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INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s 2 practice sessions at Long Beach

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Here’s what drivers had to say after the completion of Friday’s two IndyCar practice sessions on the Streets of Long Beach, in preparation for Sunday’s 44th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “The car was different to drive, we were having some problems in the turning in mid-corner, but it was also my first day here, learning the track and everything. Tomorrow is a new day, we can only move forward from here. Hopefully, we will have a great car tomorrow, we’ll keep working hard and hope to have a great weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner): “It was an up-and-down day. There was a really big change on the track for us from Practice 1 to Practice 2, so we struggled a lot with the car balance this afternoon. It was also really busy out there. It’s not that long of a track; 24 cars all trying to get those runs on reds (Firestone alternate tires) at the end. We only really did one lap, and I’m not sure if we got the best out of it. We’ll see what we have tomorrow. We definitely have a lot to think about overnight, but this Arrow Electronics and entire Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team has done a great job so far this season of putting it together when it counts, and hopefully, we can keep that up.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Not the best day for us. It’s still early in the weekend, and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. From what I remember of St. Pete, we also weren’t that strong through free practice, but we came out good in the end. We’re just going to do look over everything tonight, make some level-headed decisions, and hopefully, we can get the Lucas Oil car up front tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We sat around a lot in the first session and then went out, and things started to move really fast. The PNC Bank car was fast right out of the box. We went out and were quick in our first run, then improved upon that in the second run. It’s a big weekend for Honda here, so we’ll try to get the most out of it for them and for the team. The cars are so fun to drive though. The track is really awesome without the added downforce too. The braking zones are a bit bigger and the power down is impressive especially out of the hairpin corner. I think come around Lap 20, drivers are going to be screaming for new tires around here. It’s great to be back here overall, though. Great cars, great atmosphere and being out there pounding around the Long Beach city streets.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Obviously not the start to the weekend we wanted with the NTT DATA car. We went one direction this morning and then took another direction toward what Scott (Dixon) and the No. 9 team were doing. We have some work to do tonight, but I’m confident we can make the right changes and be up there closer to the front tomorrow.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Decent day…trying to find the right setup. This morning was a little bit better than this afternoon.  We tried a couple different things – a big swing just to see. Friday we have two free sessions so we’re learning for tomorrow. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re still up there. We just have to keep working to improve a little bit more. All in all, it was a trouble-free day, which is quite good.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Total Honda): “It was an OK day. I think the Total Honda was good right off the bat on blacks (Firestone primary tires) comparatively.  When we went to reds (Firestone alternate tires), I think we lost the handling a little bit. We also had a really poor out lap. We were trying to get a big gap (on track ahead). We went out too early, and I didn’t even get to get any temperature in them, and I think the reds are only spectacular on one lap and we just missed it. Unfortunately, that was that. Saturday is a new day, so hopefully we can improve the Total Honda slightly and go from there. We have some work to do to catch some of the guys up front, but overall it was a good day. The car is not bad, but it’s not quite good enough. We will keep working away to try our best to get a car capable of winning here. It was a textbook Long Beach Grand Prix day; great weather and a great crowd.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “It was an interesting day overall for the Team SealMaster Honda No. 18. We are not exactly there yet, but I don’t know that anybody is really happy with their car. This afternoon the track temp was very high…115, 116 range, so this place, like most others, tends to be quite greasy when it gets that hot. I had one good lap going, which got a yellow flag, and that was that. I’m not exactly sure where we sit because I definitely didn’t get a good lap on the board. I think on a one-lap performance the car doesn’t seem too bad, but it seems to degrade pretty fast. We will take a look at the data and see what we want to do for tomorrow, but it is not easy. We have to keep searching.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda): (About his thoughts on the track) “It’s a really fun track. I’m really enjoying myself but I need to keep working on getting better. It’s a difficult track and I think most of the rookies are struggling with it from what I saw of the lap times.” (About his day): “It was a tough day and there’s some work to do, but we have another practice session tomorrow before qualifying and we’re going to use it to keep learning as much as possible.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “There’s definitely potential with our Preferred Freezer Services Chevy this weekend. We had an issue with the gearbox in the second practice that kind of prevented us from getting many laps. We then put a backup stack in that wasn’t optimum for what we were trying to do. That cost us a little bit, but we made good process with the balance of the car from Practice 1 to Practice 2. Hopefully we can make a similar step tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “It was good to learn the circuit and get into it. There’s still quite a ways to go on my side and sorting the car out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), so it’s still a bit of an unknown going into qualifying. It’s a bit annoying, it would have been nice to be able to learn a little bit more about the reds. Then again, we had the same thing happen in St. Pete and that worked out alright.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “We worked through a lot of changes today. Max (Chilton) was pretty good this morning, so we went more his direction with the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet. We had a couple of issues in the first practice, but we got those cleaned up for the second practice and introduced a few new issues in the second practice that we’ll need fix overnight. We had a yellow flag on what was going to be my best lap early in the second session. We can learn from what we did today and get everything ready to go for qualifying tomorrow. I think the conditions tomorrow are going to be pretty similar to today and then cooler on race day, so we’ll just have to adjust best as we can and move forward from there.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “Overall, I think it was a good first day here. Phoenix went better than St. Pete and so far, this weekend has been going better than Phoenix. So just one step at a time. I think we definitely have the speed to transfer tomorrow to the fast 12, and maybe even a chance to get to our first Firestone Fast 6. The Andretti cars are pretty quick – (Alexander) Rossi and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay are showing that –  I have a little bit of learning to do tonight, but I’m excited to show what we can do tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It was good to be P1 in Practice 2, it’s where you want to end the day on Friday. To have two team cars 1-2 is pretty awesome. We have a lot of motivation after last year to come back and really be strong here this year. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, and hopefully we can continue that over the next two days. Our main focus right now is trying to win Long Beach and get redemption on last year.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Without a doubt this is one of my favorite races – love the place, love the layout, love everything about it. The fans, the energy, the atmosphere here are all great. We’ve had some great cars here, I’ve been very fortunate to be behind the wheel of some very fast race cars here – last year being one of them. We were closing on (James Hinchcliffe), right up on his gearbox, when the car shut off for some reason – an electrical issue. We feel like we have some unfinished business here, and I think today was a pretty good start at finishing that. We are going to need to find a gap between the cooler track temps and when it heated up. It became quite a bit more difficult to get the lap time out of the car, so we have a bit of a challenge there, but it seems like everybody has their work set out for them.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “We made good progress today. It was a productive day until the end of the session. We have more work to do because the lap time is not representative of what we feel we can get out of it.  We made good progress from the first session and hopefully we will continue that tomorrow.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “I’d say we made an improvement from the first session into the second session. I’m really happy with the team and we are working well together. We are trying a lot of different stuff and with the lack of testing we have had its hard to pinpoint how to make the car better. We are having to experiment a lot, which has put us a little bit behind the rest of the field. All and all, they are doing a great job. I feel like there is a lot to learn from this. I am looking forward tomorrow. I think we are going to make some changes and try something different for the next session and hope we can find some more speed before qualifying.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “It’s great to be back in Long Beach. I love this track, really any street course in general. We’ve been trying to build on a car setup without changing anything too fundamental and just get laps under our belts. We’ve learned that the reds (Firestone alternate tires) aren’t that strong around here, which I think everyone is seeing. We just need to take a look at the car tonight and make it better overnight for qualifying tomorrow.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “It has been a trying day so far. We have had to deal with some issues that were kind of like a curve ball being thrown at us and put us behind where we wanted to be. It has been frustrating, but I think we can utilize this afternoon to analyze what we need to do to improve and be where we should be from where we left off at St. Pete and take it from there. I’m looking forward to getting back on track tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “It was a difficult day to say the least. We’re definitely dealing with a mechanical issue – I am convinced I have a carry-over issue that has not yet been identified from Phoenix. We’ve tried some different things out, but unfortunately haven’t found a solution yet. Once we pinpoint what exactly is going on, I know we’ll have a fast car. Our teammates are proving we have the setup, so we really just need to fix the issue. We really want to give this U.S. Concrete car a good run.”

IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.