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Ryan Blaney advances to Phoenix with Martinsville victory

On Saturday, Aric Almirola announced he will retire from full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing at the end of 2023. He had an opportunity for a storybook ending the following day when he took the lead with less than 100 laps remaining at Martinsville Speedway, but Ryan Blaney had other plans.

Blaney, racing on newer tyres, passed Almirola with twenty-three laps left to secure his career-tying third win of the year and assure himself of spot in the Championship Round. It will be his first appearance in the final round.

He was already ten points above the cut line entering Martinsville, but the victory locked him into the finale alongside the already-clinched Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. William Byron also qualified on points.

“The last twenty laps, all that goes through your head is there’s going to be a yellow, there’s going to be a yellow, it’s going to screw up the whole race, people are going to stay out, people are going to take no tyres, there’s going to be four cautions to end this thing. Hopefully you don’t get moved, spun, wrecked, ruin your year,” recounted Blaney. “That’s the only thing going through your head, right?

“Just get to the white was the only thing that really concerned me at the time. Running down the #10, I was running harder. I think everyone just kind of fell off pretty good, and I saved my stuff early where I could get through traffic pretty good. It benefited us later in the run.”

Bruno Leblanc accepted for 2024 Dakar Rally after Morocco performance

In July, Bruno Leblanc was turned down by the Amaury Sport Organisation for the 2024 Dakar Rally as he needed more experience in desert events. Three months later, he reached the finish in his World Rally-Raid Championship début at the Rallye du Maroc to successfully change the ASO’s minds.

Leblanc finished thirty-first overall in the Rally2 category and fifteenth among Road to Dakar participants, the latter consisting of riders like him with no prior Dakar Rally experience. Those in the RtD who excel typically get their Dakar applications approved, while winner Toby Hederics earned free registration for the 2025 race.

He is no stranger to Morocco, having finished third in the Enduro Cup in 2021. However, the ASO still needed to see more qualifications, especially in recent times, which he sought to gain with the 2023 edition.

After finishing forty-seventh in the Prologue, he completed the first stage without trouble in thirty-first. The controls to his bike’s roadbook malfunctioned ten kilometres into Stage #2, forcing him to scroll through it manually while riding, which he remarked gave him “good scares” as he finished fortieth. A clean Stage #3 followed by a rocky Stage #4 both ended with a pair of thirty-sixths. He recorded another thirty-first to end the rally with a total time of 23:01:53.

Since the ASO’s rider selection process took place in July, when there were two more W2RC races remaining, it is not uncommon for riders to have their Dakar rejections overturned if they impress afterwards. The stakes will be slightly increased for 2024 as only Morocco will be held after the rider selection on 15 July.

Aric Almirola stepping away from full-time NASCAR after 2023

Aric Almirola planned to retire from full-time competition at the end of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season but eventually called it off. This time, however, he appears more committed to stepping away from the driver’s seat. On Saturday, before the penultimate race of 2023, he announced he will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing‘s #10 Ford Mustang nor will he continue as a weekly driver.

His initial retirement announcement came prior to the 2022 season before changing his mind and signing a contract extension with SHR mid-season. This time, he elected to do so closer to the end of 2023, and explained the timing was due to “a lot of factors and a lot of key players, so it’s not just about me. It’s about making sure that we did it the right way and tried to do the best thing for all of our partners, make sure we do the best thing for the organization. So it wasn’t just about me. If it was just about me I think I would have made the announcement a lot earlier just to make it to where you guys didn’t have to ask me every week, so there’s a lot of factors and there are a lot of things that happened behind closed doors that you just have to work through.”

As in 2022, his departure comes as he hopes to spend more time with the family, and he consulted them among others before making the final decision. His longtime sponsor Smithfield Foods will also end their backing at SHR with his exit, and he described discussions with the company as having “mixed emotions.”

He joined SHR in 2018 after spending six seasons at what is now Legacy Motor Club. After an impressive first year in the #10 where he won at Talladega and finished fifth in points, he and the team’s performance declined over the next three years as he never made it further than the second round of the playoffs. He missed the 2023 playoffs and is currently twenty-second in the standings with four top tens and a best run of third at Daytona.

Despite the team’s regression, he stressed that he has no qualms about returning for another season. While certainly a disappointing campaign, he still had other moments to enjoy such as winning the Xfinity Series race at Sonoma in June.

Martinsville madness ends in Childress conflict

Sheldon Creed‘s tenure at Richard Childress Racing does not end until after the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season ends at Phoenix Raceway, but the team probably does not have a farewell party planned following Saturday’s Martinsville Speedway debacle.

Creed entered Martinsville needing a win to qualify for the Championship Round while team-mate Austin Hill maintained his position in the top four, and both seemed to be on the right path to at least achieve their individual goals as they began overtime sharing the front row. Both ended up being eliminated entirely after Creed attempted a last-ditch pass on Hill for the lead going into the final two corners, following a series of bumps between the two, enabling Justin Allgaier to sneak by when Creed ran wide and in front of Hill.

Hill was turned by John Hunter Nemechek as the pack bunched up in turn three, triggering a pile-up while Creed tried to recover. However, in a repeat of the Daytona race in August, he lost the drag race to the finish to Allgaier. Despite finishing second, Creed was too far back on points to advance while Allgaier and Cole Custer—the latter finishing backwards and on fire due to the wreck—leapfrogged Hill to take the final two spots. Custer was only a point ahead of Hill on the final lap, and secured the fourth seed as Hill was relegated to twenty-first.

The second-place finish adds yet another entry to Creed’s growing list of heartbreaks in the Xfinity Series. He has yet to win in the division, which sticks out in comparison to Hill who entered the series alongside him but already has six victories and won the 2023 regular season championship. Both drivers had clashed at fellow short track Bristol to start the playoffs, seemingly enflaming some tensions that might have surfaced during their two seasons together. Doing little to alleviate the perception that Hill was receiving preferential treatment over Creed, RCR vice president Andy Petree confronted him after the race while team owner Richard Childress went as far as to remark that he has “had drivers drive for me but nobody as stupid as Sheldon Creed.”

Hill also expressed his frustration with his soon-to-be-ex-partner, sarcastically applauding at the #2 pit box and prompting crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz to respond he is not the driver. In his interview with NBC, he added he was “excited for [Creed] to go to his next venture over at Gibbs and I won’t have to worry about him anymore.” Creed has long been rumoured to be joining Joe Gibbs Racing for 2024, though the team has not made an announcement.

Krzysztof Holowczyc headlines FIA European Bajas champions

The FIA European Cup for Cross-Country Bajas was the first of the three FIA Bajas series to conclude their 2023 season last weekend at the Baja Troia Türkiye.

Just a week after completing the larger World Rally-Raid Championship’s season-ending Rallye du Maroc, Krzysztof Hołowczyc traded in his Mini JCW Rally Plus for a BMW X3 and secured his second European Cup. With the championship counting the three best finishes in the five-race season, he made the most of his reps by winning the Rally Greece Off-Road, Hungarian Baja, and in Turkey. The Turkey win came after a bizarre opening day in which every car went the wrong way due to a navigation error, though Hołowczyc credited his co-driver Łukasz Kurzeja with keeping them on track.

“It’s nice to win the European Cup and do a lot of rallies after a hard year,” said Hołowczyc. “This year, we passed. In the end, the goal was achieved, at least in the European Cup. Dakar (Rally) remains. I hope that all these hours spent behind the wheel of different cars will pay off in Dakar.”

The T3 championship ended in a tie between João Dias and Ghislan de Mévius, but the former held the tiebreaker. Although both were tied on wins with two apiece, Dias’ next best finish was a second in Hungary while de Mévius’ highest was third at the Baja TT Sharish Gin. De Mévius’ brother Guillaume, who runs GRallyTeam, opined in September that more than three races should count towards the championship.

Pau Navarro, another driver fresh off competing in Morocco, claimed the T4 title ahead of Fidel Castillo. Amerigo Ventura settled for third after winning the class in Turkey, though 2023 will be remembered more as a season of what-ifs for him: while he won twice in Hungary and Turkey, he crashed out of Spain while leading, lost the Greece victory to disqualification, and retired from Portugal when a silicone tube in his radiator’s cooling system got cut and leaked oil.

SCORE Class 9 legend Eric Fisher passes

Eric Fisher, a star of SCORE International‘s Class 9 category in the 1990s and 2000s, died Thursday morning. He had battled various health issues since retiring from racing due to a heart attack in 2007, and underwent surgery the day before his passing.

Fisher, nicknamed “El Panda” while his team bore the Panda Racing Team moniker, first started racing in 1983. He claimed his first of seven SCORE Class 9 championships in 1999 before notching six in a row from 2002 through 2007. During his period, he added five class wins in the legendary Baja 1000 from 2001 through 2003 and in 2005 and 2006, along with six Baja 500s in 1995 and from 1993 to 2007. He also received the SCORE Milestone Award in 2004 and 2005 for completing every race to their distance during those seasons.

In the 1990s, his partners included Daniel “El Diablo” Mora and Rafael Aguilera Pérez, the latter the commander of Mexico’s Federal Highway Police (now the national Federal Police) from 1987 to 2007. Much of Fisher’s 2000s dominance came with Isaac Chapluk, Jose Montoya, and Héctor Sarabia as his team-mates; Sarabia is the reigning SCORE International Class 11 champion.

“There were seven years as champion with Isaac and Héctor, and one of my greatest achievements was that Baja 1000 in 2001 when we won by thirteen seconds,” recalled Fisher in 2017.

A heart attack forced him to end his racing career after the 2007 season, though he remained involved in the sport by closely following SCORE and other desert series in Mexico.

Team Mugen becomes advisor for HIGHSPEED Etoile, Suzuka Circuit-backed manga launched

Super Formula‘s upcoming anime HIGHSPEED Étoile has gained increased backing from one of its top organisations as Team Mugen is now a technical advisor on the project. Announced Thursday, the team will invite the show’s staff into their paddock for this weekend’s season finale at Suzuka Circuit to observe and analyse at-track activities.

Announced in 2022, HIGHSPEED Étoile is a joint project between Super Formula, King Amusement, Good Smile Company, and Yostar Pictures, to celebrate the championship’s golden anniversary. Although those working on the show were already attending Super Formula races, Mugen offered to provide additional access into the garage to ensure realism.

“Until now, Mugen gave project members information on the world of motorsport by providing explanations and supervision of race machines and race strategies, vehicle maintenance work in the maintenance garage, and during race week, the team operated by Mugen,” reads a team statement. “By watching races from the Mugen pit and experiencing the realistic facial expressions and atmosphere of the drivers, engineers, and mechanics, we have worked to reflect more realistic race scenes in our work.

“As a member of Super Formula, Mugen aims to expand the scope of motorsport, convey the joy of motorsport to the next generation of children, and introduce HIGHSPEED Étoile to as many people as possible. Through our cooperation in the production of HIGHSPEED Étoile, we will continue to work for the further development of racing.”

The anime is a futuristic take on motorsport, though some present-day elements are retained. Its first full trailer as well as a teaser in March both depict the “NEX Race” series competing at Fuji Speedway, while Mobility Resort Motegi has also appeared in key visuals. The cars and driver suits also feature actual sponsors: thirty companies signed on as HSE partners including Super Formula’s engine suppliers Honda and Toyota Gazoo Racing and even giants like SEGA and Takara Tomy, the latter two indicating the project’s eventual goal of expanding into other forms of media.

Ilott, Juncos part ways before the 2024 IndyCar season

Callum Ilott and Juncos Hollinger Racing agreed to mutually part ways before the 2024 IndyCar Series season, per a team release on Thursday afternoon. The 24-year-old competed with the team for the past three seasons, running full-time for the past two in the team’s #77 entry.

“While it is with mixed emotions that we bid farewell to Callum Ilott,” team co-owner Ricardo Juncos said, “I would like to express my gratitude to Callum for all of his efforts during his time with our team, and we deeply appreciate his contributions.”

Ilott made a splash in his 36 races with the Argentina-based team, scoring five top-10s, including a fifth place in this year’s season finale at Laguna Seca. The Englishman signed a “long-term contract” with Juncos in the middle of the 2022 season, and served as a young leader for the team as it made the move to a two-car lineup with Agustín Canapino in 2023.

Canapino recently extended his contract with the team following his rookie campaign. The Argentinian finished 21st in the championship standings.

Ilott took to X (formerly Twitter) to announce his departure from the team and address his plans for the future:

Bayley Currey elevated to full 2024 NASCAR Truck schedule

Bayley Currey will run his first full NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series campaign in 2024, driving the #41 Chevrolet Silverado for Niece Motorsports.

“Al (Niece) and everyone at Niece Motorsports have always been good to me, so it means a lot to get to race for them next year,” said Currey. “I’ve been working in the shop for the majority of this season, so I’ve seen firsthand the preparation that goes into bringing quality Chevrolets to the track every week. I’m looking forward to running up front and contending for wins.”

Currey has raced part-time in the Trucks since 2017, including the last four seasons for Niece. He upped his limited slate to evelen races for 2023 in the #41, and has enjoyed his best performance to date with four top tens, three top fives, and a best run of fourth at Atlanta.

Barring a midseason change, 2024 will be just the second year in which he ran every race in a given national series since he finished twentieth in the 2022 Xfinity Series standings. He was an Xfinity regular during the two years prior, though did not race the entire calendar and was still earning Truck points.

Niece’s #41, serving as the team’s multi-driver truck, is sixteenth in owner points. While Currey has run the bulk of the schedule, others to pilot the truck include Tyler Carpenter, Chad and Ross Chastain, Conor Daly, Shane van Gisbergen, and Travis Pastrana.

Spire Motorsports opens second truck for Derek Kraus

As Spire Motorsports prepares to expand their NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series programme in 2024, they will run their first race as a multi-truck operation in the 2023 season finale at Phoenix Raceway. While Marco Andretti pilots their usual #7 Chevrolet Silverado, the team has also opened a #77 for Derek Kraus.

Kraus, a Truck Series full-timer from 2020 through 2022 with McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, ran the Milwaukee race in the #7 and finished eighth. It was his second start of the year after placing eighteenth at Daytona for Young’s Motorsports.

He has also dabbled in the Xfinity Series, running seven races for Kaulig Racing with three top tens.

“Phoenix Raceway is one of my favorite races on the schedule, just because of how competitive the track is,” said Kraus. “I’m thankful to have Western States Flooring on board and looking forward to putting on a good show for that group. We had a good day at Milwaukee earlier this season so hopefully we can pull some notes from that weekend and put them to good use in Phoenix.”

While Spire’s main focus is on the Cup Series, they opened a Truck division in 2022 followed by an Xfinity side the next season, both as part-time vehicles. Although not competing on the regular, the #7 truck has already won twice including at North Wilkesboro in May.

Ty Majeski docked 10 points for front suspension infraction

Ty Majeski has received his second penalty of the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season, this one perhaps adding more insult to injury. Already eliminated from playoff contention after last Saturday’s Round of 8 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he received an L1-level penalty on Wednesday for failing inspection prior to practice/qualifying which costed him another ten points.

Specifically, he was busted for violating Section 14.14.1.C of the rulebook concerning the front suspension.

Majeski entered Homestead sixth in the standings and nineteen points below the cut line needed to make the Championship Round. Despite finishing tenth (promoted to ninth following Zane Smith’s disqualification), he finished shy of making the final round, having also been set back by a slow pit stop with thirty laps remaining due to a faulty air gun.

The penalty does not impact Majeski’s current points standing of eighth, though he now has 2,144 points and is at risk of losing the spot to Matt Crafton, who was eliminated from the Round of 10 and is three points back.

In August, Majeski received a much larger penalty of seventy-five deducted points for an unapproved right rear tyre at Milwaukee. If he retained the eighty-five points, his 2,239 points would place him back in sixth.

Chris Hacker reinstated by NASCAR

Chris Hacker was reinstated by NASCAR Wednesday after serving a two-month suspension following a DWI arrest. He will make his racing return on Saturday in the Xfinity Series at Martinsville Speedway, driving the #35 for Emerling-Gase Motorsports.

Hacker received an indefinite suspension in August shortly after being arrested in North Carolina for DWI. In order to return, he needed to go through NASCAR’s Road to Recovery programme for those suspended for drug offenses or other related vices.

“The last two months have been a huge learning experience for me,” began a statement from Hacker. “I went from the highest point of my life to the lowest point of my life overnight and made a career changing decision that no one should ever make. There’s no excuse and no one to blame other than myself.

“I’m proud to say that I am 71 days sober. I have spent this time taking a hard look at myself and owning up to the pain I have caused my family, my friends, my sponsors and my fans. I am deeply sorry for having hurt every one of you.

“I am humbled by the love and support I have received through all of this. I have a long road ahead of me in my recovery journey, and part of that is putting in the effort to mend relationships and earn back your trust. I promise to continue working on myself to be the best version of Chris Hacker that I can be. See y’all at Martinsville!”

Nasser Al-Attiyah joins Prodrive

One of the worst-kept secrets in rally raid is finally revealed as Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel are officially heading to Prodrive. They will make their débuts in the Prodrive Hunter at this week’s Baja Portalegre 500 before pursuing their third consecutive Dakar Rally win and World Rally-Raid Championship in 2024, racing under the Nasser Racing banner.

Al-Attiyah’s contract with Toyota Gazoo Racing expired following the Desafío Ruta 40 in September, though he elected to finish out the W2RC season with them at the Rallye du Maroc; while not finishing the rally, he clinched the title in the second stage. He confirmed his free agency status in July after winning the Baja Aragón, with BRX and M-Sport expressing interest in his services as did TGR’s cousin Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa. The parent TGR team also wanted to extend his deal, though Baumel has mentioned he and Al-Attiyah see little long-term value in staying while remaining competitive.

By moving to Prodrive, he joins a manufacturer that had been his main rival since 2021. He defeated Sébastien Loeb for the 2022 title and kept him at bay through the first three rounds of the 2023 season until Prodrive skipped the DR 40 to focus on Morocco, dropping out of championship contention as a result.

“It is a very special feeling to come to Prodrive as I have seen over the last three years that the team has worked very hard to get to where they are now with the Hunter,” said Al-Attiyah. “I’m so happy to join the Prodrive team with Mathieu as I believe it will be one of the strongest in the sport. Over the years I have won with three different manufacturers in Rally Raid, but to win with a fourth car is a big target for us. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Al-Attiyah departs Toyota after a wildly successful seven-year stint that includes three Dakar Rally wins, two World Rally-Raid Championships, three World Cups for Cross-Country Rallies (predecessor to the W2RC), and two World Cups for Cross-Country Bajas.

Mason Klein “talking to the teams but nothing is happening”

Mason Klein was one of the hottest prospects in rally raid, winning the inaugural World Rally-Raid Championship in the Rally2 class before graduating to the top-level RallyGP for 2023. However, he stood out from most of his new classmates as a privateer with no factory support, a status that ultimately cut short his rookie season after the first three rounds.

With the 2024 Dakar Rally and season two months away, he is still trying to make ends meet by putting together the funding to take part. He remains a free agent despite attempted contacts with potential teams.

“I’m really unsure who is actually interested,” wrote Klein in a Facebook comment. “I feel that I just need to be patient and try to keep my name out there I’m definitely trying hard and talking to the teams but nothing is happening so far.”

Klein moved up to RallyGP in 2023 with BAS World KTM Racing Team. He was the youngest rider in the class when the Dakar Rally took place at just 21, but quickly showcased his skill as he won Stage #2. He added two more daily podiums in Stages #3 and #8, the latter putting him up into third overall, before crashes the following day left him with injuries that forced him to bow out of the rally entirely.

He ran eighth in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge before a broken clutch on the final day caused his campaign to end in retirement, followed by a thirteenth in class at the Sonora Rally. Sonora was ultimately his final W2RC race of the season as he did not run the Desafío Ruta 40 or Rallye du Maroc.

Lewis Hamilton: Post-race disqualification “doesn’t take away from the progress we’ve made”

Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team’s Lewis Hamilton crossed the line at the United States Grand Prix in second place, but ended up being disqualified after his rear skid was found to not be compliant with technical regulations. 

The British driver had a strong race in Austin, finishing about two seconds behind race winner Max Verstappen after a long pursuit. Hamilton was hopeful in the closing stages of the race that he’d be able to overtake Verstappen, but said that he was just a couple laps short. He praised the efforts of the Red Bull Racing team for their consistently “flawless” performance. 

“Firstly, congratulations to Max and Red Bull. They have done an incredible job all year long, they’ve dominated and been nearly flawless. We were catching them towards the end, though. I was hopeful that I could, but I just need a couple of more laps.”

Hamilton said that he was “really happy” with the outcome of Austin after a disappointing Qatar Grand Prix that saw him and team-mate George Russell collide, ending both their races. 

“There has been so much work to bring this upgrade here and it was difficult after the last race in Qatar. I really felt like I let the team down, so I had to go through such a deep process to get myself back to here. It’s one of those experiences of “it’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up”. I came here in the mood to fight hard, felt great and I’m really happy with my performance.”