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Risi Unveils Driver Teams For 2018 IMSA Season

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 3 2018

The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari that will be driven by Tony Vilander, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in 2018.

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Houston-based Risi Competizione will open the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with a two-car Ferrari effort in the Rolex 24 At Daytona set for Jan. 25-28 at Daytona International Speedway.

Team-owner Giuseppe Risi will field the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTLM (Grand Touring Le Mans class) with Toni Vilander of Finland, Brit James Calado and Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi. During the annual Roar Before the 24 Test Days, set for Friday through Sunday, Pier Guidi will handle driving duties for the GTLM entry.

The No. 82 Ferrari 488 GT3-spec GTD (Grand Touring Daytona class) entry will be wheeled by four drivers _ Spaniard Miguel Molina and Mexicans Martin Fuentes, Santiago Creel and Ricardo Perez de Lara.

Risi Competizione captured five podiums in seven IMSA races last season, including a third-place finish at the 24-hour Daytona race in the No. 62 GTLM “Prancing Horse.” This season will mark the start of the third year of competition for the Ferrari 488, which made its debut prior to the 2016 running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The team finished sixth at DIS and closed the season with a victory at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

The GTLM Risi entry features Ferrari factory drivers with impressive endurance racing resumes. Vilander has driven fulltime with Risi Competizione for the past two IMSA seasons paired with Giancarlo Fisichella. They compiled one victory, two podiums and six top-five finishes, highlighted by a second-place finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. Additionally, Vilander _ a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner _ won the 2017 running of the Bathurst 12-Hour race in a Ferrari 488 GT3.

Both Calado and Pier Guidi secured the World Endurance Championship (WEC) GT drivers’ title as Ferrari teammates at the end of the 2017 season. Both will be making their second drives for Risi, with Calado previously having driven to victory at Petit Le Mans in 2016 and Pier Guidi taking third-place at last year’s Petit finale with Vilander and Fisichella.

Molina, who became a Ferrari factory GT driver in March 2017, will compete in his inaugural Rolex 24. But the Spaniard is quite comfortable with endurance racing, having completed a full season in WEC last year, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans and winning the Gulf 12 Hours race in mid-December.

Fuentes has achieved success in the Ferrari 488 with Scuderia Corse in the Trofeo Pirelli North American series, finishing in the top four in 2017 and winning the Pirelli World Challenge series GTA class driver’s championship in 2016. Fuentes started his racing career in karting in 2005 before advancing into cars.

Perez de Lara has joined the Risi GTD lineup after several years of competition with Ferrari of Houston’s Ferrari Challenge team, including winning the championship in 2014. His racing career commenced in single-seaters in the late 1990s, where he won F2 and F3 championships. He has had a diverse racing background that also includes NASCAR Mexico, Clio Cup, Super Copa Telcel, Porsche GT3 Cup USA and even Freightliner truck racing. He previously competed in the Rolex 24 in 2016 in an Aston Martin.

Creel will be making his first appearance in the Ferrari 488 GTD, although he’s competed in the previous two Rolex 24 races at Daytona. Creel spent the previous seven years in the Porsche GT3 Cup, first in Mexico and then the U.S., and advanced to the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup series the past two seasons.

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As the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship begins with this weekend’s Roar Before The Rolex 24, a busy offseason for teams and drivers has already begun. Here’s a quick, team-by-team look at what’s in store for each entry in the Prototype class:

No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM

Nissan DPi

Scott Sharp/Ryan Dalziel/Olivier Pla

The No. 2 team closed out 2017 with a victory in the Motul Petit Le Mans. Returning as full-season co-drivers are Sharp and Dalziel, with a new endurance racing teammate for 2018, the ultra-fast Pla. Sharp owns a pair of Rolex 24 victories, the most recent coming in 2016, while Dalziel won the event in 2010.

No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing

Cadillac DPi

Joao Barbosa/Filipe Albuquerque/Christian Fittipaldi

 The biggest news for the No. 5 team heading into the 2018 season is the addition of Albuquerque as Barbosa’s full-time co-driver in the No. 5 machine, forming “Team Portugal.” Fittipaldi moves from full-time driver to become the team’s sporting director, but will continue to drive in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup rounds. Barbosa, Fittipaldi and the No. 5 team have won every Patrón Endurance Cup since its inception in 2014.

No. 6 Acura Team Penske

Acura DPi

Dane Cameron/Juan Pablo Montoya/Simon Pagenaud

 Cameron, the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype co-champion, joins the new-for-2018 WeatherTech Championship team alongside Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 winner, IndyCar champion, three-time Rolex 24 overall winner and race winner in both Formula 1 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, who is moving to full-time WeatherTech Championship status this season. Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar Series champion, joins the team for endurance races.

No. 7 Acura Team Penske

Acura DPi

Ricky Taylor/Helio Castroneves/Graham Rahal

 Taylor will defend his 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype title with a new team, as he moves to the No. 7 Acura DPi to join three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves as new car’s full-time co-drivers. Rahal, a full-time IndyCar racer who already has a Rolex 24 win on his résumé, joins the team for the longer races.

No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R

Cadillac DPi

Jordan Taylor/Renger van der Zande/Ryan Hunter-Reay

 The 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion team – which won the first five races of the season, including the Rolex 24 At Daytona – will feature a new look this season. Van der Zande has joined the No. 10 squad, replacing the Acura Team Penske-bound Ricky Taylor, and will look to help Jordan Taylor and the team successfully defend their 2017 title. Indy 500 and IndyCar champion Hunter-Reay joins the team for endurance races.

No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports

Multimatic/Riley LMP2

Joel Miller

 The BAR1 team closed out the 2017 season as the final race-winners for the WeatherTech Championship Prototype Challenge (PC) class, which concluded after the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October. In 2018, the team steps into the Prototype class with a heavily revised Multimatic/Riley LMP2 race car. Joel Miller, who spent the past several years with Mazda, is the lone driver entered thus far for this week’s Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM

Nissan DPi

Johannes van Overbeek/Pipo Derani/Nicolas Lapierre

 Van Overbeek and Derani own the distinction of being the co-drivers for the Nissan DPi’s first victory, which they accomplished last year at Road America. This year, Derani – who joined the team as a full-time driver at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen last year – will contest the full WeatherTech Championship season alongside van Overbeek. The pair of drivers will look for their second Rolex 24 win in three years and will do it with Lapierre, a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner, as their co-driver.

No. 23 United Autosports

Ligier LMP2

Phil Hanson/Lando Norris/Fernando Alonso

 The No. 23 garage and pit area figures to be a busy place during the Roar and the Rolex 24 as two-time F1 World Champion Alonso makes his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut alongside Hanson, the 2017 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion, and 18-year-old McLaren F1 Test & Reserve driver Norris.

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing

Cadillac DPi

Felipe Nasr/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Stuart Middleton

Brazilian Nasr joins the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion team as Curran’s new full-time teammate in 2018. The ex-F1 racer previously raced with the team in the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona as winner of the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge. This year’s winner, Middleton, joins the full-timers along with Conway, who is back for another season of endurance racing for the No. 31 team.

No. 32 United Autosports

Ligier LMP2

Will Owen/Hugo de Sadeleer/Paul di Resta/Bruno Senna

 The strong, two-car lineup for United Autosports is bolstered by the No. 32 entry. Owen was runner-up in the 2017 European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship, while di Resta is a veteran of Formula 1 and DTM competition. De Sadeleer won 2017 ELMS “Rookie of the Year” honors, while Senna – 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 champion and nephew of the Formula 1 legend – makes his second consecutive Rolex 24 start after racing last year with Tequila Patrón ESM.

No. 37 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA

ORECA LMP2

Lance Stroll/Felix Rosenqvist/Daniel Juncadella/Robin Frijns

This year’s Rolex 24 will feature two active F1 racers as Williams driver Stroll returns for his second Rolex 24 appearance after competing in 2016 aboard a Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Daytona Prototype. Swedish driver Rosenqvist is a full-time Formula E racer, while Frijns brings Formula 1, Formula E and sports car experience. Juncadella is a Mercedes-AMG factory driver.

No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports

ORECA LMP2

James French/Kyle Masson

 The final PC class championship-winning team – which won seven of eight races – moves to the Prototype class for 2018. Thus far, the team has named two drivers, both of whom were part of the team’s 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona class victory. French also won the season championship for Performance Tech, while Masson joined French and 2017 co-driver Patricio O’Ward as Patrón Endurance Cup champions.

No. 52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports

Ligier LMP2

Sebastian Saavedra/Gustavo Yacaman/Roberto Gonzalez/Nicholas Boulle

 In mid-December, Saavedra and Yacaman were introduced as full-season drivers for the team, which combines longtime IMSA participants PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports with the former AFS Racing IndyCar program. While Saavedra and Yacaman form “Team Colombia,” they’ll be joined at the Rolex 24 by Mexican driver Gonzalez and American Boulle, who won the PC class in last year’s Rolex 24.

No. 54 CORE Autosport

ORECA LMP2

Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Romain Dumas/Loic Duval

 After a year of GT Daytona (GTD) class competition in a Porsche, longtime CORE teammates Bennett and Braun return to their Prototype racing roots in 2018. For the Rolex 24, the team has stacked the deck with a pair of drivers with extensive experience as factory drivers. Dumas was a longtime Porsche works pilot, while Duval remains part of Audi’s program.

No. 55 Mazda Team Joest

Mazda DPi

Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell/Spencer Pigot

 Longtime Mazda factory racer Bomarito rejoins a Mazda Prototype program sporting a whole new look in 2018 under the Mazda Team Joest banner. He’ll be joined full-time by British racer Tincknell, who also drives for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s FIA WEC program, and IndyCar racer Pigot.

No. 77 Mazda Team Joest

Mazda DPi

Oliver Jarvis/Tristan Nunez/Rene Rast

Another longtime Mazda factory racer, Nunez will be paired with former Audi factory driver Jarvis on a full-time basis in 2018 with Mazda Team Joest. Rast, who won the 2017 DTM title as an Audi factory driver, joins the lineup as endurance driver.

No. 78 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA

ORECA LMP2

Ho-Pin Tung/Alex Brundle/Antonio Felix da Costa/Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen

 Tung and the team won the LMP2 class and finished second overall in the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing one spot ahead of the team’s other Le Mans entry, which included Brundle in its driver lineup. Brundle competed in several WeatherTech Championship events in 2014, but has focused on European racing since 2015. He won the 2016 ELMS LMP3 championship. Da Costa currently races in Formula E, while Habsburg raced FIA Formula 3 in 2017.

No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports

ORECA LMP2

Simon Trummer/Robert Alon/Austin Cindric/Devlin DeFrancesco

 Swiss driver Trummer, who owns previous experience in the FIA WEC and Europe’s VLN Series, moves to full-time WeatherTech Championship competition in 2018 aboard the rechristened “Banana Boat.” He’ll be joined by Alon, who returns to Prototype racing this year after a year of GTD competition in the 3GT Racing Lexus in 2017. Alon is a past race-winner in WeatherTech Championship PC class competition. Versatile racer Cindric, who has been a top performer in everything from the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to Global Rallycross, joins the team for the Rolex 24, as does 17-year-old Canadian DeFrancesco, who won races in FIA European Formula 3 and the Spanish Formula 3 championship.

No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing

Cadillac DPi

Matt McMurry/Tristan Vautier

 Spirit of Daytona joins the Cadillac DPi ranks in 2018 with an all-new driver lineup. Vautier, a veteran of IndyCar competition, moves to the Prototype ranks after driving for SunEnergy1 Racing in the GTD class in 2017. McMurry, who became the youngest driver in 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014 at the age of 16, will race full-time alongside Vautier for the full 2018 WeatherTech Championship campaign.

No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports

ORECA LMP2

Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg/Chris Miller/Gustavo Menezes

 Simpson and Goikhberg impressed WeatherTech Championship fans throughout 2017 with their strong performances as co-drivers of the JDC-Miller team’s “Banana Boat,” but in 2018, they’ll move to another storied sports car livery, as the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” returns for the first time since 2014. The full-time teammates will be joined by their regular endurance co-driver, Miller, as well as Menezes, a 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and FIA WEC champion in the LMP2 class.

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 3 2018
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