Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe recall first Bathurst 1000 experience

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While NTT IndyCar Series team owner Roger Penske was able to celebrate his first victory in the famed Bathurst 1000, two of the star drivers of the series also competed in the race for Walkinshaw Andretti United.

Alexander Rossi, the 100th Indianapolis 500 winner in 2016 and a perennial contender for the IndyCar championship, and James Hinchcliffe shared a Holden Commodore in the famed endurance contest at Mount Panorama in New South Wales, Australia.

They finished 19th after starting on the last row of the 26-car grid. At one point in the race, they were running in the mid-teens before finishing just inside the top 20.

“I came here with a huge amount of respect for this place and this Series, and I’m for sure leaving with no less,” Rossi said afterward. “We knew this would be a big challenge. We didn’t come into this with an arrogance that it would be easy. By the same token, we didn’t really come here to finish 19th, either, so we are a bit bummed about that.

“Nonetheless, we finished, and we finished ahead of where we started so that’s a positive. I think that’s all we can ask for considering where we started the weekend.”

Rossi admitted it took time to get comfortable with the car, but once he was able to familiarize himself with the Commodore, they made consistent improvement in every session.

The gap between the “Wild Card” entry and the front had to do with overall familiarity with the cars, according to Rossi.

Hinchcliffe is a popular driver from Oakville, Ontario, and became a popular driver in the paddock in his first Bathurst 1000 with his friendly personality and unique wit.

He also proved to be a driver who learned in one weekend how to work with the 650-horsepower Holden Commodore.

“First ‘1000’ in the books – it was quite an experience all around,” Hinchcliffe said. “We had an OK start, but the first stint was honestly a real handful. The track conditions were quite a bit different than what we had pretty much all through practice with it being really cold and overcast and/or wet. So with the track heating up, the balance wasn’t quite there. I was working a lot with the tools in the car, so struggled a little bit in that first stint to get things on the right track.

“Alex jumped in after that, and we started to make some progress on the balance. Track grip started to come up with the rubber going down and he had a couple really good stints. I jumped back in and had a couple good stints. But one of the big challenges at that point, though, is once you’re a lap down, with the blue-flag rules here, you lose so much lap time just trying to let the leaders go by. It’s an unfortunate reality, but if you don’t want to do it, don’t go a lap down.”

Even with as much experience in racing as Hinchcliffe and Rossi possess, it’s a sport where a driver always learns something new. This past weekend in New South Wales, Australia, was one of those times.

“Oh, for sure,” Hinchcliffe said. “I think every lap you do at this place puts you in a better position than the lap before. Over the race distance, you have a lot of things that you experience that are going to be valuable to know next time you find yourself in that position. For sure, there are lessons I wish I could tell my four-day younger self, but that’s the name of the game. You’ve got to go out there and pay your dues.

“We tried to run our race and make as few mistakes as possible. We made a couple little ones, I think that’s to be expected. A lot of more experienced guys made even bigger mistakes than we did, so I think there’s a lot to be proud of from the whole team.”

A main goal was to be running at the finish, and the team was able to accomplish that. With that goal accomplished, Hinchcliffe wants do to more.

“I’m dying to come do it again,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was a ton of fun. These cars are so, so unique, but they are a blast to drive when you get it right. It feels so good when you get a strong lap here. Obviously, we still have a couple of seconds to find, so I can only imagine what that feels like. But hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to do it again one day.”

Although Hinchcliffe is eager to return, Rossi has to think about whether he wants to return to Bathurst one day.

“I don’t know yet,” Rossi said. “You may have to ask me that again later, I’m still digesting the weekend. I think the whole Walkinshaw Andretti United team did a really good job of helping James and I. We felt really comfortable in the car at the end, but ultimately we’re missing something in terms of pace and performance.

“I think the overall confidence of the car was at the limit. Just sliding around. The high-speed corners I felt really comfortable. So, I think the biggest thing is just understanding the car at its limit. If I was starting all over again tomorrow, that would have made it a much easier proposition.

“Nonetheless, I think we learned a lot.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

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Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.