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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.

Dean Wilson’s life as a privateer reconnects the rider to his roots

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One of the added benefits of subscribing to NBC Sports Gold is the in-depth interviews from each Saturday’s action. Last week between the first and second rounds of qualification for the Glendale Supercross race, a relaxed and confident Dean Wilson joined Race Day Live’s Daniel Blair and Jim Holley to review his fourth-place finish in the season opener and his mindset moving forward.

Losing factory support from Rockstar / Husqvarna at the end of 2018 was not exactly what Wilson had in mind, but after getting off to a great start in the first two races this season, it may well have been a blessing in disguise.

The life of a privateer is not exactly relaxed, but it affords a rider the opportunity to call his own shots. For Wilson, it is also a way to reconnect with the grassroots feel that attracted him to Supercross in the first place.

“I think that’s what I like,” Wilson said on Race Day Live. “I think that’s the environment and atmosphere I like – it’s just more low key. At Anaheim I, you would think I was local racing at Glen Helen. I had a Sprinter and I had another trailer just to chill in, do my spins. It was so cold I had a little propane heater to warm me up. But I like that. That’s what works for me.”

MORE: Dean Wilson’s Cinderella story at Anaheim 

The program Wilson was able to put together during the offseason produced back-to back top 10s – a much better start to the 2019 season than he experienced last year.

In 2018, Wilson did not score a top 10 until his fourth feature at San Diego. His first top five would not come until late March in Indianapolis.

This year Wilson got the hole shot and led 14 laps at Anaheim in the opener before finishing fourth. Last week in Glendale, he finished eighth.

“What was going through my head was ‘it’s about time; it’s about five years too late to lead some laps here,’ ” Wilson described his emotion as he led at Anaheim. “It was nice because I did a lot of work in the off-season and my starts were really good. The thing is I haven’t over-analyzed my starts and practice.”

At Anaheim I, Wilson struggled with visibility as his goggles began to get fouled by mud. A once comfortable lead was eroded by Justin Barcia. With pressure from behind, Wilson made a minor mistake that was then compounded by lapped traffic.

“I was leading my laps; I was just trying to hit my marks. I was doing really well until I made a couple of mistakes. I couldn’t hit that middle double, double … the rut was getting real chewed out, but I was already on the right side where you couldn’t double the middle part so you had to go roll, roll, roll – and Barcia was already on me.”

Wilson’s pair of top 10s was enough to keep him fifth in the standings, three points behind Glendale’s winner Blake Baggett.

For more, watch the video above.

Next Race: Anaheim II Jan. 19, 11 p.m., NBCSN

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