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gallery ledeImages from the opening day of the season-ending Petit Le Mans weekend at Road Atlanta.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

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Pla 2The No. 60 Ligier JS P2-Honda from Michael Shank Racing topped the second practice session of the day at Road Atlanta as Ozz Negri became the only driver to crack the 1m14s barrier. The Brazilian veteran flew around the warm and idyllic countryside circuit (1m13.923s) and was chased by both factory Mazda Prototypes with Joel Miller in the No. 70 (-0.219s) and teammate Tristan Nunez in the No. 55 (-0.443s) ensured P2 cars swept the top three.

"I can't say enough about my Michael Shank Racing team, the crew, my engineer Dale [Wise], Gary (Karamikian) at Honda HPD, they've all been working flat out," Negri said. "I'm giddy about having this group of people including Olivier Pla on this team. We like the same thing in the car. Anything he asks for with the set up works for me, and whatever I ask for works for him. It's just a great thing. We are here for one objective which is to be up front and win this race."

ferrariPC saw Johnny Mowlem, who will retire after Saturday's 10-hour Petit Le Mans race, lead the class in his No. 20 BAR1 entry (1m16.707s) as Jose Gutierrez followed in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports PC (-0.230s) and Kenton Koch in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports car (-0.617s).

Scuderia Corsa shot to the lead of GT Le Mans in the No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE with Daniel Serra behind the wheel (1m18.354s). Ford Chip Ganassi Racing's Joey Hand was close behind in his No. 66 Ford GT (-0.062s) and another Ferrari 488 GTE followed with Giancarlo Fisichella in the No. 62 Risi Competizione entry (-0.195s).

Jorg Bergmeister improved from third in the opening session to fastest in GT Daytona with the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (1m21.340s). The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-piloted by Jeroen Bleekemolen (-0.156s) was second and Jeff Segal was third in the No. 63 Ferrari F488 GT3 (-0.335s). Full practice results can be found here.

UP NEXT: Practice 3, 7:30 p.m. ET

Panoz ledeRacing pioneer and American Le Mans Series founder Don Panoz was honored for his 20 years of contribution to the sport during a ceremony held Wednesday night in Georgia. As the architect who revitalized North American sports car racing in the latter portion of the 1990s, Panoz was responsible for some of the most creative and forward-looking prototypes the world had seen, and through his position atop the ALMS, strengthened ties to the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans and the massive influx of factory racing programs gave rise to a golden age that lasted more than a decade.

Panoz's enduring support of female race car drivers got its start in the early days of the ALMS with the Women's Global GT series, and his boundary-pushing ways continue today with the light and aerodynamically efficient DeltaWing DWC13 racing project featured in IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

PanozFrom race cars and road cars bearing his name to caring for numerous motor racing circuits, the imprint of Don Panoz is found in every aspect of the sport. As he told the audience during the 20th anniversary gathering, the path from the business world – leading a pharmaceutical empire – to becoming a leader in an abstract discipline like racing was never anticipated.

"In 1997, when we went to Sebring with the Panoz GTR-1, that was the fifth race I'd been to in my life, and I was 62 years old," Panoz said. "[In 1996] I had told my son Danny he needed to create a racing heritage, and he said, 'I'm busy working on the Esperante [road car], and you're retiring from the pharmaceutical business, so why don't you do the racing?' I said I knew nothing about it. He said 'you'll do OK ...' Then he brought over Adrian Reynard, introduced me to him, and he said 'I hear you want to go racing?' I'd seen the Steve McQueen move, and I said, 'Le Mans.'"

The front-engine Panoz Roadsters that followed, including the ahead-of-its-time hybrid electric entry affectionately known as "Sparky," infused a kind of enthusiasm that had been missing from Le Mans, and at home in IMSA. GT versions of the Esperante were a staple in the ALMS after the Panoz prototypes ran their course, and with his innate curiosity, more programs have come together that defy ease or convention.

Knowing where Panoz entered the sport, and how the DeltaWing Racing program has come to personify his latest endeavors, this weekend's race at Petit Le Mans – something he also founded – was scheduled to be the final event for the DWC13. As ever, Panoz couldn't wait to reveal another surprise in front of the assembled audience.

"Although Petit was supposed to be our last race with the [DWC13] as a new technology car, the people at IMSA – and full credit to them – [say] we will be racing at Daytona in 2017 as our last race," he added.

With a 21st year now guaranteed, and interest shown in transforming his son's latest road car, the Panoz Avezzano, into a brand-new race car, more celebrations could be in order.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

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PlaMichael Shank Racing's Olivier Pla was the pacesetter during the opening practice session for Saturday's 10-hour Petit Le Mans season finale. The Frenchman topped the field under warm and blue skies in his No. 60 Ligier JS P2-Honda (1m14.157s) ahead of Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 55 Mazda Prototype (-0.539s) and Eric Curran in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (-0.685s).

PC was led by championship leader Renger van der Zande in the No. 8 Starworks ORECA FLM09-Chevy (1m16.235s). JDC/Miller Motorsports' Stephen Simpson was second in the No. 85 PC (-0.419s) and Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen PC (-0.643s).

Alex JobA proper mix of GT Le Mans contenders filled the top three as Antonio Garcia topped the class in his No. 3 Corvette C7.R (1m18.840s) as Giancarlo Fisichella pursued in the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE (-0.404) and Dirk Werner trailed in the No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM (-0.473s).

GT Daytona featured the closest margin from first to second as Alex Riberas pushed his No. 23 Alex Job Racing/Team Seattle Porsche 911 GT3 R (1m21.788s) to a slight advantage over Lawson Aschenbach's No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT3 (-0.045) and Jorg Bergmeister's Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (-0.153).

Two red flags slowed the 60-minute session for minor excursions by the factory Porsche team and one of Starworks Motorsport's PC entries. Practice results can be found here.

UP NEXT: Practice 2, 3:25 p.m. ET

LAT cobb 160730 MidOhio 01350Josef Newgarden has informed Ed Carpenter Racing that he will be driving elsewhere for the 2017 IndyCar season.

"While it's disappointing that Josef will not be returning, it's also not a total surprise after all of the speculation the past few weeks," team owner Ed Carpenter said.

"I wish Josef the best in his future endeavors, but also remain focused on ECR's continued success. We are positioned well moving into 2017 and I have total confidence that we will continue to deliver the high level of performance we expect as a team."

The announcement paves the way for the expected confirmation that the highly-rated 25-year-old will move to Team Penske to replace Juan Pablo Montoya, as reported by RACER.com two weeks ago.

Newgarden earned three wins during his time with ECR, and finished a career-best fourth in the championship this year.

Carpenter will continue to race the team's No.20 entry at the six oval events next year, and is evaluating options for the team's new driver line-up.

Petit Le MansThe WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race weekend at Road Atlanta gets underway on Thursday. Be sure to follow @RACERmag for regular updates on Twitter, and RACER.com for photos, videos, session reports and feature stories.

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WEATHERTECH CHAMPIONSHIP EVENT SCHEDULE

Thursday, Sept. 29 (all times Eastern)

11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Free Practice 1
3:25 p.m. – 4:25 p.m. Free Practice 2
7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. Free Practice 3

Friday, Sept. 30

10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Free Practice 4
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

8:40 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Warm-Up
11:10 p.m. – 9:10 p.m. Race – Petit Le Mans, WeatherTech Championship, 10 Hours

TV TUNE-IN INFO

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POINTS OF INTEREST

DP FAREWELL

The sun is about to set on the Daytona Prototype formula. The polarizing prototypes weren’t very fast before Grand-Am and the ALMS merged, but with the addition of downforce, carbon brakes and more power, the tubeframe cars were transformed into P2 killers.

IMSA did its best to dial back the unexpectedly fast DPs when the Tudor United SportsCar Championship launched in 2014, but that process took longer than expected, and the fluctuating strength of P2 opposition also added to the imbalance.

2014 ended with the DP-P2 score of 9-2, 2015 was a 10-0 DP rout, and with one race left to run in 2016, it’s a closer run of 6-3. So far, IMSA’s Prototype battles have gone 25-5 in favor of DPs, and by the end of Saturday night, we’ll know whether DPs are heading into retirement on a high or if P2s spoiled the swan song.

GUESTS FOR DINNER

AXR

Petit Le Mans will have a delightful array of high-profile guest drivers, which continues a tradition established during Road Atlanta’s days as an ALMS event. Simon Pagenaud (above, third from left, as he was enlisted to drive the No. 31 AXR Corvette DP in 2015) will be there less than two weeks after capturing his first IndyCar championship for Team Penske, and he’ll be joined by a pair of four-time Indy car champions in Sebastien Bourdais (No. 66 Ford GT) and Scott Dixon (No. 67 Ford GT), 2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP), and promising IndyCar rookie Spencer Pigot (driving both Mazda Prototypes).

Altogether, that’s 10 IndyCar titles, two Indy 500 wins, a 24 Hours of Le Mans win and the 2015 Indy Lights title packaged into five open-wheelers. It also means IMSA will have 23 percent of the grid that just completed IndyCar’s finale at Sonoma Raceway on the grid for its WeatherTech Championship closer. Add in some guest stars and champions from sports car racing – Olivier Pla (No. 60 MSR Ligier JS P2-Honda), Jeff Segal (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488), Mike Rockenfeller (No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R), Marcel Fassler (No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R), Kuno Wittmer (No. 100 BMW Team RLL M6) and a host of other distinguished performers – and the lines for the autograph session should be longer than usual.

DeltaWingDOWN THE ROAD FOR DELTAWING?

What’s next for Don Panoz and his DeltaWing DWC13? According to the series earlier in the season, the good doctor’s prototype would not be returning to IMSA next year as the Prototype class switches to an all-P2 formula, nor would the road-based DeltaWing GT have a home in GTLM or GTD.

Adding to the contiual intrigue surrounding the DeltaWing, Panoz announced the DWC13 would return for one more run in January's Rolex 24 At Daytona during Wednesday after IMSA decided to make a special exception in light of the early crash that took the car out of the 2016 event. 

ZOOM ZOOM FOR MAZDA

The SpeedSource-led Mazda Prototype effort has one shot left to win before its Lola-derived P2s become show cars. The diesel-powered Soul Red machines weren’t able to vie for victory in 2014 and 2015, but that reality changed during the off-season when the oil burners were swapped for gasoline-fueled four-cylinder turbos. Two poles and a podium have only hinted at the capabilities contained within the Mazda Prototypes, and with 10 hours left to convert that potential into a win, many prayers will be said until the checkered flag waves.

AND MORE

Mazda isn’t the only Prototype manufacturer looking to end 2016 with its first victory. The aforementioned DeltaWing DWC13 is the other brand and model looking to rectify its lack of wins before the lights go out.

Scuderia Corsa delivered Ferrari its first IMSA win for the V8 twin-turbo 488 in GTD, but the full GTE version of the 488 has yet to find Victory Lane in GTLM. It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. The Texas-based Risi Competizione had its home race at COTA in the bag until electrical problems intervened, and if there’s a GT team that has more fans rooting for it to achieve a breakthrough at Petit Le Mans, I’d love to meet them. Ferrari is joined by BMW as the only other brand without a GTLM win, and its M6s have also shown incredible pace during a trying season. Every full-season brand in GTD has taken at least one win.

On the team side, Visit Florida Racing went into Road Atlanta last year with the championship lead and returns to the facility in search of its first win of the season. In PC, Performance Tech Motorsports and BAR1 Motorsports are seeking victory No. 1, and in GTD, Stevenson Motorsports and Park Place Motorsports are among an elite group of entrants searching for a winning turnaround at Petit Le Mans.

mowlemGOODBYE TO J’MO

British sports car veteran Johnny Mowlem will call time on an impressive career after the IMSA finale. The 47-year-old opened the season with the PC pole for BAR1 at Daytona, and he’ll surely be determined to thrash the class in pursuit of a walk off victory in Georgia.

A driver and individual with equal complements of talent and class, Mowlem is a role model for every sports car driver who fought and scraped to earn a consistent living just below the big factory programs.

Wins or podiums in almost every significant international endurance race are a testament to Mowlem’s indomitable spirit, and he will be missed once he steps from the car for the last time.

MISC

  • PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports PC entrant Bobby Oergel expects to announce his choice of LMP2 constructor during Petit Le Mans.
  • On a similar announcement note, it’s believed Mercedes/AMG will confirm its presence in the GTD category for 2017 at the event.
  • If Christina Nielsen wins the GTD championship with Scuderia Corsa teammate Alessandro Balzan, she’ll become the second woman to capture a professional North American sports car title. Margie Smith-Haas was the first to break that barrier in 1994 as the SCCA Pro Racing American Cities Racing League (ACRL) Sports 2000 champion.

Teenager Lance Stroll is close to securing a Williams Formula 1 race drive for 2017, according to Autosport.

The 17-year-old Canadian, who leads the Formula 3 European Championship, joined the Williams young driver development driver program at the end of last season and has impressed the team with his application to the role.

Several drivers had been linked with a move to Williams to replace Felipe Massa, including Sergio Perez, Felipe Nasr, Marcus Ericsson and Jenson Button.

But Button will remain in a reserve role with McLaren while not racing, Perez is expected to stay at Force India and Nasr and Ericsson are now believed to be on course to stay put at Sauber.

No official announcement has been made, but it is believed Stroll is now close to agreeing a deal with Williams.

Stroll, who is backed by retail billionaire father Lawrence, has carried out extensive work in the Williams simulator, primarily focused on his F3 campaign.

He also began an on-track program in August, which involves him driving a 2014-spec F1 car.

The primary aim of the running is to familiarise himself with F1 machinery, with in-car days scheduled right up until February next year.

Stroll is on a similar program to the one that Valtteri Bottas completed to prepare him for his F1 debut. It is believed Bottas will be named as Stroll's teammate and extend his stay as a race driver into a fifth season.

Stroll, who turns 18 at the end of October, leads the European F3 championship by 68 points and could win the title this weekend at Imola. He has already accumulated enough superlicence points to be eligible to race in F1 next year.

Originally on Autosport.com

Kevin Magnussen cannot understand why Renault is taking so long over making a decision on its 2017 Formula 1 driver line-up.

Magnussen had initially hoped to have been informed a fortnight ago going into the Singapore Grand Prix, only to discover the team had put the situation on hold.

Teammate Jolyon Palmer expressed patience with Renault's circumstances, saying that "If I was Renault I would want to be making the best decision for the future" and that the timescale was therefore understandable.

But asked if he agreed with Palmer, Magnussen replied: "No. I can't understand it - I find it very easy to take a decision.

"It's frustrating not knowing what you are doing next year, so I want to know as soon as possible."

Suggested to Magnussen he was scarred by his experience at McLaren in 2014 when he thought he had a race seat for '15 only for the rug to be pulled from under him, he said: "That's an experience I don't want to go through again.

"I don't think I will go through that again. I think there is going to be a decision sooner rather than later. But as I've said before, I'm not going to wait until one week before the last test, for sure not - not even close to that - but I'm sure that's not even necessary."

Magnussen recognises "there are other drivers in the picture as well", with Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz Jr and Manor-based Mercedes protege Esteban Ocon at Manor on Renault's radar, while a move for Force India's Sergio Perez has all but fallen by the wayside.

There is an option on Renault's side to extend the contracts of Magnussen and Palmer into 2017 without any further negotiation required that reportedly expires at midnight on Friday.

So far no discussions have taken place in that regard, though Magnussen added: "I feel I don't need to say anything.

"My conversations are when I'm driving, that's what I do. I drive and do the best possible job I can on track, and let that talk for itself."

Palmer feels Renault is acting within its rights but hopes to know his future before 2016 ends.

"There is no need to decide any quicker than they have to," said Palmer. "Obviously if you start to hang on until next year - January, February - that's starting to get very late and can end up hurting drivers' careers.

"But for the moment we're still in September, so there's no need for the team to make a decision right now. There are six more races to learn about everything. Of course I would love to know now - 100 percent I'd love someone to tell me 'You've got the drive', but I understand why not.

"Sooner would be nicer. I'd love to know before the end of the year, but it's up to the team. I'm not going to start complaining they are telling me too late."

Originally on Autosport.com

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