***A total of 20 cars are set for this weekend’s inaugural Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore, with several last-minute driver confirmations in the release of the final entry list on late Friday.
***F3 Americas and F4 U.S. Championship winners Kyle Kirkwood and Dakota Dickerson have joined ANSA Motorsports, with Kirkwood and fellow open-wheel rising star Neil Alberico in the No. 2 Ligier JS P3 Nissan alongside Jon Brownson and Kirkwood in the No. 13 car with Roman De Angelis.
***Kirkwood and Dickerson have secured the rides courtesy of Onroak Automotive for their success in the Onroak-chassised open-wheel series this year. Kirkwood, remarkably, claimed wins in 15 of the 17 F3 Americas races this season. “Both Kyle and Dakota have proven they’re fast in anything they compete in, but most importantly, they are consistent drivers who make smart decisions on the track”, said Onroak Automotive North America General Manager Max Crawford.
***Robin Shute, Tazio Ottis and Jim Antues are set to share driving duties of Atlantic Racing Team’s Adess 03 Nissan, the only non-Ligier in the LMP3 field this weekend following the withdrawals of Forty7 Motorsports’ Norma M30 Nissans, which were initially due to take part.
***John Schauerman has been confirmed as the third driver in the No. 11 Simraceway Motorsports Ligier, and rising Dutch star Kay van Berlo in the No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier alongside James McGuire and Matt Bell.
***Berlo, who is making his U.S. racing debut, is managed by countrymen Renger van der Zande and Nicky Catsburg. The 17-year-old karting champion told Sportscar365 that he’s working on a potential step up to LMP2 competition next year, following his rookie LMP3 season in the European Le Mans Series, in his first year of sports car racing.
***McGuire, Bell and Berlo, along with Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne, who are in the No. 84 JDC Motorsports Ligier this weekend, are set for a busy winter season, with all five drivers taking part in the Asian Le Mans Series, which kicks off later this month in Shanghai. They will all be at the wheel of United Autosports Ligiers in Asia.
***Sunday’s four-hour race will see the absence of GT3 cars, which were initially eligible but ultimately not present due to a “collective decision” by IMSA and teams, according to IMSA President Scott Atherton, who confirmed interest from several GT3 manufacturers that had un-homologated Evos or new GT3 cars.
“There were many factors that played into it, and rather than just have a handful that were prepared to come, we made the collective decision to focus on the categories we’ve got,” Atherton told Sportscar365. “This is a respectable start with strong expectation for the future.”
***Sportscar365 understands that Audi, Porsche, Acura, Aston Martin and McLaren had all expressed interest or plans in bringing its new-for-2019 or Evo-spec GT3 cars over for the race.
***Atherton said IMSA remains committed to the future of the Encore, which plans to return to Sebring next year for a second edition.
***Track records for GT4 and TCR have already unofficially been broken following Saturday’s practice sessions, with Kyle Marcelli’s 2:11.339 nearly three-tenths quicker than the fastest GS lap of the weekend in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competition at Sebring, and Remo Ruscitti some 1.385 seconds quicker compared to the best time from March.
***Friday’s announcement from Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai maintains IMSA’s manufacturer involvement at 18 automakers across its championships, according to Atherton.
***Sportscar365 understands that a deal with Nissan, which was largely supported by Tequila Patron since 2017, has not yet been reached, although discussions are ongoing with IMSA for a marketing commitment solution.
***Extreme Speed Motorsports team owner Scott Sharp, who is on-site this weekend with one of his team’s LMP3 cars, told Sportscar365 that he continues to work on options for 2019 and could have further news within the next two weeks.
***Sharp confirmed the Florida-based team will return to IMSA Prototype Challenge competition with at least two Ligiers, with several of its DPi mechanics working on the ESM’s solo entry here this weekend.
***Former Grand-Am official and Road Atlanta event operations manager Gary Cummings has joined P1 Motorsports as its new team manager. The Florida-based team, which contested the Michelin Endurance Cup races this year with a Mercedes-AMG GT3, is planning further expansion within IMSA for 2019.
***Risi Competizione technical director Rick Mayer is another familiar face in a different place this weekend, with Mayer engineering the No. 11 Simraceway Ligier, an upstart team based out of Sonoma Raceway.
***Bryan Herta said that BHA’s participation in the pre-season Roar test at Daytona remains to-be-determined, as the team and manufacturer are “up against it” in getting the new Veloster N TCR ready for its competition debut. “Daytona is unique but with a January start date, it also presents its own challenges because it’s so early in the year,” Herta told Sportscar365.
***The grid in IPC, which will feature LMP3 cars only next year, is expected to reach 20 cars. ANSA Motorsports will expand into a three-car full-season operation, while Atlantic Racing Team has committed to its Adess.
***ADESS AG CEO Stephane Chosse is on-site this weekend to help oversee his car’s first major race in North America.
***A number of significant movements are in the works in Pilot Challenge for next year, with a TCR driver pairing set to step up to GS competition with an Audi R8 LMS GT4 and Aurora Straus having recently tested a McLaren 570S GT4.
***Michelin’s sixth and final IMSA ‘On Track Opportunity’ is set for Dec. 11 at Daytona, with the French tire giant expecting a ‘fair’ amount of subscription rate from teams, according to Michelin Motorsports North America director Chris Baker.
***The single-day test will offer day and night-time running on Michelin’s range of tires that will be utilized in next year’s season-opener.
***Watch the Michelin Encore on Sunday, with live coverage on IMSA.tv beginning at 12 p.m. ET featuring commentary from John Hindhaugh and Jeremy Shaw.