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Road Atlanta Friday Notebook

John Dagys’ Friday notebook from Road Atlanta on eve of 21st Motul Petit Le Mans…

Photo: John Dagys

***The top 11 qualifiers for Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans all broke the Prototype track qualifying record, held by Helio Castroneves from last year’s race.

***Thirty six of the 37 entries recorded times in qualifying, with the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R electing to sit out the session due to an engine change. The Patrick Long, Christiana Nielsen and Robert Renauer-driven entry will start from the rear of the GT Daytona class field as a result.

***There were a number of signing opportunities throughout the paddock on Friday beyond the traditional driver autograph session. Fans were invited to write messages on a large banner in the Team Panoz tent (pictured above), in memory of Dr. Don Panoz, who passed away last month.

***Additionally, the hoods of both the Nos. 86 and 93 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s were available for fans’ signatures and will again be during the grid walk on Saturday morning. The rear wing of the Panoz Avezzano GT4 that will take part in the upcoming California 8 Hours will also be made available for fan signatures tomorrow.

***Jan Magnussen and Johnny O’Connell turned laps in the Panoz GTR-1 and DeltaWing DWC13 Coupe, respectively, on Wednesday, in preparation for an honorary pre-race lap tomorrow. “It’s great honor to get to do this for Don,” Magnussen said. “I hope everyone who was listening and watching was reminded how fantastic those monster cars were. It’s fantastic.”

***All cars in tomorrow’s race are carrying decals in memory of Panoz.

***Michelin’s new naming rights deal with Road Atlanta, which will transform the facility into Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta beginning this year, has been in the works since the spring according to Chris Baker, director of motorsports for Michelin North America.

***Baker told Sportscar365 that he believes the creation of the all-new Michelin Tower, which will replace the existing aging pit tower, will offer expanded business-to-business opportunities and launch events at the track. Construction of the new four-story building, which will feature hospitality suites, a brand-new media center and race control, will begin shortly after this weekend’s race once the current building is demolished.

***Michelin becomes the second major IMSA partner to become an entitlement sponsor of a prominent North American track in an eight-month period, following WeatherTech’s naming rights deal with Laguna Seca that was inked earlier this year.

***Marcel Fassler is the only driver set to pull double duty between two cars tomorrow, with the Swiss driver listed and expected to complete stints in both the Nos. 3 and 4 Corvette C7.Rs, in support of the team’s full-season drivers.  “Apart from the seat position, everything seems similar [between the two cars],” Fassler told IMSA Radio. 

***With drive times limited to no more than four hours in a six-hour period and six hours altogether, Magnussen believes Fassler will play an important role in both cars. “Usually a third driver will do an hour or two in the middle of the race,” he said. “So he may jump from one car to the other and help both entries out that way.”

***Meyer Shank Racing will run a second Acura NSX GT3 Evo next year according to team co-owner Mike Shank, who told Sportscar365 that details should be confirmed “very quickly” on the entry.

***Shank has also not ruled out AJ Allmendinger for a seat next year, although said AJ has to “figure out what he wants to do” amid news that the former open-wheel-turned NASCAR ace will not return to JTG Daugherty Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year.

“There will be a time when he’s here a lot in sports cars,” said Shank, a longtime friend of Allmendinger. “I don’t know if it’s next year or not, but I think there’s some unfinished things. I think he deserves a little more [in NASCAR] if he wants it. If he doesn’t, then I’ll take him.”

***MSR could also return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2019, with Jackie Heinricher targeting an all-female driver lineup in association with the Ohio-based team and new sponsor Caterpillar. MSR took part in the French endurance classic in 2016, fielding a Ligier JS P2 Honda in LMP2.

***Of note, Ana Beatriz, who is set to join Heinricher and Katherine Legge for the Michelin Endurance Cup races next year, has a duplicate listing on the FIA driver ratings list. Per the 2018 list, “Ana Beatriz Figueiredo” is classified as a Silver, with “Bia Figueiredo” a Gold-rated driver.

***Should Legge be upgraded from Silver to Gold for 2019 as expected, Beatriz will need to be Silver rated in order for the lineup to be eligible, alongside Bronze-rated Heinricher and Simona de Silvestro, who is currently a Gold.

***Pfaff Motorsports team manager Steve Bortolotti told Sportscar365 it’s not yet clear when they will take delivery of its new 2019-spec Porsche 911 GT3 R, as the initial batch of 6-8 cars allocated for North America could all go to teams taking part in the Rolex 24.

***The Canadian squad will not make its IMSA debut until the fourth round of the overall WeatherTech Championship season, having committed to seven-race WeatherTech Sprint Cup, which kicks off at Mid-Ohio in May.

***IMSA President Scott Atherton has confirmed that the first three hours of next year’s Motul Petit Le Mans will be broadcast live on NBC, as part of the sanctioning body’s new six-year deal with the TV network that starts with the Rolex 24 in January.

***Both the newly announced Acura NSX GT3 Evo and Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo, which made its race debut in VLN competition last weekend, are on display in the vendor village.

***Interest in next month’s IMSA Michelin SportsCar Encore appears to be modest, with only a handful of teams so far officially committing to the Nov. 9-11 event. Extreme Speed Motorsports and K2R Racing have confirmed LMP3 entries, with Carbahn Motorsports set to enter two Audi R8 LMS GT4 cars, along with a GT4-spec Audi from a Pirelli World Challenge team.

***It’s understood IMSA has extended invites to several manufacturers currently not represented on the GT4 and TCR grids to take part in the inaugural four-hour race.

Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John


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