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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’s 50th Anniversary Celebration: Why Sebring is so special to Bobby Rahal

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Bobby Rahal has driven in some of the biggest races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 Hours and, of course, winning the Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1986 and in 2004 as a team owner.

But winning the 12 Hours of Sebring two years in a row (1987 and 1988), Rahal feels, is right up there in terms of his greatest accomplishments as a race car driver.

As IMSA celebrates its 50th anniversary, Rahal reflected on what racing at Sebring International Raceway has meant to him:

“To me, Sebring is the ultimate endurance race. Not as long as Daytona or Le Mans, but the demands put on a car and driver at Sebring are highly unusual.

“My father raced at Sebring in the late 60’s. To win that race two years in a row really meant something to me.

“While we’ve won a lot of other races, we’ve won just about everywhere, you name it. But for me personally, winning at Sebring those two years in a row was very special.”

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