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Sebastien Bourdais out at Dale Coyne Racing, joins IMSA fulltime

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In perhaps the offseason’s most surprising announcement, four-time Champ Car Series champion 37-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner Sebastien Bourdais is out at Dale Coyne Racing at Vasser Sullivan.

“I can confirm that Sebastien is moving out,” team co-owner Jimmy Vasser told NBCSports.com Friday afternoon.

About one hour later came the official announcement. A few hours after that came official word that Bourdais will leave the NTT IndyCar Series entirely to join the Mustang Sampling, LLC to field the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the 2020 and 2021 seasons of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The full-season driver lineup includes two-time series champion Joao Barbosa and Bourdais, set in JDC-Miller’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing entry.

“I want to thank Sebastien for having the confidence to come back from his Formula One tour and join our team in 2011, and again for his commitment to the team during the past three years,” team owner Dale Coyne said in a statement. “It is not a decision we take lightly, but due to the ever-changing landscape of Indy car racing, we have no choice but to make a change for 2020. We wish Sebastien all the best with his future racing endeavors.”

Bourdais had two stints with Coyne’s NTT IndyCar Series team including 2011 when it was Dale Coyne Racing and again in 2017 when Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan joined as partners.

“I want to thank Dale, Jimmy and Sulli for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in the NTT IndyCar Series over the past few years,” Bourdais, said. “I look forward to pursuing new opportunities in racing in the years ahead.”

While with the team, Bourdais won back to back races at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his hometown event, and scored three other podium finishes.  He returned from a horrific crash in qualifying for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 to win his second season opener at St. Petersburg in 2018. Bourdais has often been one of the quickest Hondas in Indianapolis 500 qualifying in each of the past three years.

Vasser and Sullivan issued a joint statement that said, “We both want to thank Sebastien for the outstanding job he did driving for our teams KVSH Racing and Dale Coyne Racing Vasser-Sullivan. Looking back Seb has driven 84 races for us. In that time, we captured poles and won a lot of races. Sebastien is a great friend, a great driver, a true champion and a fantastic ambassador for our partners and Indy car racing. We wish him the best of luck in the next phase of his career where we hope there will be an opportunity for us to race together again.”

The team is exploring several options in order to complete its driver lineup for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, and an announcement will be made in the near future

There are three talented drivers currently without a ride in the series including popular veteran James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly and Spencer Pigot. Hinchcliffe is believed to have the inside line on this ride because of his strong connections with Honda.

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.”

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