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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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.