***There was much fanfare in the paddock this afternoon with Team Penske’s arrival. The legendary motorsports operation makes its first sports car start in eight years this weekend with an Oreca 07 Gibson for Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, who was confirmed Wednesday as the third full-season driver in the team’s Acura DPi lineup for next year.
***The late confirmation of the Penske Oreca has boosted the Motul Petit Le Mans grid to 39 cars. Click Here for the latest version of the entry list.
***The No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 has a new livery featuring a Linkin Park design and graphics, via the band’s promotional partnership with the manufacturer. Band members are set to attend this weekend’s race, in one of the first public appearances since lead singer’s Chester Bennington’s death in June. Linkin Park recently canceled its planned November tour in Japan to allow for more time to mourn Bennington’s sudden passing.
***Nick Heidfeld is expected to arrive in Atlanta tonight after taking part in the opening two days of Formula E pre-season testing in Valencia. The German rejoins Rebellion Racing, alongside Mathias Beche and American Gustavo Menezes, who makes his team debut.
***Sportscar365 understands that Rebellion is not likely the customer that placed the order for three Ginetta LMP1 cars earlier this week. While a decision on the Anglo-Swiss squad’s 2018 plans have not yet been finalized, it’s believed Rebellion could opt for Oreca’s proposed LMP1 car instead, should it decide to re-enter the top class in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
***A number of updates have been made to Road Atlanta since last year, with 12 areas of the circuit having either been re-paved, grounded or patched. It’s included sections in Turns 1, 3/4, 5, 6, 10A, as well as Turns 11 and 12. The majority of the work was completed this summer, according to Event Operations, Facilities and Maintenance manager Gary Cummings.
***All nine Porsche factory drivers in this weekend’s race took part in a meet-and-greet at Porsche Cars North America’s headquarters in Atlanta on Wednesday morning, prior to arriving at Road Atlanta. The event included a Q&A with employees, lunch at the company restaurant and one hour of track time at the Porsche Experience Center.
***Of note, Gianmaria Bruni, Porsche’s newest factory driver, met his new co-driver Earl Bamber for the first time during breakfast at the event.
***Ryan Dalziel has launched RaceCarCoaches.com, a location-based website that connects professional driver coaches with clients. “There are so many great websites out there that allow you to find businesses based on location, but nothing out there for race car coaches or track day needs,” said Dalziel. “This will provide that, and hopefully build a strong network of clients and top-level coaches.”
***Two drivers competing in this weekend’s race: Bill Auberlen and Scott Pruett, took part in the inaugural Petit Le Mans in 1998. Pruett finished 8th overall in a Panoz Esperante GTR-1 he shared with Eric Bernard, Andy Wallace and David Brabham, while Auberlen failed to finish at the wheel of a PTG-entered BMW M3.
***Saturday’s race will mark Auberlen’s 400th with BMW. The Californian joined BMW Team PTG in 1996 and has been part of every BMW of North America racing program since. Auberlen has co-driven to the first victory for each model contested: the BMW M3, BMW Z4 and BMW M6 and stands first in all-time North American pole positions and second in all-time wins.
***Auberlen’s No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM is adorned in commemorative graphics, including on the rear wing, which has been changed from “BMW Power” to “Bill Power.”
***For the third year in a row, Michael Shank Racing will offer fans the opportunity to sign its cars ahead of Saturday’s season-ending race. Fans can stop by the team’s transporter Friday after qualifying or on Saturday during the grid walk to place their signature on either, of both of the team’s Acura NSX GT3 cars.
***IMSA is making updates to its data logger systems for next year. The mandatory systems, now outfitted on all Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona cars, will be required to comply with additional sensors and looms, for further data points and collection by the sanctioning body.
***Former Porsche R&D Chief Wolfgang Hatz was arrested last week in Germany, in connection with VW’s emissions scandal. Hatz, who played a role in the German manufacturer’s motorsports programs, resigned from the board of directors last year, after being suspended from his duties.
***IMSA is set to make a series of announcements on Friday morning, while also providing further details on its new partnership with Michelin, which goes into effect in 2019. Also included during the event will be a team car unveiling for next year.
***Legendary NASCAR team owner and engine builder Robert Yates passed away after a long battle with liver cancer at the age of 74. Yates lent his name to Roush Yates engines, which builds the Ford EcoBoost power plants in the Ford GTs.
***Mercedes-Benz USA has partnered with Road Atlanta to serve as the official Pace Car and Safety Car for this weekend’s race. A Mercedes AMG GTR in AMG Green Hell Magno will start and pace the field in Saturday’s ten-hour race.