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.

Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: