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IndyCar notables come out in force for IMSA’s Motul Petit Le Mans

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Since the merger of the NASCAR Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series created the Weathertech Sports Car Championship in 2014, the Motul Petit Le Mans has closed out the year. As the combined series heads into its fifth season, it will once again wind down at the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta.

There are a few races that always attract drivers from a wide array of disciplines. The Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta is one of these. The green flag will wave over the 10-hour race shortly after 11 am ET this Saturday with several IndyCar and other notable drivers behind the wheel.

Here is a look at how they have performed in previous editions:

• Sebastien Bourdais is the only notable with a victory during the past four Petit Le Mans races. Driving a Daytona Prototype in 2015, he was part of the winning combination in class. The overall victory that year was scored by a GTLM fielded by Porsche North America. Second overall went to the GTLM BMW Team, with Bourdais and his team finishing third overall. Last year, he finished seventh in the GTLM class, which is where he will compete again in 2018.

• Scott Dixon finished second in class in 2015 in Chip Ganassi’s No. 01 Prototype, giving him a fourth-place finish overall. In 2014, the same team finished third overall and in class. In 2018, Dixon will be racing in the GTLM class where he finished with a best of eighth (14th overall) last year.

• Simon Pagenaud has made appearances in the last two Petit Le Mans, scoring a pair of top-fives in the process. He finished fourth in a Prototype in 2016 and improved to third last year. In 2018, he will once again climb behind the wheel of a Prototype.

“I really enjoy being part of this race,” Pagenaud told IndyCar.com. “The long races is a great way to keep my eyes open and keep an open mind as well on driving style and other ways to race. I enjoy it. It great to be here and race with some old friends.

“The goal at Team Penske is always to win races, but personally my goal is a little different. It’s just about making no mistakes, being fast and being consistent. I don’t need to set the world on fire because it’s a long race. The goal is more to look long term than short-run speed.”

• Gabby Chaves has made only one previous start at Road Atlanta in the Weathertech Series. He finished fourth in 2014 in a Prototype, which he will wheel again in 2018.

• Ryan Hunter-Reay is set to make his third appearance in a Prototype this year and hopes that it will go better than his two previous attempts. In 2016 and 2017, he was part of a team that failed to finish either time. His best overall performance in this class was only 35th in 2016. His best overall appearance in any class came in 2014 with a third-place GTLM result that was good enough for 11th overall.

• NBC analyst Townsend Bell will get some seat time this week in the GTD class. He has run that class three times previously with a best of fourth in class and 20th overall in 2015.

• Spencer Pigot will make his second appearance in a Prototype this week. His previous effort ended early with a 37th-place overall finish in 2016 out of 38 cars entered.

• Graham Rahal will make his first appearance in a Weathertech Petit Le Mans this week, but he has two fourth-place finishes in the Rolex 24 Hours since it went under the combined sanction umbrella in 2014.

“I have only done Petit maybe once before, but it’s always been a race I’ve wanted to compete in,” said Rahal, who rejoins Castroneves and Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske for the first time since the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, told IndyCar.com. “To do these three races with Acura Team Penske this year has been awesome and I’m excited for the weekend. For it to be the last race of the year for not only me but everybody makes it an important one. Hopefully, we can go out and get a win. This is definitely a long race. It’s a test of endurance and man and machine. A lot of things can happen here, so we’ll go out and battle hard.”

For the 2019 season, the Weathertech Sports Car Championship will move to the NBC family of networks.

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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.