Photo courtesy of IMSA

Christina Nielsen joins Wright Motorsports in IMSA for 2018 

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Two-time defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class champion Christina Nielsen will shift to Wright Motorsports for 2018, and co-drive with 2017 Pirelli World Challenge GT champion Patrick Long in a Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan were the hallmark of consistency en route to consecutive GTD titles with Scuderia Corsa in 2016 and 2017. Wright, meanwhile, captured the Pirelli World Challenge overall and Sprint GT championships with Patrick Long this past season.

With Scuderia Corsa opting to go a different direction for its driver lineup in 2018, it left Nielsen a free agent, and a chance to return to her Porsche roots from IMSA’s Porsche GT3 Cup USA series (among others) with a championship-winning outfit is an excellent one.

“I am really looking forward to being back in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship and I’m absolutely thrilled that we’ve come up with such a strong combination with Wright Motorsports and Porsche,” Nielsen said. “I’ve had a great run for the last three years, but it won’t be easy to do what I’ve already done. For me the biggest thing is to go into 2018 without relying on any previous results. We’ll start from scratch beginning with Daytona and go from there.

“I’m also really looking forward to being back with Porsche. I’ve known John Wright since 2014 when I raced against him in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge. We’ve always tried to put something together, but there was never the right opportunity. Luckily an opportunity came up for 2018 and we were there to both grab it. I know I’ll be working with some very experienced and competent people who know what it takes and I can’t wait for the season to start.”

Photo: PWC

Wright has past IMSA WeatherTech Championship experience, but withdrew from full-time competition midway through the 2015 season. Wright has specialized in Porsche running in the Porsche GT3 Cup USA Challenge by Yokohama, with a multi-car effort annually.

“I am very pleased to have this great opportunity come together in such a short time. It is a tremendous opportunity to be heading back into the endurance racing arena with such a strong program. In my experience, I haven’t seen too many driver combination better to compete for a championship than what I think we will see in Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen,” he said.

“I’m also very happy to have Patrick back for the 2018 season” continued Wright. “Coming off this year’s championships, our momentum could not be stronger than it is now. I am looking forward to working with Christina and seeing her back behind the wheel of a Porsche. We have tried to make something happen in the past, but due to different circumstances we were never able to pull anything together. The stars have aligned to make it possible for this year and hopefully years to come.”

Nielsen’s shift to Wright follows the two title-winning years at Scuderia Corsa, and after her first full season with TRG-AMR in 2015. Wins at the 2016 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen were highlights, and she and Balzan won last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to finally break through after an earlier season run of six consecutive podium finishes.

This separate team announcement comes on the same day and evening as Porsche’s Night of Champions, held in Germany.

F1: Max Verstappen provides late-lap thrills at U.S. Grand Prix

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Leave it to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to provide some late-race thrills at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s key block on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton late in Sunday’s race denied Hamilton a chance to maybe chase down Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to win. And it helped deny Hamilton’s bid for the season championship.

Verstappen’s defensive skills allowed the Red Bull driver to finish second, his best result yet at the U.S Grand Prix, his fourth podium in six races. By keeping Hamilton third, it kept the season championship alive, even if just another week to the Mexican Grand Prix.

Last season, Verstappen had surged past Raikkonen on a final-lap pass to finish third. It was the kind of aggressive move that earned him the “Mad Max” nickname. Before he could even reach the podium, race officials declared Verstappen’s move illegal and bumped an angry Verstappen down to fifth.

The Circuit of the Americas this week installed a new curb on the same corner, dubbed “Verstoppen,” to punish drivers who tried anything similar this year. It worked when Verstappen hit it hard enough in qualifying to knock his car out of the session with a damaged suspension and gear box. He started Sunday’s race 18th.

The Dutch driver launched a furious attack through the field and found himself in the thick of things late Sunday. His move to block Hamilton wasn’t on the same corner with the curbs, and it came with him playing defense instead of being the aggressor.

Verstappen had to make multiple moves to keep Hamilton behind him and finally drove the Mercedes wide, forcing Hamilton to finally concede the position and the race.

“I was trying to get close to Kimi but at the same time keeping an eye on Lewis in my mirror. It was close, but we managed to hang on,” Verstappen said. “It is safe to say today went a lot better than expected.”

Knowing Verstappen’s aggressive nature, Hamilton said there was too much at stake to risk a collision.

“The key to me was to make sure I finished ahead of Seb. I don’t care when you win a championship, just that you win,” Hamilton said. “”For Max, to come back from so far, he did a great job.”

Verstappen has been just as aggressive at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In 2016, race officials ruled he improperly left the track to gain an advantage on Vettel to finish third and he was bumped from the podium. Last season, Verstappen’s strong start sent him into the lead out of the first turn, while Hamilton and Vettel bumped each other. The collision ruptured one of Hamilton’s tires.

Verstappen won the race while Hamilton limped home in ninth place, but still won the season championship.