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IMSA podium

IMSA podiumAll four Drivers' championships are up for grabs during Saturday's season finale for IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Road Atlanta. The 10-hour Petit Le Mans closer will decide the Prototype, PC, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona titles, and with a mountain of other championships to settle – Manufacturers', Teams' and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup – the hardware will be overflowing in Georgia.

Thanks to IMSA's restrictive points payout system, many of Saturday night's outcomes could prove to be academic. In basic terms, for any class or championship race this weekend where the leader holds a decent advantage over the second-place contestant, it would take a big swing in fortunes for those leaders to lose.

Take the recent Prototype outcome at Circuit of The Americas, for example. Wayne Taylor Racing's Ricky and Jordan Taylor started from pole, led the most laps and won the race in dominating fashion. Entering COTA, championship leaders Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi held 253 points for Action Express Racing, the sister AXR duo of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran were second with 252, and the WTR boys were third with 242, 11 points back from Barbosa and Fittipaldi.

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With the Taylors capturing everything possible on the road to their COTA win, Cameron/Curran coming home second and Barbosa/Fittipaldi taking third, the Taylors head into Petit Le Mans ... third in points. Granted, their championship deficit has been cut from 11 points to seven, but it illustrates how little a single race win can influence the championship when the other title contenders are close.

IMSA offers no incentive for pole, leading a lap or leading the most laps, and as a result, a Taylor-style smackdown starting in qualifying won't do much to move the needle in Road Atlanta. Considering the lack of value attached to pole/fastest lap/leading the most laps, all four championships will come down to what happens in the race.

Looking at what's available on Saturday, a maximum of 36 points can be earned in each class. IMSA's practice is to award one "starting" point for each driver who achieves the minimum drive time requirement (and is nominated to earn championship points). It then adds 35 "finishing" points to win, 32 for a second, 30 for third, 28 for fourth, 26 for fifth, and decreases in increments of one (25 for sixth, 24 for seventh, etc.) for the remaining positions.

There are a number of situations that could fiddle with the final standings; a crash by a PC or GTD contender that requires lengthy repairs could mean one or more drivers falls shy of the minimum drive time and would fail to score finishing points, for example, and rather than explore every batty outcome, we'll focus on the most likely situations with the Drivers' titles assuming starting and finishing points are earned.

BarbosaIn Prototype, it's looking like Action Express Racing will score its third consecutive championship, but we won't know whether to congratulate Cameron and Curran in the No. 31 Corvette DP on their first title or Barbosa and Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Corvette DP on their third. The tiny 285-284 lead held by the No. 31 drivers makes Prototype the only class that's truly up for grabs. And with the Taylors' No. 10 WTR Corvette DP in third at 278 points, there is also a third possibility to consider.

For the No. 31 to win, they'll need to finish ahead of the No. 5, and in the most obvious statement of the year, the No. 5 will need to finish ahead of the No. 31 to win. That part is simple.

For the No. 10 to take the title, a win is clearly a must, and the No. 31 would need to finish fifth or lower in a class with only nine cars. A similar separation at the finish would be needed if the No. 10 wins and the No. 5 finishes ahead of the No. 31. There are a bunch of funky alternatives where ties could happen and one of the three could win on a countback of some sorts, and those will surely be explained during the broadcast if the race ventures down that path.

Returning to the more realistic possibilities, in every scenario, and owing to the tank-ish nature of the Corvette DPs used by all three, AXR would have to record a dual collapse for WTR to celebrate a championship, and IMSA fans will have 10 hours to follow whatever drama may ensue.

starworksThe PC standings favor the COTA-winning No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry driven by Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow. 10 points clear of the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports car driven by Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon (329-319), van der Zande and Popow have some breathing room, but not enough to lose focus during 10 hours of hardcore racing.

With seven entries listed for PC, the No. 52 would need to win and have the No. 8 finish seventh – last in class – to come away with a one-point championship victory. Finishing second won't get the job done for PR1/Mathiasen.

The combination of endurance racing and PCs have produced a lot of broken componentry and damaged barriers since the WeatherTech Championship was formed, and while the Starworks drivers would need to have the cartoon anvil drop – and drop hard – early in the race, this is the one class where history suggests it could happen.

Determining the GTLM championship was also made easier at COTA when the second-place No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT suffered steering damage while battling with its title rivals at Corvette Racing. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner have 11 points in hand with the No. 4 Corvette C7.R over the No. 67 shared by Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook (314-303), and in a class where 10 cars are entered at Petit Le Mans, the Blue Oval representatives would need to win and have the Corvette drivers trail home in eighth or lower.

The No. 67 drivers could finish second and have the No. 4 place 10th (and last) to create a tie, but the tiebreaker would be decided by wins and the No. 4 has four to the No. 67's three – advantage Bowtie.

nielsenIt's sheer coincidence, but IMSA's WeatherTech Championship leads widen from the top down. Prototype (one point), PC (10 points), and GTLM (11 points) looks like razor-thin contests compared to GTD (32 points), where something Biblical would be required to keep Scuderia Corsa's Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen from becoming champions.

The drivers of the No. 63 Ferrari 488 have a staggering lead over Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper, and the massive margin came courtesy of a shredded accessory belt at COTA that left the Viper 13th at the finish line.

If the No. 63 drivers log the minimum drive time – three of the 10 hours at Petit Le Mans – Scuderia Corsa will take back-to-back GTD championships.

Altogether, it's a long race and Lord knows we're accustomed to seeing plenty of carnage and mechanical failures turn the event upside down, but if the PC, GTLM, and GTD points leaders can finish near the front, Petit Le Mans won't be filled with title surprises.

That Prototype championship, though ... it's going to be downright nasty.

Watch it unfold Saturday at the times and locations below:

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NYC ePrixTake a 3D drive around the 1.21-mile Formula E New York ePrix track at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. 

The July New York City ePrix double-header will be the first FIA-sanctioned open-wheel race to take place within the five boroughs of New York City in modern history. For more Formula E news, click here.

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2016IMSACOTA MarshallPruett 917 020Ford's raging success on its return to domestic and international sportscar competition in 2016 has resulted in the two-year GT program being extended for an additional two years through 2019 and, if the rumors are true, its factory program could be widened to include customer cars after the first contract is finished.

Competing in dual IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship programs has given the Blue Oval a pair of cars in IMSA's GT Le Mans class and the WEC's GTE-Pro category, and the brand has maintained it would focus solely on a factory effort during the 2016-2017 span.

Combined, the four-car assault dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June with a victory and third-place finish on the 50th anniversary of its La Sarthe debut, and it's believed that win was responsible for triggering a clause that added two more years to the project.

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Ford confirmed the extension shortly after Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand, and Dirk Muller won Le Mans in the No. 68 GT, and with rumors continuing to circulate regarding works-affiliated customer cars being made available to run alongside its factory programs in 2018, Ford product development EVP and CTO Raj Nair indicated it was a possibility.

"We have confirmed four years of the factory program," Nair told RACER. "We are pretty focused on just getting ready for next year. I think that will be just something we will evaluate but nothing for next year for sure."

It has also been suggested Ford could use its P2-derived 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine and commission custom bodywork for a Daytona Prototype international program at some point in the future. Nair acknowledged conversations on the topic have been held, but he says no action has been taken.

"We are always talking to IMSA about a [DPi] structure that would interest us, but right now we are focused on the GT program," he added.

2016IMSACOTA MarshallPruett 915 475The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT effort went into the penultimate round at Circuit of The Americas with a solid shot of winning the GTLM championship, yet departed Texas with a dent in its title aspirations after contact sidelined the No. 67 GT driven by Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook.

Holding a distant second in points, Ford and its No. 67 entry head to Road Atlanta for the 10-hour Petit Le Mans finale as longshots in the Drivers' and Manufacturers' championship, but Nair isn't discouraged by the recent change of fortune.

"I think if you had told us at the beginning of the year we would be coming into Road Atlanta with a Le Mans win under our belt and a shot at winning the championship, I think we would be extremely pleased," he said. "But obviously coming off the race [at COTA] we thought we had a good shot, had a car with some good speed, and just some bad racing luck. We're going to work hard and there's still a slim shot at Road Atlanta but we are going to do our best."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner feels the criticism aimed at Max Verstappen this season has been "99 percent" unjustified.

Verstappen has found himself in the firing line on occasion this season for his aggressive driving, particularly when defending positions in battle. Even FIA race director Charlie Whiting suggested Verstappen risked getting "a bad name" unless he tempered his ways, having met with the 18-year-old at Monza following his controversial scrap with Kimi Raikkonen in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Asked whether there was a need to protect Verstappen from the criticism, Horner said: "It depends on whether it's merited or not, and 99 percent of it hasn't been. So therefore you ignore it and you get on with your job. The only reason he's generating interest is because of the way he is performing. He is a young guy and he's going to make the odd mistake, but he learns very quickly. It's all part of his development, part of his learning process.

"We've seen it time and time again when exceptionally talented drivers start to emerge while they are establishing themselves there is always criticism. We've seen it with Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Ayrton Senna. You can see it through history."

Horner is impressed with the way Verstappen has handled the comments and the pressure that appears to be following him around this year.

"He is remarkably measured and grounded for a guy of his age," added Horner. "He is 18 years old, which is often easy to forget, and is already in his third year of motorsport [car racing] after a long and illustrious karting career.

"What he has achieved is quite staggering in quite a short space of time. He's got this huge momentum that is building, and he continues to surprise us.

"As his confidence, with experience, continues to grow then I'm pleased he's in our team and not in any other."

 

Originally on Autosport.com

BMW will return to the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2018 as part of a full assault on the GTE Pro class of the World Endurance Championship.

The German manufacturer will replace its existing M6 GT LM  with which it competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a GTE contender that is eligible for both the North American series and the WEC.

The move will take BMW into the reborn WEC for the first time and back to Le Mans for a first appearance since 2011. It competed in the 24 Hours with the M3 GT2 in 2010 and and again the follow season as part of a program in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, the forerunner of the new WEC.

The return to Le Mans is part of what BMW is describing as a "strategic realignment" of its motorsport activities that includes a partnership with the Andretti Formula E team and continued participation in the DTM.

The WEC entry is part of a renewed commitment to GT racing that will include the introduction of a new M4 racer (below) for the GT4 category.

"Starting with the 2018 season, we want to further expand our activities in GT racing and compete in the WEC, as well as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship," BMW Motorsport boss Jens Marquardt said. "The way the WEC has developed so well makes us confident that there is a big future for GT racing."

This health of GT racing, he continued, provided the "motivation behind our further expansion in the customer racing sector."

"Our range is already spearheaded by a successful representative in the form of the BMW M6 GT3," Marquardt explained. "As of 2018, we will also be excellently represented by the BMW M4 GT4 in the GT4 class, which is currently experiencing something of a boom."

BMW has yet to reveal details the replacement for the M6 GT LM with which it competes in IMSA with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team.

Permission was granted by IMSA and BMW's rivals in the GT Le Mans class to allow it to compete with an upgraded version of its M6 GT3, which means it is not eligible for the WEC.

Options could include an M-brand car based on the common chassis platform shared by the 5, 6 and 7-series cars and the forthcoming Z5, which replaces the Z4 and is being developed jointly with Toyota.

 

Originally on Autosport.com

BMW has formally confirmed its partnership with the Andretti Formula E team as part of its evaluation of a full works entry into the electric open-wheel series.

Autosport reported earlier this year the German manufacturer was considering an early entry into FE in a partnership capacity, while BMW contracted Antonio Felix da Costa was announced as an Andretti FE driver in July.

BMW has now confirmed it will work closely with the American team "in order to familiarize itself with processes in this innovative series, and to check the possibility of a works involvement in the future."

BMW's involvement in the development of the Andretti ATEC-02 powertrain for the 2016-'17 season, which begins in Hong Kong on Oct. 9, has reportedly been significant. The announcement reiterated that the manufacturer will not be involved in FE with a fully-fledged works team until the series moves to single-car races for the 2018-'19 campaign.

BMW's motorsport director Jens Marquardt said the FE move would allow the company to "forge new paths and demonstrate our expertise in the field of electric mobility."

"A works involvement is then conceivable as of the series' fifth season," he confirmed. "The premise for all these steps is the further positive development of the series, which includes increasing the capacity of the batteries, for example."

The FE tie-up was announced as part of what BMW called a "realignment" of its motorsport programs, which will include an entry into the World Endurance Championship's GT class in 2018.

BMW will continue to compete in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, expand its GT4 participation with the M4 and "ramp up support" of Mini's Dakar Rally project.

 

Originally on Autosport.com

15LAS1nk02704There were two NASCAR shows on Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The first was the 300-lap Sprint Cup race, ultimately won by Kevin Harvick, while the other was the post-race technical inspection process headlined by all 16 Chase for the Sprint Cup teams thanks to a series of legislative changes announced by NASCAR late last week.

The latter was a 50-minute circus with media, fans and rival teams all gathering around the Laser Inspection Station to see who would be the first to get hit with a failure and all the controversy that will surely follow.

NASCAR certainly set the stage for it on Sunday morning with Vice President and Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell warning teams not to engage in any actions that could compromise the inspection process or else face grave consequences for doing so.

Even though everyone passed on Sunday, it seems inevitable that someone will cross that threshold before the season ends – and it very well could be a winner during a pivotal moment of the playoffs. Even though NASCAR increased the tolerance that would constitute a encumbered result, it's expected that teams will push even closer to that new number, simply because that's what it takes to win when everyone else intends to do the same thing.

15CH12nk01930That's what made the Sunday scene after the race so damn captivating.

There's a good number of NASCAR observers that believe everyone in the sport spends too much time talking about lasers, weights and templates. And there's certainly some validity to it, especially in the Chase when the stakes are increasingly high and a championship could be decided by an official rather than the drivers.

But at the same time, there's a subset of observers who want to protect the parity that NASCAR has generated over the past 15 seasons at all costs. Ensuring that drivers whom take the checkered flag are legal is a matter of integrity and righteousness.

Cheating is an unfair word in motorsports as the rules are defined in gray rather than black and white, and yet, there are standards. It stands to reason that a car that passes inspection before an event should also be able to do so afterward.

But we live in the era of "transformable cars," as coined by Brad Keselowski, in which the machines can successfully pass through the LIS station and undergo changes that essentially make them illegal during the race, before transforming back into legal parameters by the checkered flag.

 DSC8175This can be achieved by swerving to reset rear toes and aerodynamic skew or even destroying fenders in a celebratory burnout. Everything has a purpose in the modern NASCAR and everyone is a skeptic. Everyone is looking for an edge and everyone is hoping to take away their rivals' advantage through politicking.

In short, there's a lot of agendas for NASCAR to weave through right now and the fluidity of the rule book reflects that. But simply eliminating post-race inspection is probably not the answer. Stock car racing is a money game and eliminating that procedure would basically provide the top teams in the industry a blank check to find whatever tools they can build to further seperate themselves from the rest of the field.

Look no further than the Xfinity Series for what could happen if the gap between the haves and have-nots increase. NASCAR has received some criticism for its evolving rule book this month but stock car racing is an evolving sport. It's not a timeless game like football or baseball and it requires flexibility.

When it comes to matters of fairness and parity, the folks in Daytona and Charlotte are trying their best because, let's face it, the teams are trying their best to skirt around every decision. It's the nature of the game. And that's why we spend so much time talking about tech each week.

Malaysian Grand Prix organizers' extensive renovations to the Sepang International Circuit ahead of Sunday's Formula 1 race include nine corners being altered, primarily in terms of banking.

The whole venue was resurfaced earlier this year with organizers updating drainage and run-off areas, ironing out bumps and changing the challenge of some corners. Sepang International Circuit CEO Razlan Razali said the changes are so sweeping, for the drivers "it will be as if they've come to Sepang circuit for the first time."

Jarno Zaffelli, founder of Italian racetrack design company Dromo that carried out the work, said tires will respond differently to the new surface.

"Almost all corners will be more demanding in terms of vertical load while the last corner will do the opposite, with reverse camber and low speed, the grip will rely mainly on the tires," he said.

Nine corners have been updated, with more than 2,000 feet of curbs rebuilt to FIA and FIM spec.

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The most dramatic changes have been made at the Turn 15 final corner hairpin (above), where the inside of the corner has been raised by three feet to change the racing line and potentially improve overtaking opportunities.

The lateral gradient is now -4% compared to +2% at the apex, which should also improve drainage at a corner where a pool of standing water would form when heavy rain fell in the past.

Turns 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12 and 13 have also had their gradients altered, with organizers aiming to improve drainage and/or driveability of the corners.

The most significant of those changes are raising the inside of Turn 2 (below) – which previously featured a significant dip – to make the apex curb more visible, and reprofiling the banking on the inside of the fast Turn 5 sweeper.

The bumps that were a characteristic of the rundown to Turn 1 and Turn 4 have been ironed out through the resurfacing.

Following FIA race director Charlie Whiting's inspection, the homologation report said: "The entire track surface and the fast lane of the pits have been resurfaced to very high standards. In a number of locations the levels of the track have been re-profiled to make the corners flow better or to improve drainage.

"This is high quality work. The works carried out to the circuit appeared excellent. The general condition of the installations was first class."

Last week, the FIA said track bosses have "taken every reasonable precaution" to prevent the problems encountered at a MotoGP test earlier this year. The test was thwarted by problems with the track drying and then water seeping back through the surface, but measures have since been put in place ahead of this weekend's race.

 

Originally on Autosport.com

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