Acura Team Penske breaks through with first IMSA WeatherTech win in Mid-Ohio

Photo: IMSA

Talk about delivering return on investment to your sponsors: It was an Acura sweep in the Acura Sports Car Challenge Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Ricky Taylor and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya finished 1-2 for Acura Team Penske – the team’s first win since returning full-time to sports car racing this year — in the Prototype class.

“We come here in Acura’s for Acura’s home race and then to start the month of May with a legend (teammate Helio Castroneves), it’s just the start,” Taylor told Fox Sports 2.

Added Castroneves, in his first season in the series, “This kid (Taylor) is unbelievable. He was on it and never lost his cool. Unbelievable. I was losing my cool, it’s the hardest thing to watch.”

Taylor then predicted even more success for Castroneves, who races next in a one-off start in the Verizon IndyCar Series in the May 27th 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“He’s got more coming up in the month,” Taylor said of Castroneves on FS2.

As for runner-up Montoya, he told FS2, “You’ve got to be happy for Acura. We’ve worked so hard and we’ve been so unlucky this year. To win here on their home turf (Acura has a manufacturing shop in Marysville, Ohio, about an hour away from Mid-Ohio) and do it 1-2 is pretty cool.”

The weekend also marked the return to Mid-Ohio for the IMSA WeatherTech Championship Series after a five-year absence.

Taylor’s No. 7 Acura DPi crossed the finish line 8.464 seconds ahead of Montoya in the No. 6 Acura DPi, while Tristan Nunez, in the No. 77 Mazda DPi finished third, 18.310 seconds behind Taylor.

Teammates Filipe Albuquerque and Jordan Taylor finished fourth and fifth.

While there was some minor contact between several cars across all three classes, the entire 2 hour, 40 minute race was run completely caution-free under sunny conditions and temperatures in the 70s, a distinct improvement from Friday, when rain deluged the track.

In the GTLM class: Laurens Vanthoor, in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR, held off strong late challenges by Connor De Phillippi (by 1.673 seconds) and Jan Magnussen (by 12.295 seconds). Joey Hand (-18.696 seconds) and Richard Westbrook (-19.970 seconds) finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

“It was horrible,” Vanthoor laughed to FS2. “The BMW (of De Phillippi) was chasing us with fresher tires and my tires were already destroyed with 15 laps to go, so I had to fight like crazy to stay on track and push.

“I was worried that cars were catching me. I was doing my best and tried to keep positive and finally it worked. A lot of stuff went wrong along in-between, chances that went away, but now it’s done and I hope it’s the first of many.”

In the GTD class: Dominik Baumann won the first race for Lexus Racing USA, beating Alvaro Parente to the checkered flag by a slim 0.191-second margin. Bryan Sellers finished third (-18.472 seconds), followed by Jack Hawksworth (-25.027 seconds) and Lawson Aschenbach (-28.795 seconds).

“The radio connection was not too good, so I had to manage it myself,” Baumann said to FS2. “But I pushed every lap. It was just 100 percent every lap.

“I didn’t know what the gap was, but I’m so glad we did it. The pressure’s going off and it was such a perfect weekend.”

The next IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship race will be held on the weekend of June 1-3 as part of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the Belle Isle street course.

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”