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

Photo courtesy IMSA
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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.

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.”