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Road Atlanta Thursday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Thursday notebook from Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

***DPi title contenders Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani assembled for a group photo Thursday on the Motul Petit Le Mans podium with the championship trophy (pictured above). Wayne Taylor Racing’s Taylor and Albuquerque hold a narrow 19-point lead over the Action Express Racing duo of Nasr and Derani heading into Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship championship-decider.

***The No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R will miss tonight’s practice following Jan Heylen’s accident in Practice 2. Sportscar365 believes the car sustained chassis damage with the team confirming as of 6 p.m. that they are working on “logistics.” Patrick Long, who is set to step down from full-time racing following Saturday’s event, is part of the driver lineup.

***WIN Autosport’s Oreca 07 Gibson encountered gearbox issues in the opening practice session before returning to action in Practice 2. The car was shifting into neutral when driver Steven Thomas tried to change gear, according to team manager Michael Harvey.

***A broken cable caused Mazda’s stoppage in Practice 1. “It was an electrical issue,” driver Jonathan Bomarito told Sportscar365. “We had a main cable that broke, so it was running on-and-off before finally just quitting. It wasn’t anything we could fix on pit lane so we missed most of that session, but we found it and it was a definite fix.”

***A total of 56 Bronze or Silver-rated drivers are required to complete night-time laps in tonight’s 90-minute practice session in order to be eligible to drive during “periods of darkness” in the race. Click Here for the full list. 

***Meyer Shank Racing team co-owner Mike Shank believes the teams that tested at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta will benefit due to the stop/start nature of the practice sessions and level of traffic around the 2.54-mile circuit with 43 cars, including a record 10 LMP3 entries. There were a total of five red flags between the first two practice sessions to date.

***The No. 60 Acura ARX-05 was one of more than a dozen teams to have tested last month, in what had marked Helio Castroneves’ first laps with MSR’s DPi operation. The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner has replaced full-season driver Olivier Pla for this weekend.

***Mazda Motorsports is sporting a “Thank You Mazda Fans” message on the shark fin of the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P this weekend, along with signatures of fans submitted through a social media campaign across the engine cover, in honor of the program’s final race this weekend.

***The Japanese manufacturer exits top-level IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition, with no current plans beyond the continued running of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BF Goodrich, which concludes its season this weekend.

***The No. 97 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 is the car that started the season as the No. 79 before getting re-tubbed following the WeatherTech 240 at Watkins Glen International. The Proton Competition-run team reverted to its second car from Lime Rock Park-onwards.

***The status of Alexander Sims’ program for Corvette Racing next year is not finalized beyond his participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, amid the team’s split into parallel IMSA and WEC programs. GM sports car racing program manager Laura Wontrop Klauser told Sportscar365 that it hasn’t been decided if they will utilize a third driver for the eight-hour WEC races at Sebring and Bahrain.

***Newly crowned two-time FIA World Endurance drivers’ champion Jose Maria Lopez is reportedly exploring opportunities to be on the DPi grid next year in a Michelin Endurance Cup capacity. The Argentinean’s co-drivers Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi have taken part in this year’s enduros with Action Express Racing.

***Lopez’s exploration is understood to be aimed to gain experience of Daytona, Sebring and Road Atlanta ahead of a possible entry by Toyota Gazoo Racing with its GR010 Hybrid Le Mans Hypercar in 2023 once it becomes eligible for WeatherTech Championship competition.

***Kobayashi, however, suggested that an IMSA ride next year is looking less likely, although he is “still looking at the opportunity.” Kobayashi indicated that Toyota has a Le Mans Hypercar test booked for the days between the Roar Before the Rolex 24 and the Daytona race itself, which could be problematic.

***Shank told Sportscar365 that his team’s driver lineup should be finalized by the end of the month. He said it’s “not for sure” that Pla won’t return to the team next year although said that Acura and HPD will hold some influence on the lineup, as has been the case this year.

***Dane Cameron is understood to be departing for Porsche Penske Motorsport, leaving the likelihood of the need of two new full-season drivers, while Shank acknowledged the predicament they have over its endurance pilots, with Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud now driving for the team’s NTT IndyCar Series program and both being candidates.

***Shank also said it’s not yet determined if AJ Allmendinger will return to the team for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, as he has done in 15 out of the last 16 years.

***A large contingent of BMW M Motorsport personnel including director Mike Krack and LMDh project manager Maurizio Leschiutta are on-site for the final race of the M8 GTE.

***The members of the BMW Junior Team – Dan Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen – were also spotted in the paddock soaking up the Road Atlanta atmosphere. They are present with their program mentor Jochen Neerpasch. The Junior Team raced a BMW M6 GT3 at the Nordschleife this year and won two races. Two of the three drivers will contest next weekend’s Hankook 24 Hours of Sebring in an M4 GT3.

***Allan McNish, who is expected to lead the management team behind Audi Sport’s LMDh effort, is on-site this weekend for continued discussions with prospective teams. Sportscar365 understands an active effort is still being made to have a works-supported presence in at least the Michelin Endurance Cup races beginning in 2023.

***Winward Racing team owner Bryce Ward has invited all 38 of its Texas and Germany-based staff for an end-of-year party in Las Vegas next month. The multinational operation competed in a number of GT3 and GT4 championships this year including Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, GTWC America, DTM, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge as well as the Rolex 24 at Daytona and this weekend’s Petit Le Mans.

***As revealed by Sportscar365 last month, Winward is planning a full-season WeatherTech Championship GTD campaign next year with a Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.

***Winward’s year may not be over following Petit Le Mans as it’s understood the team could support a South African client in the joint operation of one of its ex-DTM Mercedes chassis in next month’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season-ending Kyalami 9 Hour.

***South African driver Jonathan Aberdein, who took part in a group Mercedes-AMG customer racing test at Paul Ricard this week between Winward, GruppeM Racing and Haupt Racing Team, is understood to be one of the drivers for the effort.

Daniel Lloyd 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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