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IMSA: Historic 50th season kicks off this weekend with Roar Before the Rolex 24

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IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – IMSA’s 50th Anniversary begins Friday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona which features three days of action.

The unofficial start to what promises to be an unforgettable season of full fields and unprecedented manufacturer involvement got going with the annual IMSA Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.

Series regulars and special guest stars for the Rolex 24 turned out in force to participate in photo shoots and interview sessions throughout the day with media from the United States and around the world, including IMSA’s new broadcast partner – NBC.

The feeling of anticipation was palpable among the many IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi), LMP2, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) making the media rounds.

“You see great names coming already for this race,” said Helio Castroneves, who is returning for his second full season of WeatherTech Championship competition as co-driver of the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi with 2017 Prototype co-champion Ricky Taylor. “It sounds like we’re going to have a lot of cars with DPi, but also in GTD and GTLM. You have factories, there are so many in the series. When you have that kind of scenario, it shows that everybody is interested. I see no reason for it going down. It’s actually just going to continue going up.”

“It’s just amazing,” said Dirk Mueller, 2017 Rolex 24 GTLM winner and co-driver of the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT with Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais. “I don’t know how long we’ve been saying, ‘It’s the best championship, it’s the best championship, it’s the best championship.’ It is the best championship, that’s for sure. It keeps on getting better and better.

“All the ingredients are in here: fantastic cars, really, really good teams, good manufacturers, good drivers and it keeps getting better. It makes me somewhat proud to be part of it. It’s like a huge community and people outside it, they’re getting jealous.”

The green flag falls on the first WeatherTech Championship practice session of the season Friday at 11 a.m. ET. The weekend also features an IMSA Prototype Challenge race Saturday beginning at 12:15 p.m. The three-hour race can be seen on IMSA.TV and heard on IMSARadio.com. Ticket holders for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are admitted free while tickets are available for the event at daytonainternatonalspeedway.com.

50th Anniversary Celebration Begins:
While there have been plenty of glimpses of what is in store for IMSA’s 50th Anniversary in 2019, the official start to the celebration begins this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24.

The celebration will last throughout the season in each championship. The four cornerstones of the golden anniversary include Drivers & Teams, Tracks, Manufacturers and Fans. During the year there will be many opportunities for fans to reive their IMSA memories to see historical cars and meet drivers from the past. Many teams and manufacturers have already announced plans to run historical liveries during the year.

IMSA released a commemorative book in August entitled “IMSA: Celebrating 50 Years.” The 216-page book is available for purchase and contains the stories of the drivers, cars, teams, manufacturers, events and executives that make up the storied history of IMSA.

The book tells the story of its formation between John and Peggy Bishop and Bill France, Sr., to the first race at Pocono in 1969, to its current standing as a highly regarded sanctioning body that will lead seven motorsport platforms in 2019, including its flagship – the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

IMSA also will be the featured marque at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in August.

New for 2019:

Michelin begins its status as the “Official Tire Supplier” of IMSA this weekend as well as officially beginning its entitlement of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup which begins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

IMSA also starts its six-year partnership with the NBC Sports Group in January to televise the WeatherTech Championship, which will feature an 80 percent increase of network coverage in 2019. A majority of programming (45 hours) will be broadcast on NBCSN and all races will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.

Defending Champions Have New Looks:
Two of the three championship teams from the WeatherTech Championship will have new looks in 2019.

The Prototype class champion from 2018 – the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac DPi-V.R., driven by Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran will have a new addition as Pipo Derani joins the team as a full-time driver in the team’s now Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, with Curran joining the team for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds.

The GT Daytona (GTD) class champion of the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini will have Ryan Hardwick joining champion Bryan Sellers. Hardwick enters the car as the World Final Champion in the AM class in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America in 2018.

The only champions without a change are the pair of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing machine. The duo won the title without winning a race in 2018.

Stars In Cars:
Once again, the Rolex 24 At Daytona will feature some of the biggest names in motorsports.

Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso made his Rolex 24 debut last year and is back in 2019 as part of the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi alongside regulars Jordan Taylor and Renger van de Zande. They will also be joined by Kamui Kobayashi, Alonso’s teammate in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Alex Zanardi, the two-timeCART champion and former Formula 1 driver, makes his debut at Daytona in the Roar and the Rolex. Zanardi, driving for BMW, uses a specially-modified steering wheel and hand controls to drive after losing his legs in a Champ Car crash back in 2001. Since then, he has also become a multi-gold medalist in the Paralympics.

Racing at The Roar:
After its successful debut with a race at the 2018 Roar, there once again will be an IMSA Prototype Challenge race over the weekend.

The season-opener on Saturday, Jan. 5 will be the first three-hour race for the series, which shifts to a single-class LMP3 format in 2019 as well. It will start at 12:15 p.m. EST. The race can be seen on IMSA.tv and can be heard on IMSARadio.com and RadioLeMans.com.

Roman De Angelis won the race in 2018 driving for ANSA Motorsports.

Adam Cianciarulo wins 250 championship, Eli Tomac wins Ironman 450s

Vanessa O'Brien. KawasakiUSA
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Not content with the championship, Eli Tomac ended the season in style with his sixth overall victory of the season at Ironman Raceway in the season finale.

Finishing third in the first race behind the two riders who were his principal rivals for most of 2019, Tomac did what he has done for most of the season and finished better in his second moto. In fact, he scored his 11th moto victory in that race.

“It was a fun day,” Tomac said on NBC Sports Gold after Moto 2. “The mindset was there to attack. The first lap there (in Moto 2) was chaos with the crash with Marvin (Musquin). After that, Ken (Roczen) got by me right away. He was so good on the first couple of laps. I rode behind him for the majority of the race and was able to get by. What a year.”

The first moto may have been one of the best fans have seen all year.

Roczen grabbed the early lead, but Tomac kept him in sight. The other member of 2019’s Big 3, Musquin lurked in third and none of them were able bot get away from the other. In the closing laps, Musquin surged from third to the lead. At the checkers Musquin held a .707 second lead over Roczen with Tomac less than three seconds back in third.

Neither Musquin nor Roczen could keep their momentum, however. Musquin crashed in the opening lap of Moto 2 and was carted off the track. Roczen had the lead of the second race before giving it up to Tomac after the halfway point – and has often been the case this season, he faded in the closing laps to finish third.

Roczen’s 2-3 was enough for second overall.

Zach Osborne (5-2) rode to a top five finish in the first moto, but it was his performance in the second that gave him his sixth overall podium finish of the season.

In what is probably his last ride with the Monster Energy Kawasaki team, Joey Savatgy (4-6) finished fourth overall.

Justin Barcia (7-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

In the 250 class, Adam Cianciarulo wrapped up the championship with one moto remaining.

Dylan Ferrandis needed to win in order to keep the pressure on Cianciarulo and he certainly did his part. Ferrandis took the lead from Kyle Peters on Lap 2, but it would not be that simple. Teammate Justin Cooper would not make it easy on Ferrandis when he grabbed the top spot on Lap 5. Ferrandis paced himself and regained the lead on Lap 12. With that pass, he was going to extend the championship battle into Moto 2 unless Cianciarulo could respond. Cianciarulo ran in third about five seconds back.

Ferrandis held on for his eighth moto win of the season.

“My goal today was to finish on a high note,” Ferrandis said on NBC Sport Gold after the first race. “So, I won a moto. I did the hard part of the job. AC was on it again today. He completely deserves this title. I was bad this year and lost points to him. I made a lot of mistakes this year, but I learned a lot also.”

When Ferrandis passed Cooper for the lead, it lit a fire under the championship leader. Cianciarulo caught Cooper in two laps to minimize the effect of Ferrandis’ win. Entering Moto 2 with a 27-point lead, he did not even need to start the race to claim the championship.

“Those guys were going really fast at the beginning,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s kind of hard. I felt like I had some pace, but I didn’t want to get in between them because that’s when things get hectic. So I thought I would let it play out as it was going to. I was cheering on Justin the whole moto. I was like ‘Come on man! Good lead, you’re doing good.’ Then I saw Dylan make a charge. I don’t know what happened to Justin, but then I knew I had to get him.

“I really did not want to sit in the rig for 45 minutes between (motos) and stress about it the whole time.”

All that was left was to see if Cianciarulo could round out the season with a perfect record of podium finishes.

Moto 2 was dominated by the same riders who ran well in the first race. After struggling with starts all year, Ferrandis earned the hole shot and rode to an easy win over Cooper getting his fourth overall win in the process. All four wins have come in the last six weeks.

With this moto win, Ferrandis bettered Cianciarulo in that statistic with nine to seven. This was Ferrandis’ best year in America with his Supercross championship and a second in the outdoor series.

Cooper’s second-place finish combined with his third in Moto 1 to give him second overall.

The answer to the question of whether Cianciarulo could sweep the podium was “yes.” Finishing fourth in the second race, he was third overall

Chase Sexton was able to snag the last podium spot of Moto 2 for his first such finish since Round 3. With a 4-3 he finished fourth overall.

Michael Mosiman (5-5) rounded out the top five.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[11] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II, Ironman I)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[4] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II, Ironman I)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[9] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II, Ironman I & II)
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

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