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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.

IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.