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IMSA ride culminates a difficult two weeks for Bourdais

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One of the most respected and well-decorated NTT IndyCar Series drivers, Sebastien Bourdais, wants to remain in INDYCAR, but instead will have to compete in a full-time IMSA beginning in 2020.

“I never wanted to leave INDYCAR,” Bourdais told NBC Sports.com late Friday night. “I have to find something to build on for 2020. The timing of things, there wasn’t anything left for me in INDYCAR in 2020. The opportunity for me to drive in IMSA, I will go to try to win races and try to win the championship.

“Hopefully, I will find something to return to IndyCar in 2021.

“I didn’t leave. I was terminated. But I want to return in 2021. I just have to find the right opportunity.”

Bourdais announced on Friday he was leaving Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan’s No. 18 Honda in IndyCar. Beginning next season, he will compete in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling RacinJDC-Miller MotorSports g Cadillac DPi-V. R in the 2020 and 2021 seasons of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.

Bourdais joins two-time series champion Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 entry in IMSA. He credits the team’s former driver and current consultant Christian Fittipaldi for helping him finalize the deal.

“Following two very difficult weeks filled with uncertainty regarding my future, I am thrilled to get the opportunity to race a prototype again, be reunited with Joao, Ken and Brenda, and drive for JDC-Miller MotorSports and Mustang Sampling Racing,” Bourdais said. “I want to thank Christian and everyone who made this possible. 2020 can’t come soon enough and I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of our Cadillac DPi-V.R.”

Bourdais returns to prototype competition after spending the past four seasons as a part of the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT program in addition to the last three seasons with Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan in IndyCar.

The former Peugeot Sport LMP1 driver brings a wealth of top-level prototype experience to JDC-Miller MotorSports and the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing entry.

It was perhaps the off-season’s most surprising announcement as the four-time Champ Car Series champion and 37-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner decided to leave IndyCar for IMSA.

Mustang-Sampling won the WeatherTech SportsCar Team and Driver Championships in 2015, the Michelin Endurance Cup in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2018.

“We are honored to have Mustang Sampling joining us and grateful for the confidence Brenda and Ken Thompson have placed in our team and organization,” said John Church, managing partner of JDC-Miller MotorSports. “Mustang Sampling Racing has achieved a tremendous amount in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. We look forward to carrying on the legacy of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing entry and hope to add more wins and championships in the near future.”

“We are thrilled to continue our Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac Prototype program with our new partner JDC-Miller MotorSports in 2020,” said Mustang Sampling president Ken Thompson. “Our first five years in IMSA with Action Express, Corvette, and Cadillac were great. Learning the sport and becoming a part of the IMSA family promoting sport car racing for all the great fans was fantastic and we are very thankful to all who guided us along the way. We had much success, enjoyed many wins and Championships during that time. Now with our partnership with JDC-Miller MotorSports we are confident this amazing run will continue and provide many future wins and Championships. Since joining the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship in 2014 JDC-Miller MotorSports has shown incredible growth and success in every category they have competed. We feel as a group we can be successful, both on and off the track, as we work together to develop new opportunities for Mustang Sampling and our Fans.”

Fittipaldi completed his final year as a racing driver and is looking forward to his new opportunity.

“I am extremely happy with what we have accomplished today,” Fittipaldi said. “A lot of effort from everyone involved has gone into putting this package together and I could not be happier with our driver line-up and what we have achieved. Most thanks to Mustang Sampling, Ken and Brenda for their trust and our new partner JDC-Miller MotorSports. I cannot wait for the season to start and to see the #5 Cadillac again at Daytona.”

The team also confirmed 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Loïc Duval will complete the line-up for the endurance rounds. Duval currently competes with Audi in the DTM and Formula E championship.

“First of all, I am obviously super happy to be able to return to Daytona with a great team, car and fast experienced co-drivers. I am very excited for the challenge and looking forward to my first laps in a Cadillac.” Duval said.

JDC-Miller further confirmed that it plans to continue running a two-car Cadillac DPi program in 2020.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

 

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

Follow @JerryBonkowski