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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 to expand field sizes for 2020 Countdown playoffs

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Field sizes for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs could substantially increase for the upcoming 2020 season, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

The previous standard to qualify for the playoffs was the top 10 ranked drivers following the last regular season race before the Countdown begins, the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis. That standard remains in place.

Now, in light of Wednesday’s announcement, additional drivers in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car “Nitro” classes will be eligible for the six-race Countdown playoffs if they compete in all 18 regular season events and run a minimum of two qualifying sessions at each of those 18 events.

Given that most of the 18 NHRA regular season events have as many as four qualifying sessions, the new expanded field could potentially add several Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to the Countdown field. For example, if there are 16 full-time teams that compete in all 18 regular season races for the upcoming season, all 16 teams will likely qualify for the playoffs.

If those additional drivers meet the new standard, their point standings will also be reset after the U.S. Nationals, as has always been the case for the top 10 Countdown qualifiers.

Changes will also take place in Countdown qualifying for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which have smaller season schedules than their counterparts in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 13-race regular season, additional Pro Stock drivers who have competed in all 13 prior events as well as took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will be eligible for the Countdown.

Because it contests only an 18-race overall season schedule, Pro Stock’s portion of the Countdown is only five races, rather than six as in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, which has a 16-race overall season schedule, in addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 11-race regular season, riders who have competed in all 11 regular season events and took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will also be eligible for the Countdown.

As in Top Fuel and Funny Car, all Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers/riders that qualify for the Countdown after the U.S. Nationals will have their points reset.

Speaking of points being reset, the NHRA also announced that heading into the Countdown, Top Fuel and Funny Car will see first and second place be separated by 20 points, while each subsequent position will be separated by a 10-point differential.

In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, first and second place heading into the Countdown will be separated by 20 points, while second through fifth place will be separated by 10 points and all positions below fifth place will be separated by five points.

And has been the case in the past, all drivers/riders that reach the Auto Club Finals season-ending race will earn points-and-a-half for qualifying and each round run.

According to a NHRA media release, “NHRA officials made this change in order to better reward driver endurance and encourage participation in regular season events.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski