IMSA’s Prototype grid for 2018 Rolex 24 taking early form

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The first real domino in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship silly season is the Prototype class, and before the end of October, most of the seats are either confirmed or nearing completion.

Upwards of 20 Prototype cars, split between Daytona Prototype international (DPi) manufacturer models and LMP2 chassis are possible for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona. IMSA put together a list of 10 questions about the Prototype class a week ago.

Here’s a look at what’s already confirmed and what could still be to come:

DPis

Watkins Glen podium. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  • Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi: Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp; Johannes van Overbeek, Pipo Derani. The team will enter 2018 with the same full-season lineup it ended 2017 with, when both the No. 22 (Road America) and No. 2 (Petit Le Mans) Nissans won overall. Who will the team’s third drivers be? That’s an intriguing question.
  • Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05: Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron; Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor; Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal. An open-wheel heavy lineup here as Montoya and Castroneves are split between the team’s full-season cars, sharing with Cameron and Taylor respectively. Pagenaud and Cameron have co-driven together at two separate teams before (Sahlen, Action Express) while Rahal makes his Penske debut within this program. Testing has been busy for this entire program over the last couple months.
  • No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R: Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande. The rapid Dutchman replaces Ricky Taylor alongside Jordan at a lineup that will feature a mix of speed, quirkiness, and determination to repeat the 2017 title. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the team’s third driver at Petit Le Mans, but Wayne Taylor Racing is yet to confirm whether he’ll continue once more in this role in 2018.
  • Action Express Racing, No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing & No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing  Cadillac DPi-V.R: Filipe Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi; Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, Mike Conway, Stuart Middleton. Revised lineup here with the Filipe/Felipe combo new full-season drivers, Fittipaldi shifted to endurance races only, Conway retained and Middleton the new Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner.
  • Mazda Team Joest, Mazda RT24-P: Drivers officially TBA here but expect a combination of ex-Audi LMP1 aces coupled with at least two Mazda drivers to be retained. Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito have undertaken testing of the revised Mazda thus far with Oliver Jarvis and Rene Rast rumored to be in the frame for seats here as well, Jarvis full-season and Rast endurance. While Mazda hasn’t formally confirmed its driver lineup yet, a Mazda spokesperson told NBC Sports they hope the lineup will be revealed “sooner rather than later” once formalities are completed.

LMP2s

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  • JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson: Two cars planned for John Church’s program here with the full-season pairing of Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg anticipated, if not outright confirmed, back in the “JDC Banana Boat” for another season. The team has begun testing for 2018. A number of scenarios are being considered for the team’s second car.
  • CORE autosport Oreca 07 Gibson: Colin Braun, Jon Bennett. CORE returns to prototypes after successful PC class run through 2016, but after a tough year in GTD. Third and/or fourth drivers here could determine this car’s hopes.
  • BAR1 Motorsports Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 Gibson: Brian Alder’s team steps up from PC to P but will face stiffer competition in deeper field. Drivers are TBD.
  • United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson: Fernando Alonso, Paul di Resta, Will Owen, Lando Norris, Phil Hanson. Two cars from the Zak Brown and Richard Dean-run team are set for Daytona with the highest profile guest star confirmed so far (Alonso), one other F1 ace also making his sports car debut (di Resta) and three young chargers.
  • D3+Transformers Racing Ligier JSP217 Gibson: Robbie Kerr. Ian and Simon Dawson return to action with a planned Ligier and Kerr, who’d been with the team in previous LMP2 incarnations, its first announced driver. Big plans courtesy of its Hasbro link-up, but big questions as well depending on if the team lives up to the hype of its announcement at Road Atlanta.

TBD OR AWAITING OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION

Nos. 90, 52, 38 cars all yet to reveal full 2018 plans. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Troy Flis’ VISIT FLORIDA Racing team could look entirely different in 2018, losing at least van der Zande for sure with additional questions looming about the team’s sponsorship (VISIT FLORIDA), second driver (Marc Goossens) and car choice (a Cadillac DPi has been rumored, but not confirmed after running both a Riley Multimatic and Ligier this year). It’d be a surprise if the No. 90 car wasn’t back in 2018, but this team could be significantly changed year-on-year.

Bobby Oergel’s PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team flew the flag for the Ligier JS P217 Gibson package all season but fought through a tough campaign with a rotating driver lineup alongside primary driver Jose Gutierrez and persistent electrical issues. The team’s PC success didn’t translate in its step up, save for a few occasionally good qualifying efforts.

Brent O’Neill’s Performance Tech Motorsports team is poised to step up to Prototype after dominating the final PC class season, but coming up just shy of perfection. O’Neill explored the Oreca chassis option but seems poised to go elsewhere with a base Dallara P217, owing to further support there. A combination of James French, Pato O’Ward and Kyle Masson seems likely to drive once again, but with what full-season lineup? Masson could move into a full-time role after dominating IMSA’s PC series in the MPC class, and O’Ward is still keen to keep his open-wheel hopes alive. O’Ward did test an Indy Lights car for Team Pelfrey at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test earlier this month.

Peter Baron’s Starworks Motorsport team shifted out of prototype after Sebring, ending its PC program but also having announced an LMP2 program early last year. The Starworks team however achieved success at year’s end as Land Motorsport’s U.S. technical team partner in its last two U.S. races in Petit Le Mans and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in an Audi R8 LMS, winning Petit and coming up just short in Monterey. Could we see a Starworks presence back in a stacked prototype field in 2018, or will Starworks continue in its support role to other programs?

And then there’s the flurry of potential European extra teams beyond United Autosports that could arrive as part of IMSA’s 36 Hours of Florida initiative announced earlier this year.

Rebellion Racing and the American DragonSpeed team, which both race primarily in Europe (Rebellion in FIA WEC and DragonSpeed in ELMS, where it won the LMP2 title), were the two “extra” team entries that raced at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.

It all adds up to a tantalizing couple of months to see how the Prototype grid looks for next year’s IMSA season opener.

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list