Penske, Acura relish 1-2 triumph at Mid-Ohio

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Given that Acura was the title sponsor of this past weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was always going to be a pivotal weekend for their teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to showcase themselves.

And maybe no team had more pressure on it than the Acura Team Penske group, which had displayed a lot of speed with the Oreca 07-based ARX-05, but has suffered a number of needling problems with reliability and strategy that prevented them from battling for victories in the opening races of the 2018 season.

However, this past weekend at Mid-Ohio was nothing short of a dream for Acura and Penske. Both cars ran 1-2 in every practice, with Helio Castroneves putting the No. 7 on the pole on Saturday and Dane Cameron flanking him on the front row in the No. 6.

And to describe their race day as dominant would be an understatement. The No. 7, in the hands of Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, led from start to finish, while the No. 6, in the hands of Cameron and Juan Montoya, ran steady in second after an early battle with Mazda Team Joest.

In all, it was simply a perfect weekend for team and manufacturer.

“That was great,” said a jubilant Castroneves of the victory. “It started from the beginning, actually the front row, the No. 7 and the No. 6 were right there. Dane was really strong and put a lot of pressure on me, but in the end, it was a long race. I was taking it easy and making sure we made the numbers that we needed to make, and then I left it to my teammate here, Ricky, and what an incredible job he did.”

The victory is also a milestone for Taylor and Penske, with Taylor becoming the 50th different driver to win a race under the Penske banner.

Said an equally elated Taylor, “I’m driving with one of the best organizations in the world, and one of the best manufacturers in the world. We visited Acura’s factory for the NSX on Thursday and really got to see all that goes into these beautiful cars, and it really gives you a good sense of pride. On top of that, to win for the first time back for Mr. Penske is outstanding and to start the month of May off for Helio with a win is awesome. There was so much pressure to get the car from him in the lead. He did an awesome job, so I had to fight to make his efforts worth it.”

Steve Eriksen, Vice President and COO of Honda Performance Development (HPD) added that the victory coming at Mid-Ohio, not far from a number of HPD facilities, combined with a strong run from the Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s – Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente finished second in GT Daytona, while Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach finished fifth – made it all the sweeter.

“Mid-Ohio is our second ‘home’, with all of our nearby facilities and thousands of associates. So it is especially gratifying to take our first win in the Acura ARX-05 here,” Eriksen asserted. “Our NSX GT3 program did not disappoint either, as the Meyer Shank Racing #86 waged an exciting battle all the way to the checkers, coupled with a strong run for the #93 car. Congratulations to all of our associates at HPD, Acura Team Penske and Meyer Shank Racing on an almost perfect weekend.”

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.