On Tuesday, Acura unveiled their full-time driver lineup for the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge factory efforts at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The lineup consists of solid, veteran talent. Note that the car pictured above is the Acura TLX-GT, raced in Pirelli World Challenge by RealTime Racing. It will be replaced by the new Acura NSX GT3.
Acura previously announced that Michael Shank Racing will be fielding a two-car factory backed program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2017. The team, which will move from the Prototype class to the GT Daytona category, is subject to the Pro-Am requirements of the class.
The sole returning driver to MSR in 2017 will be Oswaldo “Ozz” Negri, Jr. Negri has raced for MSR for the entire 250 race existence of the team, dating back to 2004. In that time, Negri claimed five victories, including the overall at the Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort at Road Atlanta earlier this month. Most of those years were spent racing alongside John Pew, who has officially taken a step back from his driving career. At age 52, Negri is considered to be an amateur driver, despite his professional resume. That is because drivers are automatically downgraded one level once they reach the age of 50.
Negri will be joined by three very quick veterans with years of sports car racing experience. The first of those drivers is Andy Lally, the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year and a five-time class winner at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Lally is coming off of a season in which he claimed his fifth Rolex 24 class win and an additional win with Magnus Racing owner/driver John Potter. However, the end of the season was marked by an outright exclusion from VIR due to a minute infraction and a drive-time violation at Road Atlanta that took away a class victory.
Katherine Legge joins Michael Shank Racing after spending the past four seasons racing for Panoz DeltaWing Racing in the American Le Mans Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Much of that time has been a struggle for the Panoz squad with the completely different concept to race car development. However, there have been some accomplishments for the team. Legge was the fastest driver in Daytona earlier this year and became the first woman to lead overall in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Prior to joining Panoz DeltaWing Racing, Legge competed for Dragon Racing in the then-IZOD IndyCar Series, along with KV Racing and Dale Coyne Racing in the Champ Car World Series.
Finally, Jeff Segal rounds out the driving lineup. Segal is a two-time champion in the GT class of Grand-Am’s Rolex Sports Car Series (2010 with SpeedSource in a Mazda RX-8, 2012 with AIM Autosport in a Ferrari 458 Italia). However, Segal has raced sparingly over the past three seasons. In 2014, Segal started out the season by racing for Level 5 Motorsports. The team won the GT Daytona class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in controversial fashion, then suddenly shut down under what were considered unusual circumstances at the time. Only since then has the full scope of Level 5 Motorsports owner Scott Tucker’s business dealings become public. Tucker is the main player on the hook for $1.266 billion in restitution to the FTC as a result of his payday lending practices.
For the past two years, Segal has raced in the endurance events for Scuderia Corsa in the GT Daytona class. This past season, Segal was part of the winning team at both Sebring and Watkins Glen.
The four drivers announced Tuesday are the full-time drivers. However, the actual driver pairings were not announced. In addition, extra drivers will be contracted for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races (Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta). Look for an announcement concerning that in the coming weeks.
In Pirelli World Challenge, RealTime Racing will also continue under the Acura banner, fielding two NSX GT3’s in the GT class. Ryan Eversley returns to the team for his third full season. He will be joined by 52-year old Peter Kox, who served as the chief test driver for the NSX GT3 this season. Much of that testing took place publicly during race weekends. Kox’s background includes years of experience in touring cars and a GTS class victory at Le Mans in 2003 for Veloqx Prodrive Racing in a Ferrari 550 GTS. Kox will replace RealTime Racing owner Peter Cunningham, who is taking a step back from driving.
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