Danish ace Jan Magnussen is knocking on the door of his fourth major American sportscar series title this weekend as Corvette Racing and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship heads to Road Atlanta for the 10-hour Petit Le Mans.
Magnussen and co-driver Antonio Garcia lead the title fight by nine points in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R in the quest to defend last year’s championship and earn three-in-a-row for Corvette Racing and Chevrolet.
The pair are on a hot streak at the moment, scoring seven consecutive podium finishes, and eight in the ten rounds of the championship, coming into Road Atlanta. Should they continue their current form, the pair would lock up their third championship together.
If Magnussen and Garcia finish fourth, regardless of what their championship rivals do, they will be crowned champs for the second year in a row.
However, the duo are still chasing their first win of the 2018 season. The Danish/Spanish pairing will be aided in their quest for both the title and the race victory by three-time Le Mans winner Marcel Fässler.
For Magnussen, it would be his fifth Petit Le Mans win in his 20th consecutive start, the most consecutive starts of any driver in Petit Le Mans history.
The No. 3 Corvette drivers started out the weekend on a high note, finishing third, first and second in the first three practice sessions.
In addition to the IMSA GTLM action, Magnussen will also drive the Le Mans 1998 Panoz GTR-1 in a demo run at Road Atlanta to honor the late Don Panoz.
The GTR-1 was the first sportscar Magnussen drove after Panoz gave him his shot in American sportscar racing. Fittingly, his first laps turned were at Panoz’s home track of Road Atlanta.
JAN MAGNUSSEN Q&A
Q: With your point lead, do you approach this race differently than any other during the year?
A: “Just because we have a nine-point lead, it doesn’t mean we can relax. The competition is so strong in the category that you can have an almost perfect race and still finish fourth, or fifth which would be even worse, so you have to push like normal and then see where you are at the end and try to make something happen.”
Q: How difficult is it racing into the night at a place like Road Atlanta?
A: “What sets this race apart is the track layout. There’s so much elevation change and so many blind corners. That makes it a huge challenge, you have to believe in your car and believe in yourself and keep pushing all throughout the day.
“Then, when it gets dark, you have to know the track well enough to keep the same pace even though all your reference points are gone. You still need to be in the rhythm of things and push and commit yourself through the last three hours in the dark.”
Q: What are some of the challenges of this particular track that make it so difficult?
A: “The key to getting a good lap time around this place is confidence and flow. It’s super fast; you’re either cresting a hill or going around a corner where you can’t see the exit.
“Some of the corners, like turn one and turn 12 are so fast, and there is absolutely no room for error. These are also places where you also get passed a lot, so you have to be careful in traffic. But, you can’t be so careful that you’re losing lap time.
“That’s probably more than half of the challenge at this track, working the traffic right. The teams that manage traffic the best will be the ones that come out on top.
“It’s a fantastic way to finish the season with a 10-hour race at a place like this; there’s nonstop action the whole race. There’s always so many spectators, and they build up camps, that’s a great part of the weekend here. It’s absolutely one of my favorite races and also one of my favorite tracks.”
Q: With this being one of your favorite tracks and the first track you raced a sportscar at, what does it mean to you to be able to drive the Panoz GTR-1 this weekend?
A: “Don Panoz gave me my start in American sportscar racing. I really wouldn’t be where I am today without him, without that car, the very first one I drove, and this track, the first one I drove it at.
“To be able to pay tribute to him in that car and at this track makes the weekend so much more special.”