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Racing Preview: IMSA to crown four, Elliott strong at ‘Dega and who will win battle of Ferrari?

Written by Norris McDonald

One major racing series will finish its season this weekend and two others will be another race closer to the end of the line.

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will hand out the hardware at Road Atlanta while races in Formula One and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series will both go a long way toward indicating who will eventually wind up on top.

You can watch that IMSA race on the Velocity Channel starting at noon Saturday, the NASCAR race can be seen on TSN at 2 p.m. Sunday and you can watch the F1 race either live at 1 a.m. Sunday or at 8 a.m. Sunday on tape delay, both on TSN5.

Keep an eye on the news and TSN’s schedules because a huge typhoon is scheduled to roar into Japan  Saturday and that could create some problems for the Grand Prix. Cross fingers the storm isn’t deadly. Races can be delayed, postponed or cancelled but lives are at stake over there and infrastructure such as hospitals and houses can’t be rebuilt at the snap of a finger.

A late development has qualifying being moved from Saturday to Sunday morning before the race. If qualifying is cancelled, the field will be set on the basis of times set during second practice Friday in which Valtteri Bottas set fastest time.

One other thing: Gunther Steiner, boss of Haas F1, was fined about $8,000 for criticizing a steward at the Russian GP. Steiner told his driver, Kevin Magnussen: “If we didn’t have a stupid idiotic steward, we would be eighth … You know who is the steward. You know him. It is always the same. He just does not get any more intelligent…”

Funny, that’s kind of how I feel about all the stewards in F1 . . .

At Road Atlanta, according to IMSA’s PR people, four champions will be crowned at the conclusion of the 10-hour Petit Le Mans. Here’s who’s in contention.

Daytona Prototype international (DPi): The No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi takes a 12-point edge over the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi into the finale.

Dane Cameron: The Acura Team Penske driver already has one championship in the WeatherTech Championship’s premier class, earning the 2016 title with Eric Curran in the Action Express Racing Corvette DP. Cameron also captured the 2014 GTD title with Turner Motorsport.

Juan Pablo Montoya: One of the greats of his generation with race wins in Formula 1, Indy cars, NASCAR and IMSA, the Acura Team Penske driver is chasing his first WeatherTech Championship title. Not that the Colombian hasn’t won pivotal events. Montoya is a three-time overall winner in the Rolex 24 At Daytona (2007, ’08, ’13), two-time Indianapolis 500 winner (2000, ’15), two-time victor in F1’s Monaco Grand Prix (2001, ’05) and was the 1999 CART champion in Indy cars.

Felipe Nasr: The Brazilian is aiming to repeat as DPi champion in the No. 31. He also won last year’s Michelin Endurance Cup in DPi. He could also be in line for a seat the new McLaren IndyCAr team.

Pipo Derani: He’ll try to celebrate his 26th birthday on race day by winning his first major championship of any kind as Nasr’s teammate in the No. 31. Derani already has a handful of major endurance race wins, however, including the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2016 and three victories in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts in the past four years (2016, ’18, ’19).

Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2): att McMurry (No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2) leads Cameron Cassels (No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA LMP2) by eight points. Each driver is in search of his first major racing championship.

GT Le Mans (GTLM): The No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR has a 12-point lead over its sister No. 911 car.

Earl Bamber: The No. 912 Porsche driver is a two-time overall winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2015, ‘17) as well as the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship titlist.

Laurens Vanthoor: Bamber’s co-driver in the No. 912 is the 2013 FIA GT champion, 2014 FIA GT and Blancpain Endurance Series champion, 2016 FIA GT Macau World Cup and Intercontinental GT Challenge champion, as well as the GTE Pro class winner at the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Nick Tandy: Seeking his first major championship, the co-driver of the No. 911 does have a number of impressive GTLM wins, including three at Michelin Raceway (2013 in GT, 2015 and ’18 in GTLM), 2014 in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and this year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. He is also an overall winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015.

Patrick Pilet: Tandy’s teammate was the WeatherTech Championship GTLM champion in 2015 and Michelin Endurance Cup champ in 2017. He was the overall Motul Petit Le Mans winner in 2015 and has GTLM wins at Daytona (2014), Sebring (2018 and ’19) and Michelin Raceway (2018).

GT Daytona (GTD): Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman, full-season drivers of the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3, need only leave the starting grid Saturday to secure the class championship.

Mario Farnbacher: He collected the Michelin Endurance Cup in 2017, has a GTC win at Michelin Raceway in 2012 and a pair of Sebring victories in GTD (2015, ’17).

Trent Hindman: The GTD title would add to a growing list that includes the 2014 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge GS championship; 2016 Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America Pro-Am crown and 2017 Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America and world Pro championships.

One other thing before we leave IMSA. Jan Magnussen, one of the great racing drivers of all time who had shots at IndyCar and Formula One but shone in sports cars, has been a Corvette Racing driver for 16 years. This might be the last one. Reports have Jordan Taylor replacing him next year in the new mid-engine Corvette C8-R. If Magnussen is on the chopping block, it won’t be long before Oliver Gavin will hear that knock on the door, too.


In NASCAR Cup, Chase Elliott’s PR people message that Elliott is “chasing” history, in the form of a NASCAR Hall of Fame father. The gap is considerable but appears to be slowly-but-surely lessening between NASCAR’s current Most Popular Driver and his dad Bill Elliott, who won that award a record 16 times via a fan vote. Chase Elliott, 23, is a heavy favorite to repeat as “MPD” and one of the serious favorites to win Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

A victory Sunday would be especially significant for the son, who also won Talladega’s spring race this season. A season sweep at Talladega was something the father – a two-time race winner at the 2.66-mile tri-oval – never accomplished despite his status as one of the greatest superspeedway racers. During the track’s storied history there have been seven season sweeps: Pete Hamilton in 1970, Buddy Baker in ’75, Darrell Waltrip in ’82, Dale Earnhardt in ’90 and ’99, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2002 and Jeff Gordon in ’07.

The fact that the 1000Bulbs.com 500 is part of Talladega’s 50th anniversary weekend adds another layer of importance. And of course, when you’re talking “real time” it doesn’t get more real than this: Sunday’s race is the second event (of three) in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 12. Elliott needs a victory to advance to the Round of 8 which begins in two weeks.

Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, credits his April Talladega triumph to avoiding wrecks and cooperating with fellow Chevy drivers.

“We made a pretty conscious effort with our manufacturer to try and do a better job of working together; it worked at Talladega,” Elliott said. “Hopefully it works out [again]. That’s the thing, we can put as much effort as we want or as little effort as we want, but it’s never going to [ensure] you aren’t going to crash or have a bad day there.

“I expect we’ll do our part on our end to try and make as good of a day as we can out of it, but no guarantees.”

There never are, at Talladega.

One other thing from NASCAR: Stewart-Haas Racing has re-signed Aric Almirola and that is a mystery to me. Stewart-Haas is a winning racing team, or should be. Aric Almirola is a driver who rarely wins. Might it have something to do with the sponsorship? Are mediocre drivers holding onto seats in NASCAR, as is the case in just about every other racing series in the world, because they have a connection to money?

Finally, Formula One.

There are only five F1 races remaining – this one, Mexico, the U.S., Brazil and Abu Dhabi and since Lewis Hamilton will wrap up the championship before the final race, about all there is to get excited about is whether Seb Vettel and Chuck Leclerc will follow team orders, if any.

We all know the big controversy at the Russian GP when Vettel beat everybody into the first corner but then didn’t back off and let Leclerc pass him. Ferrari did get Leclerc ahead of Vettel at the first pit stop but then Vettel’s engine conked out.

My take: he’s in front, why would he let his teammate pass him? If he backs off to do it, Hamilton and Bottas would both get by him too. It’s folly to tell a driver in front to let a teammate past.

Sebastian Vettel has won four world championships; Leclerc hasn’t been in F1 for two full seasons yet. Why in the world is Chuck demanding to be No. 1?

Ferrari should do what every racing team with brains would do. The race starts and whoever leads the first lap should be the one who’s protected – unless that leader shows he can’t stand the pace, at which time his teammate should be allowed to pass in order to win the race for the team. Or, if the guy in second place really has the bit in his teeth, and nobody is stupid enough to cause a crash, he should be able to race his way past his teammate.

Deciding beforehand who will win the race, or finish ahead of the other guy, is a fool’s game and should not be tolerated by anybody.