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IMSA to have strong contingent of drivers, teams at 24 Hours of Le Mans

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Courtesy IMSA NewsWire:

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – IMSA once again will have a strong contingent of full-time drivers and teams competing in the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16-17.

The official, 60-car entry list released today by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), which organizes the prestigious, twice-around-the-clock race, revealed 26 drivers competing full time in IMSA and five IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams responsible for fielding a total of seven cars. Among this group, there are 11 drivers who have previously won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

IMSA is represented by at least one full-time driver in all four classes: LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am. The LMP1 features one 2018 IMSA full-timer in regular No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R driver Renger van der Zande, who will share the No. 10 Dragonspeed BR Engineering BR1-Gibson with Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley.

Five WeatherTech Championship regulars are entered in the LMP2 class, including current Prototype points co-leader Filipe Albuquerque, who is trading his regular No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi for a ride in the No. 22 United Autosports Ligier-Gibson alongside co-drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta. Juan Pablo Montoya, who races the No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi on a full-time basis, will share a second United Autosports LMP2 entry, the No. 32 Ligier with Hugo De Sadeleer and Will Owen.

Felipe Nasr, Albuquerque’s Action Express Racing teammate and full-time driver of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi in the WeatherTech Championship, will drive the No. 47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara-Gibson LMP2 machine with Italian drivers Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto.

And in a bit of news that was revealed on today’s entry list, 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype co-champion Ricky Taylor was named to drive the No. 34 Jackie Chan DC Racing Ligier-Gibson LMP2 machine with another 2018 WeatherTech Championship regular, David Heinemeier Hansson and French driver Come Ledogar. Heinemeier Hansson’s regular ride is the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class, while Taylor shares the No. 7 Acura DPi with Helio Castroneves.

“For me, it’s a great opportunity,” said Taylor, who scored his first victory of the 2018 season with Castroneves in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio earlier this month. “Obviously, to go back to Le Mans anytime is a big event. You never stop learning there, so to go back again with Jackie Chan DC is really exciting.

“It’s a proven team, and all the guys from Ligier and Onroak (Automotive) are involved. I think all the pieces are in place between the car, the driver lineup, the updates to the car and just the team behind it is very proven. For me, it’s probably the best shot I’ve had yet. This will be my fifth start and it will probably be my best equipment, best team, best car and I’ve got a shot to go win. I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited to get over and meet the guys next week.”

The most plentiful IMSA representation – as has traditionally been the case – is in GTE Pro, which uses the same technical regulations as the WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.

Six of the eight full-time WeatherTech Championship teams in GTLM are taking their race cars to Le Mans, including Corvette Racing, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and the Porsche GT Team. Corvette Racing, which has won eight times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will field the Nos. 63 and 64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs for the same driver lineups it used this year in both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

The No. 63 entry (which races in IMSA as No. 3) includes 2017 WeatherTech Championship GTLM co-champions Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia alongside Mike Rockenfeller, while the No. 64 Corvette features 2016 GTLM champions Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler. All six Corvette drivers have multiple victories at Le Mans.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing was the most recent WeatherTech Championship team to win in GTE Pro, taking an historic victory in 2016 on the 50th anniversary of the Ford GT40’s 1966 victory. The same three drivers who delivered that victory – Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais – are returning this year in the No. 68 Ford GT under the Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA banner, while 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona GTLM winners Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon look to add another crown jewel to their trophy case in the No. 69 Ford GT.

Team owner Chip Ganassi actually has four entries in the race, including two that regularly compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship under the Ford Chip Ganassi UK banner. Porsche will have a similar arrangement this year at Le Mans, with its regular pair of Germany-based FIA WEC entries joined by the United States-based Porsche GT Team from the WeatherTech Championship.

The team’s No. 93 Porsche 911 RSR will be co-driven by three of its four full-time GTLM drivers, Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. Tandy and Bamber are each overall 24 Hours of Le Mans winners, while Pilet looks for his first win at Circuit de La Sarthe.

Laurens Vanthoor, who co-drove to the GTLM win at Mid-Ohio with Bamber, is entered in the German Porsche GT Team’s No. 92 machine, while the second U.S. team entry – No. 94 – will be shared by the trio of Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Sven Muller.

Also competing in the GTE Pro class is two-time Sebring overall winner Pipo Derani in the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE. Derani’s regular IMSA ride is the No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi with co-driver Johannes van Overbeek.

There are six IMSA full-time drivers entered in the GTE Am class. Ben Keating, who earned the Le Mans entry by winning the 2017 Bob Akin Award as the top sportsman driver in the WeatherTech Championship, will share the No. 85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari 488 GTE with his regular IMSA co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen – another previous Le Mans winner – and Luca Stolz.

That’s the same trio of drivers who currently lead the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup GT Daytona (GTD) class standings as co-drivers of the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports entry in the WeatherTech Championship. The Keating Motorsports Le Mans team this year is being operated in partnership with longtime IMSA competitors Risi Competizione.

GTE Am also includes the WeatherTech-supported No. 84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari for Liam Griffin, previous Le Mans winner Jeff Segal and Cooper MacNeil, who finished on the Le Mans podium last year. In addition, the Le Mans field will include two-time defending WeatherTech Championship GTD champion Christina Nielsen in the No. 80 Ebimotors Porsche 911 RSR alongside co-drivers Fabio Babini and Erik Maris.

The driver with whom Nielsen shares the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in the 2018 WeatherTech Championship, Patrick Long, also will be competing at Le Mans this year. He is co-driving the No. 99 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR with fellow Americans Spencer Pumpelly and Tim Pappas.

Pumpelly currently leads the 2018 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class point standings alongside No. 28 RS1 Porsche Cayman GT4 co-driver Dillon Machavern. He is returning to Le Mans for the first time since 2014.

“I’m extremely excited and honored to get an opportunity to back for my fourth time,” said Pumpelly, the 2016 Continental Tire Challenge Street Tuner (ST) champion. “With Tim Pappas and Pat Long, I really couldn’t ask for two better teammates, and to be with a team that has the history of success like Proton Competition makes it all even more exciting.

“The previous three times I’ve been there, I’ve had good cars and I’ve actually been able to lead a bunch, but I ran into bad luck all three times. The opportunity to go back to Le Mans and have a chance to have a good run at the 24 means a lot. Hopefully, we can put it all together this time.”

In addition to the full-time drivers, the Le Mans field will include another 28 drivers that have competed in both Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup events – the Rolex 24 and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – contested thus far in 2018.

The annual Le Mans Test Day is scheduled for Sunday, June 3, while on-track action on race week for the 86th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans starts on Wednesday, June 13 with practice and qualifying.

Next up for the WeatherTech Championship is the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park on Saturday, June 2. The 100-minute will be televised live on FS2 starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. In addition to live IMSA Radio coverage on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio, a re-air of the WeatherTech Championship race will be available on FS1 on Sunday, June 3 at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”