Photo courtesy United Autosports

Rayhall: Title time in Portugal

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Editor’s note: Sean Rayhall, one of America’s rising driving talents, will file a series of blogs throughout the year chronicling his season in the European Le Mans Series, co-driving with John Falb at Zak Brown and Richard Dean’s United Autosports team in its Ligier JS P3.

His sixth blog is simple: they won the LMP3 championship, and here’s the recap (previous blogs are linked here; SilverstoneLe MansRed Bull RingPaul Ricard, Spa).

We rolled into this weekend in Portimao, Portugal needing a mistake-free race in order to clinch the championship. With how wild the race was at Spa, this was a bit of a taller order than it seems. It was nice to have my girlfriend Bailey with me this weekend, which helped my peace of mind.

We had a lot of oversteer in the car initially which wasn’t going to be comfortable for four hours, so United Autosports went to work dialing us in to have a good race car on old tires. It turned out that ultimately was the case, and we weren’t sure how qualifying was going to go, but we knew over four hours we would be in the hunt.

Qualifying was shortened by red flags, which unfortunately only gave us one timed lap, and a few others were able to get two. We would’ve started on the front row but I went a little wide in Turn 1 which violated track limits, and deleted our only lap. Therefore we had to start dead last behind all the GT cars. That was a bit devastating, but I had a lot of faith in our team and the race pace we had shown that all was going to be alright in the end.

Nerves were flying Sunday morning, but I knew we just had to go to work and things would play out alright. I picked car by car off and ended my double stint in second place after starting 17th in LMP3. It was a mega feeling getting out of the car after one of the best races we had put together so far.

John worked really hard getting himself into the lead, but ultimately didn’t have the pace over the last hour to hold off our teammate Christian England (co-drove with Wayne Boyd and Mark Patterson) in the No. 3 car, which ended up giving us a P2 finish and the championship.

I really can’t put into words how special this was for us and the team. Everyone was in absolute tears of joy, minus our engineer “G-Baby” (Gary Robertshaw) who simply refuses to show emotion… but he gave us a smile which was plenty enough for me.

Every single person on the United Autosports crew won this championship out of sheer dedication and hard work, and I can’t thank them all enough for the work and talent they brought to the table this year. When days didn’t go our way, we all dug in and worked even harder, and that’s what champions are made of.

I want to thank you all for following this year and being a part of the biggest accomplishment in my racing career yet! It means more to me than you could ever know. Oh.. and you can bet we had one or more drinks at the banquet. The celebration was mega!

Stay tuned for 2018… but I can’t wait to see what we do next.

It’s official: Laguna Seca to host INDYCAR for at least next 3 seasons

Laguna Seca, from the 1991 CART race there. Photo: Getty Images
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INDYCAR made it official today: the 2019 season-ending race will move a couple of hours down the Northern California coast to WeatherTechRaceway Laguna Seca.

Sonoma Raceway, which has hosted INDYCAR since 2005 – including the last five season-ending races (that includes this year’s upcoming season finale) – will not be part of next season’s schedule.

Earlier today, the Monterey County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors, which oversees operation of the iconic racing facility, approved a three-year agreement with INDYCAR to host next year’s season finale on Sept. 20-22, 2019.

The remaining two race dates for 2020 and 2021 will be announced later, according to an INDYCAR media release.

The 2.238-mile permanent road course previously hosted CART and Champ Car World Series Indy car races from 1983 through 2004, including the season-ending races from 1989 through 1996.

“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”

Bobby Rahal, former CART/CCWS driver and current INDYCAR team co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four of the prior 22 previous Indy car races at Laguna Seca, all consecutively (1984-87).

“It’s great news, but I might be biased,” Rahal said. “I personally won four Indy car races there and won my first Can-Am race there. Our Indy car team won with Bryan Herta and Max Papis and our sports car team won IMSA races there.

“So I would almost bet you that Laguna Seca is the site of more victories for me as a driver and team owner combined of any track I’ve ever raced on.

“There is nothing better than the Monterey Bay area, and it’s a great circuit that always drew great crowds. So I’m thrilled to have Indy car racing coming back to a circuit I love so much. We will put on a good show, for sure.”

In addition to Rahal as a multiple winner, two-time winners at Laguna Seca were fellow current INDYCAR team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta, INDYCAR on NBCSN analyst Paul Tracy, Danny Sullivan and Patrick Carpentier.

“The return of INDYCAR to its spiritual road racing home of Laguna Seca is a tremendous honor and testament to the appeal of Monterey, and through the support of the County of Monterey will provide a significant economic benefit to our area businesses,” said Timothy McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, “We are looking forward to creating more memories in race fans’ minds like Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins from 1984-1987, Mario Andretti’s farewell race in 1994 and Alex Zanardi’s last-lap overtaking of Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in 1996 that simply became known as ‘The Pass.'”

NBC Sports Group has secured exclusive domestic television and digital media rights for INDYCAR races beginning in 2019. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, agreed that Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to close out the schedule.

“We commend INDYCAR for returning to Laguna Seca, a historic track and an inspired place for the 2019 season finale,” Miller said. “The 2019 season will be our first as the exclusive media rights partner of INDYCAR, and we could not be more pleased to broadcast the championship from beautiful Monterrey.”

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