Photo courtesy IMSA

IMSA: Motul Petit Le Mans – GTLM Pre-Event Notebook

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IMSA Wire Service

It all comes down to this Saturday at Road Atlanta.

Titles will be on the line for both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup in the 21st Motul Petit Le Mans. The 10-hour race takes the green flag shortly after 11 a.m. ET on Saturday. 

And as the season finale weekend approaches, there are storylines aplenty in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class:

* Corvette Racing heads into Motul Petit Le Mans looking for its third consecutive GTLM title. Two years ago, it was the No. 4 Corvette C7.R shared by Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin that took the crown. Last year, it was Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette. Magnussen and Garcia come into the weekend with a nine-point lead in the GTLM standings and will clinch the title outright with a run of fourth or better.

“Another championship run for Corvette Racing comes down to Road Atlanta,” said Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan. “Petit Le Mans has earned its stature as one of endurance racing’s prime events over the last 20 years. The track, the fans, the atmosphere and level of competition make it a can’t-miss race.”

Marcel Fassler joins the driver lineup for both the No. 3 and No. 4 team this weekend.

* Barring unforeseen circumstances, the No. 67 Ford GT pairing of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe are the only drivers who could take the title away from Magnussen and Garcia. They’ve got three victories on the season and need another strong performance – as well as some bad luck for the No. 3 team – to win the championship for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I don’t think anyone at Ford CGR is giving up the fight quite yet,” said Ford Performance Motorsports Global Director Mark Rushbrook. “It’s been quite a season for the Ford GT and the team and all of our partners, and we’re looking forward to seeing the conclusion.

* The other Ford Chip Ganassi Racing entry, the No. 66 Ford GT with drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, is in the catbird seat for the Patrón Endurance Cup, holding a four-point lead, 33-29, over the No. 911 Porsche duo of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet. There will be three Patrón Endurance Cup scoring intervals at Motul Petit Le Mans, at the four-hour and eight-hour marks, as well as the finish.

The No. 67 team also is a top Patrón Endurance Cup contender currently sitting third in the standings, just one behind the No. 911. Bolstering the team’s chances in the endurance race are IndyCar stars Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon. Bourdais is reunited with Hand and Mueller in the No. 66, while Dixon – who just picked up his fifth IndyCar Series championship last month – joins Briscoe and Westbrook in the No. 67.

* The pair of Porsche GT Team entries will be sporting special, “throwback” liveries on both cars at Motul Petit Le Mans. The liveries on both cars recall the Mobil 1 scheme used by Porsche in the first Motul Petit Le Mans in 1998, with blue, red and orange stripes over a white base and gold wheels.

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR shared by Tandy, Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki will have a white windshield banner and rear wing with orange spots on the nose. The No. 912 co-driven by Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet will have a black windshield banner and rear wing, as well as yellow spots on the nose.

* BMW Team RLL comes into Motul Petit Le Mans riding a two-race winning streak with its No. 25 BMW M8 GTE. Two races ago, in August’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, No. 25 co-drivers Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi delivered the first victory anywhere in the world for the new-for-2018 race car, while teammates John Edwards and Jesse Krohn finished third.

Last month, Sims and De Phillippi went back-to-back, taking the America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. This weekend, Bill Auberlen rejoins the driver lineup for the No. 25 team – which also won the 2017 Motul Petit Le Mans with then-co-driver Kuno Wittmer – with Chaz Mostert set to co-drive the No. 24 alongside Edwards and Krohn.

* Risi Competizione returns to WeatherTech Championship competition for the first time since March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Set to share the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE are co-drivers Toni Vilander, Miguel Molina and Andrew Bertolini.

“It’s nice to be back with Risi Competizione,” said two-time Motul Petit Le Mans Winner, Vilander, who last won the event with Risi back in 2016. “I’m not sure what to expect, as we’ve been out of racing for much of the season, but this is a professional team, so they will be ready. We will try hard to be competitive and fight for a good result.”

Live television coverage of Motul Petit Le Mans begins Saturday, Oct. 13 at 10:30 a.m. ET on FS1, with continuing coverage on FS2 from 12 p.m. ET through the checkered flag. FSGO also will offer a complete broadcast with FS1 authentication.

Live IMSA Radio coverage also will be available on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 119/XM 202/App 972). Tickets are available now at RoadAtlanta.com.

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!