Photo: BMW Motorsport

De Phillippi joins BMW Team RLL; Auberlen shifted to endurance role

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American rising star in the sports car world, Connor De Phillippi, will be back racing on U.S. soil full-time for the first time in six years in 2018.

De Phillippi joins his third different German manufacturer, BMW, for 2018 as part of BMW Team RLL’s full-season lineup next year.

He’s been a Porsche Junior prior to that, and achieved his most notable GT racing success with Audi and Land Motorsport. He and Chris Mies won the ADAC GT Masters title in 2016 and this year, De Phillippi was part of the winning lineup at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and at Motul Petit Le Mans.

“To be part of the BMW family is something I am very proud of,” said De Phillippi. “Driving for BMW Team RLL is quite an achievement for me and I hope I can add to the success of the team next year.”

Bill Auberlen’s role as a full-time driver has ended, with BMW North America confirming he’ll become a brand ambassador and drive in the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule. Auberlen signed off his role as a full-time driver as a winner in his 400th race for BMW, at Petit Le Mans.

“I am honored to have been asked to become a BMW NA Brand Ambassador and look forward to additional opportunities with BMW of North America,” Auberlen said. “First and foremost I am a racing driver and am looking forward to four races with BMW Team RLL in 2018. My goal remains to get to the top of the list in all-time North American sports car victories and I want that achievement to be shared with BMW. We are only three wins away. We have not yet determined what else I may be driving but every opportunity in a BMW racing car is a good one.”

John Edwards was listed to return too and the 2009 Atlantic series champion now is set to run his third different BMW GT model, suddenly the team’s senior driver in terms of car experience only at age 26. He’s been a part of BMW’s previous Z4 and M6 programs before the M8 GTE, which just completed its first U.S. test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“The M8 GTE will be the third racing car I will have driven for BMW Team RLL and so far I believe it is the coolest,” said Edwards. “I look forward to continuing the ongoing development of the car and getting its first victory sooner than later.”

Martin Tomczyk and Alexander Sims made their debuts with BMW this past season and would figure to complete the four-driver full-season lineup beyond the pair of Americans, although Tomczyk was mentioned but Sims wasn’t in this particular release.

With Auberlen as one of its endurance drivers and Kuno Wittmer a free agent, BMW has anywhere from one to three potential vacancies for endurance drivers at Daytona (depending on if the team runs three or four drivers per car), although it has a number of viable candidates given its upcoming M8 GTE program in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Team MTEK and its link-up with Andretti Autosport’s Formula E program, called MS&AD this season in deference to its title sponsor. That Formula E lineup sees Kamui Kobayashi and Antonio Felix da Costa in the two cars starting with this weekend’s Hong Kong season opener.

BMW Motorsport is set to reveal the rest of its 2018 program on Dec. 15, 2017 during BMW Motorsport’s annual Season Review banquet.

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.”