Photo courtesy IMSA

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.

IndyCar: Which drivers need to start or continue comebacks in 2019?

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With the 2018 IndyCar Series season already far back in our rearview mirror, it’s not too soon to start looking ahead to the 2019 campaign, which begins on March 10 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

When you look at how 2018 ended up, several drivers either didn’t have the season they had hoped for and are looking to make big comebacks in 2019, or perhaps began comebacks in 2018 after prior difficult seasons.

Let’s take a look at who is due – or in some cases, overdue – for an even stronger season in 2019:

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: RHR isn’t overdue by any stretch, having started his “comeback” of sorts in 2018. His fourth-place season finish was his best in the series since winning the championship in 2012.

He also earned two wins – Belle Isle II and the season finale at Sonoma – his first visits to victory lane since winning twice in 2015.

Had it not been for three DNFs in the second half of the season, Hunter-Reay likely could have finished in the top 3 at season’s end.

It was good to see him come back into prominence after frustration the last two seasons (12th in 2016 and 9th in 2017).

Hunter-Reay still has several more good years in him and it would not be surprising to see him finish even higher in 2019 – and potentially once again being a championship contender.

SIMON PAGENAUD: After winning the championship in 2016 and finishing second in 2017, Pagenaud definitely had an off-season by his usual standards in 2018, finishing sixth in the IndyCar standings.

The French-born driver failed to win a race for the first time since 2015 and had just two podium finishes (also the most since 2015).

One of the most telling stats from what was a frustrating campaign is Pagenaud and the No. 22 led a total of just 31 laps across the 17-race 2018 season, the fewest laps led in a single season in his entire IndyCar career.

He also had the second-worst average per-race finish of his career (8.6), after having average finishes of 6.1 in his championship season and 5.3 in 2017.

Of course, looking at things from a glass half-full viewpoint, Pagenaud went from a winless and disappointing 11th place finish in 2015 to become champion in 2016. Could history repeat itself in 2019?

By all measures, 2018 was definitely an off season for Pagenaud. Look for him to make a significant comeback in 2019.

Or, to borrow a line Pagenaud said to teammate Josef Newgarden during their early 2018 season “autograph battle,” it’s your move, bro, for 2019.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The French driver had perhaps the best comeback season of any driver in 2018.

When former CART champ Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing just prior to the start of the 2018 season, Bourdais was the hand-picked driver to carry the DCR with Vasser-Sullivan banner.

Bourdais did not disappoint. He started the season with a win at St. Petersburg and enjoyed his best overall season finish – seventh – in an Indy car since capturing the fourth of four straight CART/Champ Car World Series championships in 2007.

It was also Bourdais’ best career IndyCar finish, topping his previous best season finishes of 10th in both 2014 and 2015.|

Bourdais, who turns 40 in late February, finished the season strong with two top 5 and two other top 10 finishes in four of the last five races. That’s a good harbinger of even better things to come in 2019.

GRAHAM RAHAL: It was a tough season at times for Rahal, who turns 30 in early January.

Not only did he have his worst season finish – eighth – since 2014 (19th), he failed to win even one race (also for the first time since 2014) and had just one podium finish (2nd at St. Petersburg).

As if to add insult to injury, Rahal had two of his three season DNFs in his final two races (4th lap crash at Portland and a battery issue at Sonoma).

Rahal is overdue for the kind of season he had in 2015, when he won two races, had six podiums and finished a career-best fourth in the overall standings.

While Rahal has the equipment and personnel to do better, something just didn’t click in 2018. Will things turn around in 2019?

MARCO ANDRETTI: The grandson of Mario and son of Michael Andretti continues to be a work in progress – with emphasis on the word “progress” when it came to his 2018 performance.

Although he remains winless since 2011 and hasn’t had a podium finish since 2015, Marco Andretti still showed overall improvement in 2018, including earning his first pole (Belle Isle I) since 2013.

With a fifth-place finish in the season-ending race at Sonoma, Andretti jumped from 12th in the standings to finish the season tied for eighth place with Graham Rahal, Andretti’s best overall showing since finishing fifth in 2013.

Andretti had a strong second half of the 2018 season, with a top 5 in the season finale at Sonoma, as well as three top 11 finishes in five of the last eight races.

Don’t be surprised if he closes in on a top 5 finish in 2019. Andretti Autosport continues to improve overall as a team, particularly with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and now Andretti, as well.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a strange season for the Mayor of Hinchtown.

He failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, had just one win and two podium finishes, yet ended up with a 10th place overall finish in the standings, his best performance since finishing 8th in both 2012 and 2013.

The Canadian driver went on a hot streak early in the second half of the season, winning at Iowa and finishing fourth in his hometown race in Toronto.

But DNFs at Pocono and Portland, as well as three other finishes of 14th (Mid-Ohio) and 15th (Gateway and Sonoma) likely cost him a chance of potentially finishing as high as eighth.

There was also the emotional, gut-wrenching crash involving Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate and longtime best friend, Robert Wickens, at Pocono. While Hinchcliffe tried to put on a happy face and showed support to his fallen mate, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wickens’ injury constantly dwelled on Hinchcliffe’s mind.

With the Indianapolis 500 heartbreak, the firing of engineer Lena Gade (who lasted just five races before her ouster), the injury to Wickens, and the overall second-half season struggles, Hinchcliffe is to be commended for finishing as high as he did in the final standings given the overall circumstances he had to endure.

At the same time, it’s likely a season he wants to wipe away from his memory bank and turn a forgettable season in 2018 into what Hinchcliffe and his team hope is an unforgettable season in 2019.

TONY KANAAN: A new team, new outlook and racing for legendary A.J. Foyt offered a great deal of promise for Tony Kanaan in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian native suffered through the worst season ever in his IndyCar career, finishing 16th in the overall standings.

Prior to 2018, Kanaan had experienced just one other season outside the top 10 (11th in 2013, the same year he won the Indianapolis 500).

Admittedly, TK, who turns 44 on December 31, is the oldest full-time driver on the circuit. But it doesn’t look like he’s lost much with age.

Rather, three DNFs and a career single-season low of having led just 20 laps over 17 races took its toll on Kanaan.

He will return for 2019, driving a second season for Foyt. But things need to dramatically improve for Kanaan, who hasn’t won a race since 2014.

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