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IMSA to be well-represented in this year’s Indianapolis 500

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IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Fans of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will have a few “home teams” to root on this weekend in qualifications for the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

The 35-car entry list includes a host of regular IndyCar drivers who have competed in WeatherTech Championship races over the years, and a handful of drivers and teams who are active participants in IMSA this year.

Leading the way is Helio Castroneves, who got his month of May off to a fantastic start at Mid-Ohio on May 6. He and co-driver Ricky Taylor delivered the first victory for the new Acura DPi program in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05. It also was Castroneves’ first IMSA win since Petit Le Mans in 2008 and his first as a full-time driver in the WeatherTech Championship.

Last weekend, Castroneves made his first IndyCar start of the year, taking sixth in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. In qualifying this weekend, Castroneves will look for his fifth Indy 500 pole position, and on Sunday, May 27, he’ll look to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners in the prestigious race.

“I’m going to be representing the IMSA flag,” says Castroneves, who will drive the No. 3 Chevrolet for Team Penske at Indy. “I’m excited to be back in the IndyCar, but obviously excited more to be in the Indy 500.

“The good news is, the cars in IMSA right now, especially the Acura, has a lot of similarity to the IndyCar, but still, it’s a different car. It kept me on the edge, pushing myself to find the limits, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the month of May. I have no doubt we’re going to be fighting for the win.”

Among those he will be fighting against are some regular WeatherTech Championship teams that also have IndyCar programs. Obviously, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing all are longtime IndyCar teams that also have high-profile, factory-supported programs in the WeatherTech Championship.

In addition to those teams, Meyer Shank Racing returns for its second consecutive Indy 500 after making its debut last year. In addition to its pair of Acura NSX GT3 race cars that compete in the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class, Meyer Shank Racing team is fielding the No. 60 Honda for Jack Harvey in selected IndyCar events, including the Indianapolis 500 in a partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“It’s great to be back here at IMS,” said team co-owner Mike Shank this week. “It’s such a special place and atmosphere and fan support is next to none.”

Following in Shank’s footsteps this year at Indy is Scuderia Corsa, which has won the last three consecutive WeatherTech Championship GTD titles and has won five of six championships dating back to the 2013 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT crown. Scuderia Corsa has partnered with Rahal Letterman Lanigan for the 2018 Indy 500, fielding the No. 64 Honda for veteran IndyCar racer Oriol Servia.

“The Indianapolis 500 and the month of May is unlike anything else, and I’m excited to be a part of such a great program,” Servia said. “Obviously, Scuderia Corsa has a great history of winning and RLL is one of the best teams in IndyCar, so I’m excited to see how we all work together. Being new to this experience, I’m especially looking forward to introducing everyone at Scuderia Corsa to the many traditions and festivities in store. The entire experience is something they’ll never forget.”

Seven drivers entered for this year’s 500 already have competed in multiple WeatherTech Championship rounds including Castroneves, Scott Dixon – who won the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

And one driver on the entry list – Jay Howard – recently joined the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. He made his debut last month at Barber Motorsports Park in the No. 87 Five Miles Out Racing Norma LMP3 entry alongside co-driver Nicholas Colyvas.

At Indy, Howard is driving the No. 7 Honda for SPM/AFS Racing, which has one additional IMSA tie. AFS Racing is in its first full WeatherTech Championship season in 2018 in partnership with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports fields the No. 52 Ligier LMP2 prototype for Sebastian Saavedra and Gustavo Yacaman.

While many eyes in the racing world will be focused on Indianapolis for the next two weekends, immediately after that, the WeatherTech Championship returns to action with the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park on Saturday, June 2, which 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.

Here’s the reason Bill Murray is on Oriol Servia’s Indy 500 helmet

Shawn Gritzmacher/IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – The funnyman who inspired Oriol Servia’s helmet for the Indianapolis 500 might be unaware of its existence, but he probably would appreciation the reaction it draws.

“Every person that sees my helmet, the first thing they do is laugh,” Servia said. “So Bill Murray has this effect.”

Yes, he does, which is precisely why the Spaniard has a tribute to Murray’s “I Want You” pose from “Stripes”, the classic 1981 screwball comedy that helped catapult the actor to stardom.

Inspiration struck Servia while he was on a flight last year and watching “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man,” a documentary about the actor’s legendary impromptu appearances (playing kickball, attending wedding parties, making drinks) in the everyday lives of normal Americans.

“I thought like, “Look at this guy!” He’s interesting,” said Servia, a film buff who had seen many of Murray’s movies. “He knows every time he goes (out in public), everyone goes ‘Oh! Bill Murray!’ And instead of getting upset, he actually turns it around and shows up at places to make people happy. That’s really what he does.”

Servia called Troy Lee, a California-based artist who designs and paints many drivers’ helmets, with his idea. Lee naturally began “laughing his ass off” before agreeing to take a crack.

“I thought, ‘Why not make people laugh?’ I’m at the venue that venue holds 400,000 people or whatever,” Servia said. “So why not spread it around?”

Murray would approve … that is, if he knows about it. Servia made sure a photo of the helmet was relayed through a friend who knows the actor’s brother

“I hope he doesn’t take it as I’m using his image rights without permission,” Servia said with a laugh. “I’m not selling anything. I won’t even sell the helmet.”

Servia does have a long history with using his helmet as a creative platform, whether it’s a famous self-portrait by artist Salvador Dali or a flag to support Catalonian independence in his native country. (He discussed his connection to Dali during a recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast.)

He also paid proper homage to his new helmet design during a media appearance Tuesday in Chicago, visiting the Billy Goat Tavern that was immortalized during a “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Murray (who is a Chicago native like Servia’s wife, Jackie).

Of course, there would be a perfect way Sunday to honor the “Ghostbusters” star who scored one of the biggest upsets in history by defeating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

“I hope I’m in the winner’s circle,” the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said. “And I hope he appears! That’d be amazing, right?”