Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Motul jumping in with big plans, significant optimism for 2018

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Several partnership announcements revealed during Motul Petit Le Mans weekend perhaps didn’t get as much attention or coverage as they might have had they been revealed prior to or after the weekend. Alas, they’re still worth noting and exploring a bit more.

One of them was Motul, confirmed as the “Official Motor Oil” of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge from 2018.

Motul’s lineage in endurance racing dates back to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1950s, and Motul has been active in other forms of motorsport mainly across Europe in recent years.

It hasn’t made as big of a leap into the North American market and the new partnership with IMSA is one where the company is keen to expand its presence here.

“We look at the quality of a championship, and whatever support there is from factories,” Motul USA president Guillame Pailleret told NBC Sports at Petit Le Mans.

“There are not many other series in America with this many factories or companies. There’s 15 to 19 at least, and it’s tremendous. We’re a small company. We’re not an oil company; we focus on performance lubricants. So the range of brands here is a big opportunity for us.”

Within the agreement, Motul has the entitlement rights for the Motul Pole Award for the WeatherTech Championship Prototype (P) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes, as well as all Continental Tire Challenge classes which includes cars eligible for the award running two Motul decals.

In addition to its entitlement of the Motul Petit Le Mans and overall partnership with Road Atlanta, Motul has established partnerships with seven additional WeatherTech Championship venues and events.

Having the title sponsor branding at Petit Le Mans, a race that celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, was Motul’s first proper arrival from an activation standpoint. Petit Le Mans has not enjoyed as much consistency in its title sponsorship role as have the 36 Hours of Florida races, with Rolex (Daytona) and Mobil 1 (Sebring) both entrenched in their roles.

“It’s thrilling really. We’re so proud and honored. It’s a huge deal for us,” Pailleret said.

“As we talked about before, it’s about what are we going to do with it? We’re committed to drive it as much as possible.

“It’s endurance racing… it’s a very different type of environment because there is so much pressure on all the competitors for such a long time. What we can take out of it for us, is the content we can’t see anywhere else. This is why we started in Le Mans in the ‘50s.”

So what, in fact, are Motul’s plans beyond the obvious? Pailleret explains what the company is trying to accomplish within IMSA, a series the company feels is on the rise.

“We’re going to try to activate as much as we can for all races of the calendar. That’s a big deal; it requires a lot of resources. We want to do it right,” he said.

“The second goal is to take it at a consumer level. The goal is to put IMSA and Motul at the consumer level, not just at the trade level.

“We have this weekend, about 200 customers coming from 70 different countries. Just like with Michelin, what we’re doing here isn’t just for North America, but also globally.”

Motul signage in the backdrop of a big crowd pre-grid. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Pailleret also said the education of Motul for a U.S. audience will be key, and he elaborated on the difference between pure motor oil and performance lubricants. Oil is something that isn’t a glamorous topic, per se, but it’s amazing how oil selections can enhance performance within the automotive and motorsports industries.

“It’s really amazing, you touched on a very interesting point,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that work with mechanics, and that don’t know anything about oil, so it’s a challenge. It’s the second biggest challenge we have.

“The first is to get the brand name out there. It’s kind of what we’re doing here. The second is to help our customers understand what oil is all about. It’s a tough challenge to educate, but that’s what we are working on.”

Perhaps the most humorous part of the announcement at Petit Le Mans was that the North American series had back-to-back announcements from French companies, with Motul and Michelin revealing their expanded IMSA plans in the same time frame.

Add in Onroak Automotive, the French outfit but which also has a U.S. arm, which also had one of its Ligier JS P3 show cars present as part of the D3+Transformers Racing team announcement, and you could be forgiven for thinking the Circuit de La Sarthe had voyaged from Le Mans to Braselton, Ga.

“I never thought about (all the French connections) until I met the Ligier and Michelin guys!” Pailleret laughed. “I don’t think of us as being French… although I can’t deny my accent!

“Yes we happen to be here and happen to be French, but the key for us is making it more into North America.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”