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Meyer Shank Racing names pair of 2019 IMSA champions to driver lineup in 2020

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Matt McMurry, who won the LMP2 championship in IMSA in 2019, will join Meyer Shank Racing’s GTP championship squad in 2020. There were only two full-season entries in LMP2 this past season, but McMurry gives team owners Mike Shank and Jim Meyer two reigning championship drivers in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 EVO for the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

McMurray joins championship driver Mario Farnbacher in that car. Farnbacher and Trent Hindman won the GTD championship this past season.

“I’m really happy with the lineup that we have in the 86 Acura for next year and am looking forward to building on what we accomplished this season,” team owner Shank said. “Mario has done a stellar job and he has been a big asset to this team and getting the championship. Having Matthew come back onboard is also very exciting. He’s had plenty of seat time in the NSX over in Europe this year and he should be able to find his feet quickly over here.

“As always it’s an honor to continue our work with Acura Motorsports and HPD. It’s going on four years now and they have been great to work with and we hope that we can continue to deliver results for them next year.”

Farnbacher returns to defend his GTD title, the team’s first Sports Car championship after it began IMSA Sports Car racing in 2004.

Farnbacher will rejoin the Ohio-based team for the third straight season. Farnbacher’s first year at MSR (2018) saw him take on endurance duties in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3. The German ace was also recruited to make two starts in the team’s sister No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 at Detroit and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca which saw him, and Katherine Legge respectively take a victory and third place finish.

Farnbacher’s role expanded in 2019 with a full season drive alongside Trent Hindman. The pair won the Sahlen’s Six Hours of Watkins Glen and claimed four additional podium finishes on the way to clinching the IMSA GTD Team and Driver Championships at the season finale Motul Petit Le Mans. The Championship was the first full season professional championship victory for Meyer Shank Racing and Farnbacher.

“I’m excited to be back with the Meyer Shank Racing guys next year,” Farnbacher said. “We had a great 2019 season and we will head into 2020 with the same goal. I’m looking forward to working with Matthew, I know he drove the Acura NSX GT3 EVO in Europe in the Blancpain Endurance series, so he has experience with the car. I have raced against him and know him from the paddock and I’m looking forward to getting to work with him. As always with a new driver pairing, we will have to get to know each other a little bit better since we have never driven together but hopefully, we can do that during some testing which will start soon.”

McMurry is the newcomer and even though he only had to beat one other car to win the LMP2 championship, a title is a title and he won that title.

McMurry was the youngest driver to start and finish the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans at just 16 years old, McMurry had two Prototype starts with MSR in 2015 at Daytona and the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

McMurry’s talent expands across the sports car racing field, competing in everything from Prototypes, to Prototype Challenge machines, to GT cars. The 2019 season saw McMurry claim six wins in IMSA LPM2 competition on the way to winning the LMP2 championship. In addition to competing stateside, McMurry drove an Acura NSX GT3 EVO in the European Blancpain Endurance series in 2019 with race outings at Circuit de Barcelona, 24 Hours of Spa, Circuit Paul Ricard, Silverstone and Monza.

McMurry’s work with HPD extends beyond the competition on track, having just completed a successful 10-week engineering internship with HPD.

“It’s an honor to be selected to join the Meyer Shank Racing team again,” McMurry said. “I can’t imagine a better place to be for the 2020 IMSA season than in an Acura NSX GT3 EVO at MSR. It’s a perfect fit coming from a great run in the NSX in the Blancpain Endurance Championship, a successful internship at Honda Performance Development, and an IMSA LMP2 championship. I’m excited to be driving with Mario this year too, he’s a great guy and I think we’ll make a good team. It’s not often you get two IMSA champions in one car! The Roar Before the 24 is quickly approaching and I couldn’t be more excited.”

The 2020 IMSA season will be the fourth consecutive season of IMSA competition for MSR and Acura Motorsports. Having transitioned from the Prototype class in 2017, MSR has fostered the progress of the Acura NSX GT3 to earn five wins, five pole positions,12 podium finishes and two championship titles with Acura, Acura Motorsports and HPD.

Meyer Shank Racing continues to finalize plans for the 2020 season for the team’s IMSA and IndyCar Series programs and will have additional updates in the coming weeks.

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500