Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: VIR Could Be Just What Doctor Ordered for No. 3 Corvette Team

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Courtesy: IMSA Wire Service

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 14, 2018) – Right now, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia are four points out of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class points lead.

With three races left on the 2018 schedule starting with this Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, it’s officially “go time” in the championship. For Magnussen and Garcia, who co-drive the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, their chief competition for the title has been the pair of entries from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe currently lead the GTLM standings on the heels of their third victory of the season in the No. 67 Ford GT earlier this month in the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America. Garcia and Magnussen are five points ahead of No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, who have won two of the last four GTLM races.

“It is so close in this championship,” Magnussen said. “Every weekend, one car has the edge, but usually not a massive edge. That makes it tough. It makes it tough on the drivers, of course, but also on the teams to perform well in the pits, to pick the right strategy and make the right calls. That’s what I love about GT racing. It’s so close, you fight every lap of the race, and then when it’s over, hopefully you’ve got something good to show off back home.”

Lately, the ones in the GTLM class showing off most of the good stuff at home has been Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. The team has won the last four races. Garcia and Magnussen, meanwhile, haven’t won yet this season in the No. 3 Corvette. In fact, they haven’t won a race since last August.

That win came at VIR. They also won at VIR in 2016. You can bet they’re pretty pumped to be going back there this weekend.

To have a chance to go for the (VIR) hat trick is a fantastic opportunity,” Magnussen said. “It’s tough right now. In the championship, competition is really, really, really hard from Porsche and from Ford and BMW. If we can go there and get another win, that’d be absolutely fantastic.”

“Yeah, it’s a racetrack we definitely like,” Garcia added. “All three, Corvette, Jan and I. Everything seems to be working really good, especially over the last few years.”

While they haven’t won yet this year, the No. 3 team continues to shine – as it did in 2017 – through consistent strong finishes. Last year, they finished every race inside the top five and had three wins. This year, they’ve finished fourth or better in seven of eight races and have finished on the podium in the last five events.

That’s why they’re only four points out of the lead. It’s also why – while a third consecutive win at VIR would be nice – neither Garcia nor Magnussen are desperate to win.

“We need to do what we’re doing at the moment and get as many points as possible,” Magnussen says. “We need to be going for wins, for sure, but getting the points, that’s the most important thing. We’ll see. In the past, we’ve been good at VIR. We’ve been fast there every year, so hopefully we can go there with a shot of getting another win.”

Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia are the defending winners at VIR. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Garcia is looking forward to another run on the flowing, 3.27-mile circuit at VIR. It’s one of a handful of circuits on the WeatherTech Championship schedule that drivers consider among their favorites. It’s also the second and final race of the season featuring only the GTLM and GT Daytona (GTD) classes.

“It’s very fun,” Garcia said. “It’s very challenging and very, very old school. I mean there are no escape roads. There is definitely just the racetrack, the white line and a lot of grass everywhere. The grass won’t save you. Every single mistake you do there, there is punishment.

“VIR is a place where you really need to be attacking all the time, but also knowing the slightest mistake can cost you a lot.”

That’s certainly how it played out last year. While Garcia and Magnussen were en route to winning the race, a late-race incident between Mueller in the No. 66 Ford and Tommy Milner in the No. 4 Corvette dropped the No. 66 team from third to fifth in the final race standings, costing the team much needed championship points in the process.

You can bet that championship points will be top of mind this weekend. That’s why the No. 3 team is looking forward to returning to VIR this weekend.

“Definitely over the last few years, it’s been helping us; especially last year being able to win the race,” Garcia said. “It really put is in a really good spot towards winning the overall championship at the end of the season. I hope this year it’s the same and it is a good race.”

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).