Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA’s Rolex 24 grid taking shape before holiday break

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With a flurry of announcements in recent days, the grid for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona is starting to form up. There are plenty more to come, but here’s what we know so far:

PROTOTYPE

The combination of Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and LMP2 spec cars could author the biggest class on this year’s grid, with upwards of 20 cars possible after there were 12 cars in the class last year. IMSA’s DPi formula has attracted at least nine DPis alone with a flurry of LMP2 cars coming over either for a full-time IMSA effort or a partial season campaign thanks to IMSA’s planned 36 Hours of Florida initiative to attract pro-am teams from Europe.

Here’s how the grid looks so far:

DPi

  • Tequila Patron ESM, Nissan Onroak DPi: 2-Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp, 22-Johannes van Overbeek/Pipo Derani, Endurance drivers Olivier Pla, Nicolas Lapierre cars have not yet been assigned.
  • Mustang Sampling Racing, Cadillac DPi-V.R: 5-Filipe Albuquerque/Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi
  • Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac DPi-V.R: 31-Felipe Nasr/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Stuart Middleton
  • Acura Team Penske, Acura ARX-05: 6-Juan Pablo Montoya/Dane Cameron/Simon Pagenaud, 7-Helio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor/Graham Rahal
  • Konica Minolta (Wayne Taylor Racing) Cadillac DPi-V.R: 10-Jordan Taylor/Renger van der Zande/Ryan Hunter-Reay*
  • Mazda Team Joest, Mazda RT24-P*: 55-Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell/Spencer Pigot, 77-Tristan Nunez/Oliver Jarvis/Rene Rast

*Mazda has not formally confirmed the lineups for its two cars but has tentatively outlined these trios. The same is true for the No. 10 team, which expects IndyCar star Ryan Hunter-Reay to reprise his role as third driver as he did at last year’s Motul Petit Le Mans.

LMP2

  • JDC-Miller Motorsports, Oreca 07 Gibson: 99-Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg/Chris Miller, 85-Simon Trummer/Robert Alon. Fourth driver TBA for the GAINSCO-backed No. 99 car and rest of lineup to be revealed later for second car.
  • CORE autosport, Oreca 07 Gibson: 54-Colin Braun/Jon Bennett/Romain Dumas/Loic Duval. CORE moves into P class from GT Daytona.
  • AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, Ligier JS P217 Gibson: 52-Gustavo Yacaman/Sebastian Saavedra. Third and/or fourth driver TBA to be revealed later. Link-up of Gary Peterson’s AFS Racing with Bobby Oergel’s PR1 Mathiasen team.
  • Performance Tech Motorsports, Oreca 07 Gibson: 38-TBA. Brent O’Neill’s PC class-winning team steps up with a new Oreca 07, but hasn’t named drivers. James French and Kyle Masson expected full-season, but not yet announced.
  • BAR1 Motorsports, Riley Mk. 30 Gibson: 20-TBA. With Yacaman setting a baseline, BAR1 veterans such as Don Yount, Tomy Drissi, Mark Kvamme and Marc Drumwright have tested the car. Brian Alder has yet to finalize this car’s lineup.
  • United Autosports, Ligier JS P217 Gibson: TBA-Fernando Alonso/Lando Norris/Phil Hanson, TBA-Paul di Resta/Hugo de Sadeleer/Will Owen/Bruno Senna. The Zak Brown and Richard Dean-led Anglo-American team features this year’s highest profile guest star (Alonso) in his sports car debut, along with a combination of other F1 veterans and young stars-in-waiting.
  • Jackie Chan DC Racing, Oreca 07 Gibson: TBA-Lance Stroll/Daniel Juncadella/Robin Frijns/Felix Rosenqvist. Second car also expected of team veterans for the Jota Sport-run operation that starred in LMP2 in the FIA WEC this year, although Jarvis has gone to Mazda and Thomas Laurent is the subject of a contract dispute between JCDCR and Rebellion Racing, per Sportscar365.
  • D3+ Transformers Racing, Ligier JS P217 Gibson: 84-Robbie Kerr. Details of the Dawson Racing-led team’s plans have been sparse since Petit Le Mans announcement.

PLANS UNKNOWN/FLUID/TBD

  • VISIT FLORIDA Racing/Spirit of Daytona Racing: Highest profile question mark in the P class is Troy Flis’ team, which ran both a Riley Mk. 30 and Ligier JS P217 chassis this year but has lost van der Zande to the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R and hasn’t finalized its program status for 2018.

Other European prototype entries could also materialize here, but the cars and teams above have been announced either in full or in part.

GT LE MANS

Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The manufacturer-driven factory GT class will look similar as it did in 2017 at the Rolex 24, albeit with fewer one-off entries. With recent manufacturer end-of-year events in Germany, lineups for most of this class have been revealed.

CONFIRMED

  • Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R: 3-Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia, 4-Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner. Endurance drivers to be named later; Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler were in this role in IMSA last year.
  • BMW Team RLL, BMW M8 GTE: 24 and 25, lineups to be determined but drivers include: John Edwards/Connor De Phillippi/Alexander Sims/Jesse Krohn (full season), Bill Auberlen/Augusto Farfus/Philipp Eng/Nicky Catsburg (endurance races).
  • Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT: 66-Dirk Mueller/Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais, 67-Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon. No changes.
  • Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR: 911-Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy/Fred Makowiecki, 912-Laurens Vanthoor/Earl Bamber/Gianmaria Bruni. “Mako” and Bruni are the extras here while Tandy and Bamber return back to the U.S.

EXPECTED, NOT YET ANNOUNCED

  • Risi Competitizone, Ferrari 488 GTE: Lone Ferrari and lone privateer is usually the last to confirm its plans in this class and 2018 is no different. Hope is a return to full-season after missing handful of 2017 races.

GT DAYTONA

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Lots of changes in this class, but the last couple weeks have seen a bevy of announcements.

CONFIRMED

  • Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GT3: 63-Alessandro Balzan/Cooper MacNeil/Gunnar Jeannette/Jeff Segal, 64-Townsend Bell/Bill Sweedler/Frankie Montecalvo/Sam Bird. Balzan and MacNeil are the lone full-season pair here, MacNeil replacing Christina Nielsen, with the No. 64 car the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup second car extra.
  • Michael Shank Racing, Acura NSX GT3: 93-Lawson Aschenbach/Justin Marks/Mario Farnbacher/Come Ledogar, 86-Katherine Legge/Alvaro Parente/Trent Hindman/AJ Allmendinger. Lots of change here with seven of eight drivers new, although Allmendinger is one of Shank’s longtime friends and drivers. The No. 86 car was announced as a Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup entry but could grow into a full-season.
  • Wright Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 R: TBA-Patrick Long/Christina Nielsen. Last year’s PWC GT champ (Long) and IMSA GTD champ (Nielsen) join forces with Wright in its full-season WeatherTech return. Wright’s usual No. 58 wouldn’t be a surprise selection and the extra drivers will be announced later.
  • Riley Motorsports-Team AMG, Mercedes AMG-GT3: 33-Jeroen Bleekemolen/Ben Keating. Pairing back for another year; lose both Mario Farnbacher and Hindman to Shank, but Riley is still renowned for completing lineups with aces throughout.
  • 3GT Racing, Lexus RC F GT3: 15-Jack Hawksworth/David Heinemeier Hansson. First car revealed here will see the talented Silver-rated Dane, “DHH,” share with Hawksworth. Second car and endurance drivers remaining a work in progress.
  • HART, Acura NSX GT3: 69-Ryan Eversley/Chad Gilsinger. Popular pair to drive Honda of America employees’ car in Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events, again with extra drivers to be announced later.
  • P1 Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3: New team that’s run in IMSA Prototype Challenge (LMP3 class) and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series expects to run a Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup schedule, likely with Kenton Koch as lead driver. Team has tested at Daytona.

A PAIR OF AUDI PROGRAM UPDATES

Magnus Racing has confirmed Andy Lally for 2018, and John Potter always drives, but the team hasn’t outright it’d be back to IMSA in 2018 after a one-year trip to Pirelli World Challenge. It’s expected though that Magnus will be back in the IMSA paddock next season with at least one Audi R8 LMS.

Meanwhile with Stevenson Motorsports closing its doors and the unfortunate and untimely loss of the team’s founding patron Johnny Stevenson shortly after the season, the remnants of that team with its Audi R8 LMS could be revived under a new name and structure. Formal details haven’t been revealed.

2017 ENTRIES THAT HAVEN’T YET ANNOUNCED 2018 PLANS

It’ll be easier to list the cars that ran in 2017 whose teams haven’t formally announced their full 2018 plans. Those are below:

FULL SEASON 2017

  • No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3
  • No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3
  • No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
  • No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
  • No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3

PART SEASON 2017

  • No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
  • No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
  • TRG, either No. 007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, or No. 991 Porsche 911 GT3 R

There were a number of Daytona and Sebring extras in this class last year and there usually figure to be some again, and often it’s extra Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and/or Aston Martins.

With some combination of north of 20 cars in both the Prototype and GT Daytona classes, and at least nine GT Le Mans entries, the 60-car cap for the January 27-28 race seems well within range for IMSA.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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