Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Road Atlanta Friday Notebook

BRASELTON, Ga. – Heinricher Racing LLC Teams up with Caterpillar Inc. to Lead All Female Driver Lineup in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2019

A historic team announcement kicked off Friday morning’s round of news conferences at Road Atlanta prior to qualifying for Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans – the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale.

The Heinricher Racing team in conjunction with Meyer Shank Racing formally announced an entire female driving lineup – including American Jackie Heinricher and England’s Katherine Legge – to campaign the No. 57 MSR Acura NSX GT3 for the 2019 season. Brazilian Ana Beatriz will join them for the endurance races in the GTD Class as part of the Michelin Endurance Cup.

Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro joins the trio for the season-opening Rolex 24. And the team is targeting a possible run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Not only do I think it’s good for women in racing, but I think it’s good for everybody, including me, my team, the series,’’ team owner Michael Shank said, adding, “I’m really proud to be a part of this. I think this is a big, big thing in our world today and I can’t wait to be a part of it.’’

Legge and her Meyer Shank Racing Acura team is contending for the GTD championship this weekend. A win for her team, coupled with a showing of fourth place or lower for the other contending, Paul Miller Racing Team would give Legge her first IMSA championship and extend a three-year streak of women winning titles in that class.

And as focused as she is on the weekend Legge, who also made four NASCAR Xfinity Series starts this season, was emphatic about the potential of the newly unveiled Acura team on deck for next year.

“Really it was a no brainer for me when we were discussing it,’’ she said. “I think Jackie [Heinricher] has absolutely surrounded herself with not only a fantastic company [in Caterpillar], but also one of the best teams and three of the best female drivers in the world.

“So I think if we were going to give ourselves a shot, this would definitely be it and I think it’s great to bring attention to, to women in racing. I think we need strong positive role models and I think that this will be taken seriously.

“I didn’t want to be part of anything that was gimmicky, like the girl driving gimmick. So I made sure that we did this properly and were gonna be taken totally seriously. We’re going to do this as a really sincere effort where we’re going to go out and try and win races.”

WeatherTech Championships Come Down to Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans

All three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar class championships are yet to be decided heading into Saturday’s 10-hour season finale.

The Prototype class title comes down to a duel between the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi co-driven by Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr versus the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA LMP2 car co-driven by Jon Bennett and Colin Braun.

Curran and Nasr hold the advantage entering Saturday’s race. A finish of second or better guarantees the team its second championship in the last three years.

Bennett and Braun are going for their first prototype championship after winning three previous titles – back-to-back championships in the Prototype Challenge class in 2014-15 and one last year in the GTD division.

“It’s all down to the last race, which I think for every championship, there’s always something more exciting when it comes down to the final and there’s no better place than (Motul) Petit (Le Mans),’’ Nasr said Friday morning.

The GT Le Mans class trophy comes down to the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette co-driven by Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen versus the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT co-driven by Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe.

The Corvette team has yet to win a race this year, however, its consistent work gives them a firm stand on the title. Garcia and Magnussen bring a streak of seven podium finishes into the championship race. They need only finish fourth place or better to hoist their second consecutive championship trophy.

“It’s a great position to be in,’’ the veteran Magnussen said. “Gives us some room so that we don’t have to push like crazy, but we still have to be smart.

“But basically we can do what we’ve done in the last seven races. Then we’d go to the podium winning the championship or fourth place wins the championship regardless. So we’re trying to do just that, but also we haven’t had a win this year and the way it’s gone so far this weekend, it’s felt really good. So, I think we’ll look at how things go and then also try and get that one.”

The Ganassi team – which is enlisting the driver support of recently crowned IndyCar Series champion teammate Scott Dixon this weekend – would need to win the race and have the Corvette team finish fifth or worse to claim the GTLM title. This Ganassi car has three victories and four podium finishes this year.

The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 has led the GT Daytona (GTD) Class championship standings since a victory in March’s historic Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts. Drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow can clinch their first title – and the team’s first title – with a podium finish Saturday night regardless of where any competitor finishes. The team brings a pair of race wins and seven podium finishes to the season finale.

The No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura driven by Katherine Legge – and co-driven this weekend by Alvaro Parente – is the only other car with a chance at the title. Legge, the fulltime season driver, could earn her first IMSA championship with a victory Saturday and a finish of fourth place or worse by the No. 48 Paul Miller Lamborghini.

Legge’s team also wins the tiebreaker should it come to that by virtue of more second place finishes on the year (three to one).

It would be the first class title for the Meyer Shank Racing team and for Legge. It would also mark the third consecutive season this class title was won by a woman. Christina Nielsen won back-to-back GTD championships in 2016-17.

The Acura NSX GT3 Evo to compete globally in 2019

Acura Motorsports announced it will debut the manufacturer’s NSX GT3 Evo next season with multiple revisions to the championship racing model.

“While the car has already won in some of the most prestigious GT3 series, we believe in constantly improving our products and providing the best possible equipment and support for our customers,’’ said Honda Motorsports General Manager Masashi Yamamoto.

According to Acura the revision will include “revised bodywork, including a new front splitter, diffuser and rear bumper” to help reduce drag as well as improvements to the cooling system. New turbochargers will “improve throttle response, boost control and fuel economy” and the whole Evo system is designed to boost engine life 25 percent.

Pfaff Motorsports Moves To IMSA WeatherTech Championship in 2019

The Canadian Pfaff Motorsports announced Friday it will contend for the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup with drivers Scott Hargrove and Zack Robichon steering a Porsche 911 GT3 R in the seven-race sprint series.

Hargrove became the first rookie to claim the Pirelli World Challenge GT Sprint Class title this year. And Robichon, who won the Porsche GT3 Cup Canada this season, swept the GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama races at Road Atlanta.

“[Team owner] Steve [Bortolotti] put together a really good team this year and we were able to go and get that championship which, like you said, it’s never been done before,’’ Hargrove said Friday from Road America. “So that’s a big badge of honor for me and for the team and then basically leads us perfectly into running IMSA. I think the sprint championship is a perfect place for us to enter, just because of the way it’s structured and the length of the races give us the time to build and grow as a team and then go from there.”

2019 Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO makes US debut on display at Road Atlanta Petit Le Mans

Bernd Goeres, the Head of Audi Sport customer racing USA, was trackside for the American reveal of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO at Road Atlanta. And initial feedback from inside the paddock and outside the paddock has been positive.

Goeres says the new EVO kit will focus on improvements to among other things the aerodynamics, the brake cooling system and the transmission and clutch package.

“Very positive feedback since we did a lot of development for this car together with drivers and teams because we used their input and put this into our development department,’’ Goeres said Friday. “They adapted the car to make it more competitive and with a drivable package for the drivers who love the car already and to give them some upgrades.’’

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