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LAT levitt mls 26778Is IMSA contemplating a move where one of its WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes could shift to the Continental Tire Series?

After sitting down to discuss the "Future Strategies" memo IMSA CEO Ed Bennett and President Scott Atherton released this morning, it sounds like a repositioning of Pro-Am classes could happen in 2018.

Multiple stakeholders have told RACER that IMSA is not only considering replacing the ageing ORECA FLM09-Chevys in its WeatherTech Championship PC class with LMP3 cars at the end of 2017, but it's also evaluating shifting PC from a bottom-tier class in its premier series to become the top class in its developmental Continental Tire Series.

The simplified WeatherTech Class structure would be left with three classes: the all-pro Prototype, GT Le Mans, and popular Pro-Am category GT Daytona as its core package. IMSA has been forced to drop some classes from certain events due to paddock or pit lane size constraints, and with fewer classes and a modest reduction in car counts, the WeatherTech Championship would be able to guarantee consistent lineups at almost every event.

"Does [LMP3] become the odds-on favorite to become the next PC car? Could be," Atherton told RACER. "The desire we have, as we also alluded to in the memo, is to raise the profile of our premier categories. Simplification, making it an easier product for the casual observer to consume ... all of this weighs into the decision-making process to determine what makes the most sense."

Asked if the series would have any concerns pairing its developmental series for future GTD and GTLM drivers with a much faster LMP3 (PC) category where tomorrow's Prototype drivers are groomed, Bennett says the speed differentials would not be a first if PCs mingled with production-based Continental Tire Series GS and ST cars.

"I think that would be part of the analysis; to understand the differences. Over the years we've seen some pretty significant gaps front to back. In the ALMS days, P1 to GTC ... pretty big gap. LMP1, even to GTE-AM, [there's] a pretty big gap."

"It's an absolutely important consideration," Atherton added. "We believe there's a good track record of being able to manage that. While it would not be dismissed out of hand, we've got some really smart people that could manage that to a degree of acceptability."

By moving PC to lead the Continental Tire Series, IMSA would also add an element of speed and curiosity that has been missing from those races. The ST and GS cars produce some of the best racing on any IMSA weekend, but with its status as a warm-up act to the WeatherTech Championship, its quality as a standalone show has rarely appealed to a wider base of fans. In theory, the inclusion of a prototype class would give Continental races something closer to the headliner's offerings.

Some PC owners have lobbied for IMSA to use the 2017 P2 formula as a basis to build a lower-cost, spec version for use in PC. Bennett confirmed that IMSA has investigated this option, but says there isn't enough savings to carve from the new budget-minded 2017 WEC P2 formula to achieve the desired result. It places LMP3 in pole position for 2018.

Atherton and Bennet also spoke at length about IMSA's practice of engaging its paddock to provide feedback and direction on its future strategies, and went into detail about options to resuscitate the struggle GS class. Check back early next week for the continuation of the discussion on RACER.com.

2016MarshallPruett IMSALaguna429 643It was a long time coming, but Mazda's persistence in sticking with its Prototype program is finally paying off. For the first time, the Mazda Prototypes qualified first and second, and they did it at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, for the Continental Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda.

Sweet.

Tristan Nunez laid down a lap of 1:18.143 in the No. 55 car he shares with Jonathan Bomarito, who was fastest in the last practice session. A close second – 0.236 seconds back – was Tom Long, in the No. 70 car he co-drives with Joel Miller.

"We knew what we had coming here – the car loves this track," said Nunez. "We pushed our hearts out in these cars. There's no better place than Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for our first pole, and I'm extremely honored to be able to do that. All that hard work by the team is finally paying off and we have a pretty competitive package now. It's going to show now and for the rest of the season."

Third was Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Whelen Action Express Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype he shares with Eric Curran.

In GT Le Mans, Ferrari spoiled Ford's run for its first pole for the Ford GT, with Daniel Serra making a last-minute dash in the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE to earn fastest time. Serra's best lap of 1:22.867 edged out Ford GT driver Ryan Briscoe by 0.079 seconds. Serra shares his Ferrari with Alessandro Pier Guidi, while Briscoe co-drives with Richard Westbrook.

"It was a really quick lap; the car was getting better and better each lap," Serra said. "We put in a lot of laps on the tires. It was me getting comfortable. I was really happy for that lap and for the team. We figured where we had to move and where to go, we got a result that was so fast."

Had it not been for the Ferrari, Ford would have had the top two times in the class, as the No. 66 Ford GT of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand was the third-fastest car. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin, winners of the first two races this year, were fourth in the No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R.

Prototype Challenge qualifying was an ultra-competitive affair with three cars swapping spots right up until the last lap. Coming out on top was Robert Alon, who shares the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen ORECA/Chevrolet with Tom Kimber Smith, with a best lap of 1:21.146.
Second was the No. 38 Performance Tech car of James French and Kyle Marcell, and third was the No. 8 Starworks car of Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande. The top three cars were less than a half-second apart.

"They told me on the radio that it was very, very tight," Alon said. "I just kept my head down and kept pushing. I used every inch of the track. Then my final lap was what did it. I think being on the pole is going to be very important in Sunday's race."

In GT Daytona, it's no surprise that Alex Riberas qualified the No. 23 Alex Job Racing/Team Seattle Porsche 911 GT3 R on the pole, since he and co-driver Mario Farnbacher have consistently led the 17-car class in practice.

The guys did a fantastic job with the setup," Riberas said. "It was fantastic since the first practice. For sure, it was a really good feeling to be on pole. These two hours will be really long, so we need to keep our head down and stay focused. Everybody tells me this is a Porsche track."

Riberas turned a fastest lap of 1:25.775, which was 0.722 seconds ahead of the best lap from Christina Nielsen, driving the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 she shares with Alessandro Balzan. Third was the No. 73 Park Place/Justice Brothers Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Lindsey and Jorg Bergmeister, despite an off-road excursion for Lindsey during qualifying.

The Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda features the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes at 11:15 a.m. PT on Sunday (live, FS1, 2 p.m. ET), followed by the Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona classes at 3:45 p.m. PT (live, FS2, 6:30 p.m. ET).

LEDE Marshall Pruett Archives Toyota 838All American Racers' Eagle Mk III chassis made its debut at Laguna Seca's IMSA GTP round in 1991, and with IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship ready to race at the same track, it's worth taking a moment to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fastest, most dominant prototype this country has ever produced.

1991 Laguna Toyota GTP Eagle MkIIIc"Wow, you're not the only one that forgot it!" Dan Gurney said of this weekend's Monterey milestone. "Twenty-five years ago? I don't feel younger when I hear that news, but I don't feel old."

The Mk III's first presence in the Monterey paddock drew the attention of most fans – and plenty of teams – before the opening practice session got under way in 1991. The 2.1-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine carried in the back of the Mk III was familiar; AAR had been using it in GTO Toyota Celicas and in its earlier GTPs, but the motor wasn't the primary point of attraction.

Fans, including this writer, marveled at the sheer size and volume of the Mk III's high-waisted bodywork, the through-flow channels running from the nose through the sidepods to the back, and its next-level aerodynamics.

"We got a ton of criticism about what we had done by the experts, which was kind of like the establishment in those days," Gurney (RIGHT) said. "You had to do things the way they thought it ought to be done. Or so they thought.

Marshall Pruett Archives 345

"They said our air inlets on the front were too big. They didn't realize what it was doing. Just generally they were negative about it. Most of the 'experts' didn't realize what we were doing aerodynamically and still don't. If he had realized, and saw what happened even in that first race, it was the beginning of the end for the rest of those guys."

This Eagle looked like it was from the future, and once Juan Manuel Fangio II hit the 2.2-mile track with the No. 99 car, its performance confirmed our suspicions: Every other GTP car was made redundant.

Short on testing mileage, Fangio and AAR used the Laguna Seca event as a test within a race, and despite the lack of setup knowledge with the Mk III, the Argentinian was able to qualify second behind Wayne Taylor in the one-lap-special Chevy Intrepid. With its track-pulverizing downforce and instant torque, the South African claimed an impressive pole with a lap of 1:14.928 to Fangio's 1:15.223.

Once the green flag waved, Taylor's Intrepid was a sitting duck. The Mk III came close to winning the first time out as Fangio built a staggering lead of more than 50 seconds by the close of the contest, but those chances were derailed by a pit lane violation during a splash-and-go that resulted in a one-lap stop-and-hold. Another violation leaving the pits after serving the one-lap fine led to IMSA tacking on 35 seconds to the No. 99 after the checkered flag. Fangio was credited with an unrepresentative seventh.

Marshall Pruett Archives IMSA 865

Fangio did manage to set the fastest lap during his fiery charge after the first penalty – a 1:15.741 – as Davy Jones went on to win in the TWR Jaguar XJR-16. To fully grasp the raw nature of the Eagle Mk III on its premiere 25 years ago, AAR returned for the Laguna Seca GTP race in 1992 – with a full season of development under its belt – and shattered the track record with a pole lap of 1:11.294 set by PJ Jones. That's damn near four seconds faster (3.929 to be precise) from where the MK III started in 1991.

And to appreciate the Mk III's frightening speed, the pole for IMSA's visit to Monterey in 2015, set by Wayne Taylor's son Jordan in the No. 10 WTR Corvette DP, was a 1:18.718. Jones' 1992 pole, a full 7.424 seconds below last year's benchmark, says more about the changes in prototype technology than the caliber of driving talent.

On the Mk III's return to Laguna Seca in 1992, it had Europe's most fearsome prototype to contend with as TWR brought the all-conquering Jaguar XJR-14, with its Cosworth/Formula 1 engine and revolutionary aerodynamics to attack the Eagle.

The XJR-14 vs Mk III battle wasn't even close; the bird pounced on the cat without mercy, capturing nine wins from 15 races and the GTP title with ease. Jaguar, along with every other factory program, ran and hid after 1992. AAR returned for 1993 with the same two-car team and swept GTP along with setting 10 lap records at 11 tracks on the calendar.Marshall Pruett IMSA Archives Jaguar 051

"The Jaguar (RIGHT) was a terrific car," Gurney said, "but it wasn't quite terrific enough. But it was one whale of a good car. And it had exceeded the Formula 1 lap time at Silverstone we were told. So no doubt it was very good. And the TWR people were a great group. One of the things about the Jag was that it seemed to like really smooth racetracks like a Formula 1 car does.

"And our car liked those but it wasn't bothered by the rough ones. That really made a difference. We had a bigger sweet spot in terms of ride height and angle of attack, and all that stuff. That was really special. What we ended up realizing is our car was even better than we thought it was."

The Mk III's aero played the greatest role in the car's GTP dominance, but as Gurney says, Drino Miller's Toyota engine wasn't just along for the ride.

"Drino did a lot of our development work," he added. "I was told that he blew up three dynamometers working on that thing!"

From cleaning out the GTP class by the end of 1992 to rewriting IMSA's history books and closing the GTP era at the end of 1993, the Eagle Mk III turned American sports car racing on its head, starting with a simple and unassuming debut a quarter-century ago in Monterey. And despite the car's age, Gurney didn't shy from sending a reminder about the Eagle's looming presence in today's IMSA series.

"I must say that with PJ driving, the Mk III still holds the lap record at the Daytona 24 Hour circuit," he said of the WeatherTech Championship's season-opening event. "We set that in 1993."

(Click on the main images to view larger versions.)

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chaseNumerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday's Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET).

Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday's time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways.

In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.

The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon, who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott.

And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott's father, Bill Elliott, earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212.229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways.

Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986.

"This is definitely a special place," Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. "It's cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts.

"But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here."

The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon's grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles.

"There's a lot of history here with Dale and RCR," Dillon said. "A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We've got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I'd love for it to be my first Cup win."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has never won a pole at NASCAR's biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (192.089 mph).

The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner.

Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday's race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race.

Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.

Full results can be found here.

2016MarshallPruett IMSALaguna430 281aIt's three sessions down at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and three Mazda Prototype 1-2s in the combined GT Le Mans/Prototype portion of IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event.

Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez led another sweep on the session in their No. 55 Mazda P2 Prototype, posting a 1:18.478 to the 1:18.501 recorded by the sister No. 70 Mazda driven by Jonathan Bomarito and Tom Long. And for the third time in three sessions, Michael Shank Racing's No. 60 Ligier JS P2-Honda with Ozz Negri and John Pew was third (1:18.501).2016MarshallPruett IMSALaguna430 488

Compared to Friday's cool temperatures and overcast skies, sports car fans were greeted by warmth and sun for the final session prior to qualifying.

In GTLM, Toni Vilander went quickest in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 he shares with Giancarlo Fisichella (1:23.086), and led another Ford GT 2-3 as Dirk Muller and Joey Hand were best among the pair of Blue Ovals with the No. 66 car (1:23.112) after edging the No. 67's Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook (1:23.124).

Up Next: Qualifying for all classes from 4:30-6 p.m. PT.

satlagunaRenger van der Zande and Alex Popow regained the top spot in Prototype Challenge practice at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca early Saturday morning, with a fastest lap of 1:20.094 in the No. 8 Starworks Oreca/Chevrolet. They were just under .2 seconds faster than CORE Autosport's Colin Braun and Jon Bennett, who still hold the fastest time of the weekend, and the only PC lap in the 1:19s, set late Friday.

The No. 52 of Robert Alon and Tom Kimber Smith was third fastest in the PR1/Mathiasen car.

In GT Daytona, the No. 23 Alex Job/Team Seattle Porsche 911 GT3 R, with drivers Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas, was on top again with a lap of 1:25.639, followed by the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 of Turner Motorsports and drivers Bret Curtis and Jens Klingmann. Third was the No. 73 Park Place Porsche of Patrick Lindsey and Jorg Bergmeister.

All four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes begin qualifying for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Presented by Mazda at 4:30 p.m. ET today.

Lewis Hamilton says he feels "almost helpless" after he suffered a Mercedes power unit problem in qualifying for the second successive Formula 1 grand prix.

The reigning world champion failed to take part in Q3 in Russia as Mercedes identified a problem identical to that encountered in China.

It was the latest setback for Hamilton, who has had problems in all three of the opening new races and trails team-mate Nico Rosberg by 36 points.

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"I don't know what the word is, I can't really describe what I feel right now – it's not a great feeling," a downbeat Hamilton told reporters on Saturday. "You're almost helpless at some points, we've worked so hard, with my mechanics and my engineers, to get the car in a great position this weekend. We had the great pace once again and this happens to us all unexpectedly.

"I feel helpless for my guys because there's not really much I can do to uplift them and there's not really much they can do to uplift me because it's already happened. The goal is moving further and further away in the distance. I'm doing everything I can do. There's nothing else I can do."

Hamilton is hoping to avoid first-lap trouble and then to produce a fightback similar to Rosberg's in 2014, when he came from last to second after an early error.

"I'm just hoping to have a clean first lap and have a car in one piece to fight with people," he said. "I don't think I've had one race this year with a full car after Turn 1 so that's what I'm hoping for. Nico started a way back a while ago, so it obviously is possible.

"I've not really had to do much overtaking here over the last few years so I don't know how difficult it is but I'm not a bad overtaker so it should be alright."

Rosberg had no such problems in qualifying to take his second successive pole.

"The car was balanced perfectly and through the weekend we just progressed so much," he said. "We hit it in Q2 and from then on it was just going really well. That's what I'm really pleased about and I haven't thought too much about Sunday yet. Of course starting from pole position will be great.

"It's never easy but the way the grid is does help me out a lot, for sure."

Originally on Autosport.com

imsa startWith numerous changes on the horizon, IMSA provided its stakeholders with an update on some of the planning in the works for 2017 and beyond.

The Saturday morning e-mail confirmed "IMSA has been working on a formal long-term strategic plan for several months" and the sanctioning body "expect(s) this important project to be completed in the near future."

Among IMSA's many championships, its WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series is set for a reboot in the Prototype category in 2017 when the new "Daytona Prototype international" P2 formula debuts, but there are still major questions on where its ageing PC class will be taken after the current ORECA FLM09-Chevy chassis completes its life cycle at the end of 2017.

IMSA's Continental Tire Series has a healthy and thriving Street Tuner class, but its Grand Sport category for bigger, faster production-based cars has fallen on hard times with just seven entries for this weekend's race in Monterey. Although the letter did not list specific solutions for the ills in GS, "GT4" and "TCR" (Touring Car Racing) were mentioned.

New solutions for the Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tire were are also needed, and LMP3 was included in IMSA's list of existing formulas to consider.

Costs, safety, road-to-race conversions, and other important issues were also raised in the letter, and according to IMSA, it will continue to engage its stakeholders and receive input on the best paths forward.

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