IndyCar, IMSA drivers seeking Le Mans glory

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As always, the 24 Hours of Le Mans features a “Who’s Who” of driving talent from around the world, with big names from North America, Europe, and Asia all convening on the Circuit de la Sarthe in hopes of securing one of the biggest crown jewels, and some say THE biggest crown jewel, on the calendar.

And the North American racing scene sports a particularly strong lineup in the 2018 Le Mans, with a host of drivers from the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship featured.

The biggest collection from IndyCar can be found within Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, which features three current IndyCar drivers.

Scott Dixon joins Ryan Briscoe (himself a former IndyCar driver for Ganassi and Team Penske) and Richard Westbrook in the No. 68 Ford GT – the trio won the GT Le Mans class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona back in January.

Sebastien Bourdais returns to Le Mans after missing last year’s event and partners Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand in the No. 69 entry – this trio won the GTE-Pro class in 2016, the same year the Ford GT debuted at Le Mans.

LE MANS, FRANCE – JUNE 19: The Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller drives during the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 19, 2016 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

Also of note: the Nos. 68 and 69 again represent the full-time IMSA entrants, making those entries an IndyCar/IMSA “hybrid” of sorts.

In the team’s entries from the FIA World Endurance Championship, Tony Kanaan joins Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx in the No. 67. Of note: Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke, and Billy Johnson pilot the No. 66.

And former IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin will also be competing, with the No.11 SMP Racing BR1-AER entry in the LMP1 class – alongside former F1 driver Vitaly Petrov and 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button, who makes his Le Mans debut.

Not to be forgotten, IMSA is also well-represented with several of its own stars making the trip to France.

The two most prominent ones from the IMSA faction are likely Acura Team Penske drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ricky Taylor.

Taylor is a Le Mans veteran of sorts, as this will be his fifth try at the twice-around-the-clock French enduro. He joins an entry for he Jackie DC Racing team, class winners from last year, in the No. 34 Ligier JS P-217 Gibson alongside Come Ledogar and David Heinemeier Hannson.

Meanwhile, Montoya, the former CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, makes his Le Mans debut, piloting the No. 32 Ligier for United Autosports, joining Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer.

The most recent IMSA winner, Felipe Nasr, also makes his Le Mans debut, as he partners Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto in a Dallara P217-Gibson for Cetilar Villorba Corse. Nasr’s Action Express teammate Filipe Albuquerque joins United Autosports in the No. 22 Ligier, partnering Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta.

And Wayne Taylor Racing’s Renger van der Zande makes his Le Mans debut with DragonSpeed alongside Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman.

In GTE-Pro, Corvette Racing, as usual, sends their entire fleet to the Circuit de la Sarthe. The American marque has dominated at Le Mans in the 21st century, winning eight times since 2001, the most recent coming in 2015.

Corvette Racing’s last Le Mans triumph came in 2015, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Jordan Taylor.

Both the Nos. 63 and 64 Corvette C7.Rs expect to be among the favorites in GTE-Pro. Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller share the No. 63, while the No. 64 is shared by Oliver Gavin, Marcel Fassler, and Tommy Milner.

Porsche GT Team, in the hands of CORE Autosport, also has their IMSA team at Le Mans in the Nos. 93 and 94 efforts, and their driver lineup could be the best one ever assembled for a GT effort, with four overall Le Mans winners represented across both cars.

Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, and Earl Bamber will pilot the No. 93, with Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, and Sven Muller in the No. 94.

BMW Team RLL driver’s Alexander Sims also heads over with the BMW Team MTEK group, partnering Augusto Farfus and Antonio Felix da Costa in the No. 82 M8 GTE.

And Risi Competizione’s Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado will be competing as well with AF Corse. Vilander partners Antonio Giovinazzi and IMSA star Pipo Derani in the No. 52 488 GTE, while Calado and Pier Guidi join Daniel Serra in the No. 51.

The GTE-Am class is also populated with IMSA standouts. Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal share the No. 84 Ferrari 488 GTE for JMW Motorsport with Liam Griffin. Keating Motorsports heads over with IMSA commodities Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen alongside Luca Stolz.

Two-time IMSA GT Daytona champion Christina Nielsen  will be behind the wheel of a Porsche for Ebimotors – she joins Fabio Babini and Erik Maris in the No. 80 entry.

And Proton Competition might be the biggest sleeper in the GTE-Am class, with two-time class winner Patrick Long anchoring a lineup with Spencer Pumpelly, a Porsche stalwart himself, and Tim Pappas.

And don’t forget about Fernando Alonso’s exploits with Toyota Gazoo Racing in the LMP1 category – he shares the No. 8 TS050 Hybrid with Sebastien Buemi and Kaz Nakajima, while Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and Jose Maria Lopez pilot the No. 7 entry.

It all adds up to a genuinely star-studded field across LMP1, LMP2, GTE-Pro, and GTE-Am.

Other notables include: Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani, former overall Le Mans winners, in the No. 1 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson with Bruno Senna. Nicolas Lapierre, who won the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring with Tequila Patron ESM, partners Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet in the Signatech Alpine A470-Gibson.

And other American hopefuls include Tracy Krohn (No. 44 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier, with Nic Jonsson and Andrea Bertolini) and 2016 LMP2 class winner Gustavo Menezes (No. 3 Rebellion Racing R13, with Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche).

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”