2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship preview: GTLM

IMSA/Corvette Racing
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IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Heading into the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (Oct. 10-13) – the season finale for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – this is the first in a series in which the primary championship contenders in each of the three classes are compared.

Over the next four days, we’ll feature the GTLM class (today), Prototype (Thursday), GTD (Friday) and an all-encompassing look at next week’s overall event (Saturday). 

Today, we’ll take a look at the Chevrolet vs. Ford battle for the GT Le Mans (GTLM) championship:

No. 3 Corvette Racing

Chevrolet Corvette C7.R

Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen

Engine: 5.5-liter normally aspirated V8 (front engine)

Points: 299 – 1st

2018 Victories: 0

2018 Podiums: 8

How The No. 3 Can Clinch the Title: The No. 3 team will eliminate all others except for the No. 67 by starting the race. It can clinch the title outright with a fourth-place run or better. It would be the team’s second consecutive WeatherTech Championship GTLM title.

2018 Performance: The No. 3 team comes into Motul Petit Le Mans riding a streak of seven consecutive podium results and a total of eight podiums from 10 races this season. The team has finished fourth or better in all but one race this season.

Noteworthy: Since the start of the 2017 WeatherTech Championship, Magnussen and Garcia have finished inside the top five in 20 of 21 races. They missed the top five with an eighth-place showing in March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

What They’re Saying:

ANTONIO GARCIA – “There’s always pressure when you go to Road Atlanta, especially when you are fighting for a championship. We were in a perfect scenario last season where we only needed to start to clinch. It won’t be like that this year. I really like this track and the event itself. It’s very challenging. Hopefully we have a good chance to win the championship by scoring a good result. Road Atlanta has always been a good track for Corvette Racing, but it’s one race that I still haven’t won. So, I definitely want to fix that. Hopefully we can do that and win the championship, as well. It would be great for us to win our first race of the year to clinch the championship.”

JAN MAGNUSSEN – “Last year was an easy Petit Le Mans for us; we basically took the green flag and won the championship. This year for sure will be different. It’s a tough race because you race throughout the day and into the night. Road Atlanta is a very tough circuit; it’s bumpy, super-fast and very old school. If you make a mistake, you’ll hit something! There’s a lot of traffic and some new drivers because so many teams use three drivers. The important thing is that we know what we need to. No one controls luck, but if we do the best we can and run the plan that we set out to do, we will be in good shape.”

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No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing

Ford GT

Richard Westbrook/Ryan Briscoe

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged Ford EcoBoost V6 (mid-engine)

Points: 290 – 2nd

2018 Victories: 3

2018 Podiums: 4

How The No. 67 Can Clinch the Title: There are a several possibilities, but the most straightforward scenario is the No. 67 team would take the championship with a race win AND a result of fifth or worse by the No. 3 Corvette. The No. 67 holds the tiebreaker with three victories to none for the No. 3 team.

2018 Performance: Westbrook and Briscoe lead the GTLM class with three victories this season, in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America.

Noteworthy: The No. 67 team led the GTLM standings from the season opener at Daytona until the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, when they were overtaken by the No. 66 Ford GT team of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller. One Ford Chip Ganassi Racing car or the other led the championship until the No. 3 Corvette team took the lead for the first time following the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway in August.

What They’re Saying:

RICHARD WESTBROOK – “We had a test in Atlanta and hoped to see a preview of what the weather will be like in a few weeks during the race, but with fall now upon us, that is not always the case. It was a good chance to try some different stuff to last year and build on the good performance we had there last year. We are obviously going for the win after the disappointment of Laguna and will hopefully put some pressure on the (No.) 3 Corvette.”

RYAN BRISCOE – “I think obviously we’ve fallen a bit behind on the points, but we can still win it and we have one goal, to go out and win the race and see where the points fall at the end of it. It’s an important race to win no matter where you are in the championship, so you’re going to have everyone gunning for the win. It’s always an exciting race, one of my favorites.”

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Others in mathematical contention for the GTLM title:

* No. 66 Ford GT (Mueller, Hand); No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR (Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor)

* No. 4 Corvette C7.R (Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin); No. 25 BMW M8 GTE (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi); No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR (Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet).

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.”