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2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship preview: Prototype

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IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Heading into the Motul Petit Le Mans – the season finale for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – this is the second in a series in which the primary championship contenders in each of the three classes are compared.

Wednesday, we previewed the GTLM class. Today is the Prototype class. Friday, we will look at the GTD class and Saturday we’ll have an all-encompassing look at next week’s overall event.

Here’s how the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) vs. LMP2 battle shapes up for the Prototype championship:

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing

Cadillac DPi-V.R

Eric Curran/Felipe Nasr

Engine: 5.5-liter normally aspirated V8

Points: 254 – 1st

2018 Victories: 1

2018 Podiums: 5

How The No. 31 Can Clinch the Title: The No. 31 team will eliminate all others except for the No. 54 CORE autosport team of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett by starting the race. It can clinch the title outright with a finish of second or better. It would be the team’s second WeatherTech Championship Prototype title in three years.

2018 Performance: The No. 31 team has five podiums and six top-five finishes from the season’s nine races, which are equal to the No. 54 team’s stats. The difference in the championship can be traced to Rounds 3 through 5 where Curran and Nasr took results of seventh at Long Beach, eighth at Mid-Ohio and a win at Detroit, which moved them into a tie for the points lead. They’ve either led or been within one point of the lead since then.

Noteworthy: Action Express Racing, the team that fields both the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac DPi and the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi, won the first three consecutive WeatherTech Championship Prototype titles. If it wins this year, it would be the team’s fourth in five seasons. Action Express also has won every Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup to date with the No. 5 team and leads this year’s standings with the No. 31.

What They’re Saying:

ERIC CURRAN – ““We’d love to win the race, but first we’ve got to make sure we do what we have to do for the championship. That will come down to executing as a team and not putting ourselves at risk. You have to be there at the end, and Road Atlanta is not a very forgiving place. It is a real driver’s track with how much speed you carry into the corners, but it is also a really challenging race. It is 10 hours, and anything can happen in a race like Motul Petit Le Mans. If we can execute on everything, hopefully we will be in a position to take the IMSA championship and the Tequila Patrón Cup, which we’ve never done with the Whelen car. To go out with a win—what a way that would be to close out 2018!”

FELIPE NASR – “It’s the final race of the year already? How quickly the season goes by. I’m heading to the Motul Petit Le Mans fully prepared. We had the opportunity to test at the circuit a few weeks ago with Action Express and we were able to get ourselves ready for the final race. It’s a real fun track, fast, flowing corners, but also very tricky for clearing traffic. So, we have all the ingredients to make it an exciting 10-hour race. As a team, we are going to have Gabby Chaves onboard the 31 Whelen Cadillac who had previously driven at Watkins and together with Eric our goal remains the same. Expect to win. I know we have the best team behind us in the paddock when it comes to endurance racing, Petit is very demanding and for us drivers behind the wheel also physically challenging.”

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No. 54 CORE autosport

ORECA LMP2

Jon Bennett/Colin Braun

Engine: 4.2-liter normally aspirated V8

Points: 250 – 2nd

2018 Victories: 2

2018 Podiums: 5

How The No. 54 Can Clinch the Title: Among several other possibilities, the No. 54 team would take the championship with a Motul Petit Le Mans victory AND a result of third or worse by the No. 31 team. Any ties would go to the No. 54 team with its two victories compared to one by the No. 31 team.

2018 Performance: There has been no hotter team in the Prototype class over the second half of the season than the No. 54 squad. Braun and Bennett scored back-to-back wins at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America and comes into Motul Petit Le Mans riding a streak of five consecutive podium finishes. Braun also has two Motul Pole Awards – taking back-to-back poles at Watkins Glen and CTMP.

Noteworthy: This would be Braun and Bennett’s third WeatherTech Championship title and first in the Prototype class. They took back-to-back Prototype Challenge (PC) class championships in 2014 and 2015. Last year, they competed in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in a Porsche before stepping up to WeatherTech Championship Prototypes for the first time this season.

What They’re Saying:

JON BENNETT – “All of us at CORE autosport are excited and prepared to compete for the championship at the Motul Petit Le Mans. Competing at the highest level possible has been my personal lifetime goal, and I could not be prouder of my teammates at CORE autosport and Hugues de Chaunac’s talented group at ORECA. I look forward to joining my world class co-drivers Colin Braun and Romain Dumas as we continue to focus on perfecting the elements we can control.”

COLIN BRAUN – “Going into the weekend, it isn’t a big deal for us. We’ve been in quite a few championship battles over the years. For us, we keep our heads down and do what we’ve been doing all year and throughout the year and previous championship battles; constantly find ways to improve and get better. Whether we win or lose at Petit, we’re going in with the goal of trying to improve. We had a nice test at Road Atlanta and focused on things we’re trying to work on as a team and that’s all we can do is keep trying to get better. We haven’t raced a single race any different from the start of the year to when we started winning. We just got into a rhythm and that’s what happens when you work hard. For us, these championship battles are easy to deal with – we don’t have any manufacturer battle to worry about – we’ll just keep our heads down and have some fun.”

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Others in mathematical contention for the Prototype title:

* No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R (Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande)

* No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 (Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya)

* No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2 (Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson)

* No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R (Filipe Albuquerque)

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

VEACH OUT: Driver elects to vacate seat for rest of season

“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”