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Dixon Set For ‘European Version of Indy 500’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 18 2016
IndyCar champion Scott Dixon will be behind the wheel of a Ford GT at Le Mans this weekend.

IndyCar champion Scott Dixon will be behind the wheel of a Ford GT at Le Mans this weekend.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Open-wheel star Scott Dixon will embellish his world-class racing resume this weekend as a first-time participant in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Less than a month after competing in the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500, Dixon is part of a Le Mans logofour-car team marking the Ford GT’s historic victory at Du Mans 50 years ago. Dixon, a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, will team with Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in one of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s entries in the 84th edition of the world’s most prestigious sports car endurance race.

“Yeah, I’m excited, man,” Dixon said last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, site of the rained-out and rescheduled-for-August Firestone 600. “Everybody, I’m sure, has watched the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I’ve watched it for many years and how well it’s received over there. It’s an amazing event. Looks like a European version of the Indy 500, with the different traditions they have.

“And as mentioned, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ’66 win for the Ford GT, for Bruce McLaren driving that car. The whole point is to see if we can replicate that win 50 years later.”

Dixon and wife Emma’s trek to France was delayed by a day, when the Firestone 600 originally scheduled for last Saturday night was postponed and rescheduled for Sunday afternoon. But a grinding crash involving Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden and another round of rain forced INDYCAR and TMS officials to call it quits for the weekend after 71 laps. The race will be resumed on Aug. 27.

A two-week break in the IndyCar Series schedule allowed team-owner Ganassi to add Dixon to his

Scott Dixon is spending his vacation in France.

Scott Dixon is spending his vacation in France.

Le Mans roster. Dixon competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, season-opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, for the 13th time at Daytona International Speedway in January. In 2015, Dixon joined Ganassi teammates Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson in the winning car for America’s most prestigious endurance race.

Dixon acknowledged it’s his good fortune to be teamed with Westbrook and Briscoe following their class win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the Ford GT’s fourth outing.

“Yeah, it was cool how it all came together for myself,” said Dixon, a 35-year-old New Zealander living in Indianapolis. “Obviously, I was asking a lot about that program when I first heard rumors about it, chatted with Chip to see if we could make something possible.

“If you look at it as a whole, in combination with the same team, a lot of guys that have worked on the Indy car program that I’ve worked on the IMSA program. The transition makes it a lot easier. I think if it wasn’t the same team it’d be very difficult to look outside the current program. For right now it’s just basically driving for Chip. It helps me maybe for my future if and when I decide to go out of Indy car, I’ll at least have some experience at Le Mans if I decide to race in sports cars or whatever. For me, it’s a good deal.”

Dixon said he has leaned on Briscoe _ a former Indy car driver for Ganassi _ for insight into the new Ford as well as the 8.47-mile/38-turn Circuit de la Sarthe. “I speak to Ryan quite often anyway, just outside of the team stuff, and he’s always been a good friend,” Dixon said. “Chatted with him quite a bit about how the test went and he came back and did a simulator day in Charlotte with Ford.

“I haven’t tried the Ford one (simulator). The simulator in France is not necessarily car-specific so when I was running it it wasn’t a Ford GT; it was probably a McLaren or something. It’s more about the procedures, understanding the safety car procedure there, the yellow zone procedure and different things that are unique to Le Mans. A lot of eyes-wide-open taking in the experience. But I can’t wait for the experience _ it will be so cool.”

In addition to Briscoe, Dixon said he is counting on IndyCar Series rival and Le Mans native Sebastian Bourdais to act as unofficial tourist guide for the Dixons _ minus the kids.

“Bourdais and myself have worked together at some of the other races,” Dixon said. “Being a hometown person living right down the road _ I think he’s got a house right in Le Mans _ hopefully he can point me in the right direction for good restaurants. He can be my translator, too. I was hoping to bring (children) Poppy and Tilly because they are in French immersion and they speak fluently in French, but they can’t make the trip unfortunately.”

That 1966 Le Mans race is special to Dixon because it was won by fellow-New Zealander McLaren. Fifty years later, the Ford GT will run up against Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and defending class champion Corvette Racing in the highly competitive GTE Pro class for victory.

That’d be amazing,” Dixon said. “The problem is there are so many others trying to do the same thing just on our team alone _ and we’ve got four cars.”

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Pirelli World Challenge GT Champions Johnny O’Connell and Patrick Long are looking to add another 24 Hours of Le Mans title to their personal histories this weekend.

Currently in a fight for the 2016 PWC GT Driver’s Championship point lead, O’Connell and Long will battle in the LMGTE-Am category. O’Connell, sharing the No. 57 Team AAI Corvette C7.R with Oliver Bryant and Mark Patterson, is making his 15th career 24 Hours of Le Mans start in search of his fifth Le Mans class victory. “Johnny O” won his division in 1994, 2001, 2002 and 2009 and has also placed as runnerup on four occasions.

O’ Connell’s return to Le Mans breaks a six-year absence to concentrate on the Pirelli World Challenge with Cadillac Racing. The Georgia resident’s last Le Mans appearance was in 2010 with Corvette Racing.

“I’m very excited to be back at Le Mans,” said O’Connell, a four-time PWC GT champion. “Pratt & Miller (his former Corvette team as well as his current Cadillac squad) filled me in with what was going on, and then it was a matter of me letting the team know I was available. If I hadn’t been racing, I would be nervous, but the past five years have been highly productive for me. That’s why I’m very anxious to run Le Mans again.”

O’Connell reiterated that Le Mans remains an emotional place for him as he looks for win No. 5. “Racing at Le Mans is one of those special moments in life,” O’Connell said. “The spectacle of the entire world focusing on the challenge of running 24 hours flat-out on an amazing circuit makes for an incredible atmosphere. It’s impossible to really put into words winning there. And finally, I’m back.”

While noting that his No. 1 job in 2016 is driving for Cadillac Racing, O’Connell couldn’t turn down the opportunity at Le Mans.

“I race for Cadillac, and I love showcasing to the world on the racetrack that Cadillac stands for performance, engineering and style,” O’Connell said. “I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to take another run at Le Mans. The same can be said for Jim Campbell (GM U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports) and Mark Kent (GM Director of Racing) who understand the significance of Le Mans and what it means to a driver. Finally, the folks at Corvette Racing, who also have supported and helped along the way. Although I’m no longer driving for them, I know we’ll always be family.”

Long, America’s only works Porsche driver, will make his 13th consecutive start at Le Mans. Last June, Long teamed with Patrick Dempsey and Marco Seefried for second in the LMGTE-Am category.
 
The 34-year-old Californian is a two-time Le Mans class-winner (2004 and 2007) and twice runnerup _ all in Porsches. Long was the 2011 Pirelli World Challenge GT champion and has recorded three wins in 2016 in his Porsche 911 GT3 R.

This weekend, Long will share the No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR with Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hausson. “I finished on the podium in Le Mans last year and that’s where I want to go this year, too,” Long said. “I’m very familiar with the circuit and its quirks. But it’s still one of the toughest challenges you can imagine as a racing driver. I’m feeling very confident.”

Long is no stranger to the Proton team, having driven for the Germany-based outfit since 2010. “I’m excited to continue with what we built on for a lot of years,” Long said. “I’ve driven for Christian (Ried, Proton team owner) on and off since 2010 and it’s great to just continue the momentum.”

Long is anxious to chase a third class championship. “The car was really competitive last year,” Long said. “We had a pole, two podiums and a win at Fuji. It was a great season and it would have been tough to close the chapter completely. Khaled and David are two guys that I know really well. So as a driver, there’s not much more that I can ask for. I’m ready to get down to business and get after it.”

Following this weekend’s Le Mans classic, O’Connell and Long will return to the Pirelli World Challenge on June 23-26 at the 4.048-mile/14-turn Road America circuit in the Elkhart Lake, Wis., as part of a doubleheader with the Verizon IndyCar Series.

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Corvette Racing fans in the United States can follow every lap, driver change and much more as FOX Sports GO will stream multiple video feeds from the famed French endurance classic.

As in years past, Corvette Racing is featuring in-car cameras for both the No. 63 and No. 64 Konica Minolta/Mobil 1/Sirius XM C7.Rs. In addition, a garage camera will capture all pit stops.

The 84th edition of Le Mans will see Corvette Racing attempt to win for the second straight year in LMGTE Pro. The team also has won the last five Triple Crown endurance events, having captured the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring the last two years, in addition to Le Mans in 2015. At this year’s 24 Hours, Corvette Racing will be up against the world’s top production-based manufacturer teams, including many it races throughout North America in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“We’re pleased to partner with FOX Sports for another year of live streaming Corvette Racing action from Le Mans,” said Jeff Chew, Senior Manager, Strategic Planning and Operations for Chevrolet Racing. “This ranks as one of the most popular activities we do among our Corvette owners and fans. There will be plenty to watch as Corvette races for a second consecutive Le Mans win and ninth in our history.”

Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Ricky Taylor will drive the No. 63 Corvette C7.R while defending LMGTE Pro champions Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor partner in the No. 64 Corvette. Garcia was the fastest driver in class at the annual Test Day on June 5. With eight class victories since 2001, Corvette Racing and Chevrolet rank among the most successful teams and manufacturers to compete at Le Mans during its modern era.

“Certainly the victory last year was hard-fought and hard-earned,” Gavin said. “I was very fortunate to share the No. 64 Corvette with two fantastic teammates in Tommy and Jordan. We had a fantastic team at Corvette Racing that rallied around us after the extremely unfortunate incident with the No. 63 car (eliminated in a pre-race crash). The way it turned out and being in the car at the end was a quite exceptional moment.

“To get my fifth win was fantastic and amazing, but crossing the line and seeing all the guys hanging over the wall in celebration, then doing the slow-down lap was special. And then to come back around by the pit stall and do a little burnout in front of everyone was very cool. I did a little practice out back on the circuit to make sure I didn’t screw it up; I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. It was a great and amazing victory for Corvette Racing and one I’ll always remember.”

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The race’s flying start is set for 3 p.m. (CET) Saturday/9 a.m. (EDT) in the USA. The complete TV schedule, all times EDT:

_ 9 a.m. Saturday-9 a.m. Sunday (Live In-Car and Garage Cameras, FOX Sports GO)

_ 8:30 a.m. -2:00 p.m. Saturday (FOX Sports 1)

_ 2-4:30 p.m. Saturday (FOX Sports 2)

_ 6-6:30 p.m. Saturday (FOX Sports 2)

_ 7-7:30 p.m. Saturday (FOX Sports 2)

_ 10:30 p.m., Saturday-2:30 a.m., Sunday (FOX Sports 2)

_ 2:30-9:30 a.m. Sunday (FOX Sports 1)

_The full race will be streamed on FOX Sports GO

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 18 2016
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