying was our best session yet. The car is now performing within that half-second window of the front of the field. There’s always that last hundredth of time left to get, so I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get it, but it was still a pretty good lap. I got as much as I could out of the car. There was just a little bit of oversteer out of Turn 12 and that’s probably the half a tenth that we needed to transfer. I would have liked to have got through to the next round, but it was still a decent effort considering how much progress we’ve made.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Qualifying was definitely a solid improvement. It’s nice to have the Direct Supply car in the top 10 to start the race tomorrow. We’ve been making pretty big changes every session and we hadn’t really found anything that worked until qualifying. We were struggling with the front of the car in some places and the rear of the car in other places, we just had to try and tack it down a little bit. Obviously, it helped being on new tires and the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the car has come alive – certainly a step in the right direction. To only be a tenth or so off the Firestone Fast Six, compared to where we were in practice, is a really good improvement. I’m happy with that, but we want to be higher up and we’ll try for that tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “That’s not the result that we’re all here for, obviously, and I think everyone here at Carlin is disappointed with that qualifying result, but at the same time I know Max (Chilton) and I both have a lot of confidence in this team and our engineering staff. We’ll look at all of the data tonight and learn from each other and try to come up with a plan for tomorrow’s race. The nice thing is that we’re still learning and we’re still constantly making progress, so it’s not like we’re out of options. We still have a lot left to try and a lot left to learn, so we’ll just keep moving forward.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “This weekend so far has been really good for us just confidence-wise. To show the speed that we have, I think we deserve to be in the top six – the car definitely does. I just made a mistake and just overdrove the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the top 12 trying to make into the Firestone Fast Six. I calmed myself down and gathered it up, but I could only get us up to 11th. We have a great race car and I’m excited to see what we can do on race day.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We can do a lot from fourth. It’s always disappointing when you lead your two groups and miss out on the pole, but it’s so close. It’s amazing that around a four-mile track, it’s so tight. It’s just a testament to get to the championship, but huge hats off to the whole NAPA Know How team. We really struggled yesterday afternoon and made some good decisions overnight that paid off.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We didn’t test here, so we were a bit behind the 8-ball, but we made the right changes and I think we put a good effort out today. I was hoping to go one better at practice and be P2, but starting third is somewhere we can work from tomorrow in the race. It’s going to be interesting with no warmup tomorrow and trying to get the right setup on the race car, but it’s the same for everybody. We have an idea with where we are with older tires, so we’ll try and estimate where we need to be with the setup and put our best effort out there. To fight at it from third is a good thing, so we can do it from there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was definitely a good day. The entire team worked extremely well. The No. 30 boys always have, but it is great to give them back a nice position in qualifying. We were just four hundredths (of a second) off from the top six (in Round 2) and that shows how competitive the field is. I’m extremely happy to start seventh, which is the best position here so far. It’s a long race. We believe we have a strong car for the race, so I’m looking forward to having a strong result.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today we had no issues, which was important. Yesterday was for sure a setback, as we needed to run the whole day so that we could experiment with the red (alternate) Firestone tires and the softer compound. So not being able to run on the red tires yesterday really did not help our qualifying effort today. It is what it is at this point, so we will come back tomorrow and be ready to run a good race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Even though the results might not have shown it, I think we made a lot of progress here today at Road America. We definitely closed the gap from the beginning of the weekend and I really felt like I got everything out of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet that I could. With us starting where we are tomorrow, we’ll have the freedom to try a completely different strategy, and hopefully, we can come away from a track I love with a decent result.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Yet another tough qualifying session for us as we search to find the speed we need to get. We’re going to take a look overnight, and hopefully, we can figure something out for the race. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for a fun race and get to pass a lot of cars.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve been slipping backward ever since Practice 1 on the time sheets and just missed it. We’re a little bit loose there. I don’t think I got the most out of Lap 1 and we’re outside looking in by three tenths (of a second), so it’s not like we were that close. Hopefully, we’re better with (tire degradation) than we were with new tires. The race is obviously a different pace, but you still want to start further up than 15th.”

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