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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.

F1’s ‘Mission Impossible:’ Texas could be Ferrari’s last stand in 2018

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene watched his red cars slip and splash around a wet Circuit of the Americas while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton cut the quickest laps of the U.S. Grand Prix practice session.

A few minutes later, Arrivabene sized up the task in front of Ferrari and driver Sebastian Vettel: Win Sunday or stay close enough to Hamilton to keep alive their rapidly-vanishing hopes of winning the season championship.

“We are here to compete with a mission impossible,” Arrivabene said Friday. “I know the numbers are all against us … our job is to go there to the track without giving up.”

That’s an apt summation of Ferrari’s fading title chances on a Texas racetrack about an hour north of the Alamo.

With a 67-point lead and just four races left, Hamilton can win the championship Sunday with any result that puts him eight points clear of Vettel. If Hamilton wins, which he’s done here five of the previous six years, Vettel must finish no worse than second to extend the championship into next week in Mexico City.

Even that got harder to do Friday when the early practice session produced another Ferrari unforced error in a season full of them. Vettel was given a three-place starting grid penalty for not slowing down quickly enough under a red flag. That means he can start no higher than fourth on Sunday.

“We mustn’t look at the past as we can’t change it,” Vettel said when Ferrari arrived in Texas. “We need to focus and look forward to the next four races. We will still try to do our best and then we’ll see what happens.”

No one at Ferrari wants to look at the past eight months. They would only see another collapse for the most famous team in racing.

Ferrari hasn’t won an F1 driver’s championship since 2007. This season looked like it could be the one to break the drought.

Vettel sparked a potentially delicious duel with Hamilton by winning the first two races. For a few months it was, as the two four-time champions chased a fifth title to tie Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio. Only Germany’s Michael Schumacher has more (seven).

And early on, even Hamilton had to admit Ferrari had the better car.

But Ferrari’s problems began mounting in the form of self-inflicted errors by drivers, crew and management, while Hamilton was sharpening into his typical second-half dominance.

A Ferrari team mechanic’s leg was broken when Kimi Raikkonen’s car was released too early from a pit stop in Bahrain (a race Vettel won). Vettel crashed out from the lead late in the rainy German Grand Prix, allowing Hamilton to win.

A week later in Hungary, Vettel spun out in qualifying. In Japan, a team gamble resulted in a poor tire choice in qualifying that cost Vettel dearly again.

And tragedy struck Ferrari when Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne died in July from complications after surgery.

Vettel’s last win came in Belgium on Aug. 26, and he hasn’t finished better than third since. He didn’t even make the podium in Ferrari’s home race in Italy.

Hamilton won Italy and Vettel fumed about an opening-lap collision between the rivals. Most saw it as a good move by Hamilton in wheel-to-wheel racing.

Vettel has been the target of pointed criticism over his mistakes. Hamilton, who has been steadily choking off the championship with six wins in the last seven races, defended Vettel on social media this week. Hamilton demanded “more respect for Sebastian” from media and fans.

“As a four-time world champion, it is the most intense year that we’ve had,” Hamilton said in Texas. “Every hiccup is magnified … But there have been many, or several, times that I’ve been in the firing range and Seb’s always been really respectful and supported me, so I thought it only just to do the same.”

Arrivabene also defended Vettel.

“Criticism of Sebastian is not coming from the team. I have said many, many times, we are winning and losing together,” Arrivabene said.

Changes are coming in 2019, some for certain, others rumored.

Raikkonen, the last Ferrari driver to win a championship, is leaving. He’ll be replaced by Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. Ironically, Leclerc is the driver whose spin on the track Friday prompted the red flag that led to Vettel’s critical penalty.

Leclerc has shown considerable skill and scored impressive results this season in an overmatched car, leading to speculation he could challenge Vettel once he’s in a Ferrari.

Italian media have linked Arrivabene with a possible move to management in the Juventus soccer club. Arrivabene was appointed team principal at Ferrari by Marchionne in late 2014 with hopes he could deliver an elusive championship.

“I said my future is in Ferrari, but it (is) the top management that have to give me their final blessing,” Arrivabene said.