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[1-Sept_19_GTD_McLaren.jpg] September 2019

It was a GT-only race in the WTSCC at Lime Rock, and the big (and only) news for British car fans was Compass Racing’s new McLaren 720S GT3 — developed with extensive input from team racer Paul Holton.

Photo by Bruce Vild

Heating up Lime Rock
Air and Track Temperatures Add to the Challenge of IMSA’s Shortest Track

by Bruce Vild

LAKEVILLE, Conn., July 19-20 — It was Lime Rock Park’s turn once again to host IMSA’s Northeast Grand Prix.

This was the eighth race in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series. Don’t look for any coverage here of the Mazda-AER DPis — this was a GT-only race, no doubt due to the shortness of the track (almost exactly 1.5 miles long, the shortest on the circuit). There are some tight turns and only one straight long enough for the prototypes to stretch their legs.

Our eyes were on the sole British-manufactured entry, Compass Racing’s McLaren 720S GT3, new this season and competing against familiar GT3s from Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, Mercedes, Acura and Lexus in WTSCC’s GT Daytona (GTD) class.

But while options for a story about British racecars were few in the “big” race, there was an embarrassment of riches in the Michelin Pilot Challenge. Compass Racing was active there as well with a McLaren, the #75 570 GT4 that won Daytona. Motorsports in Action’s #69 McLaren, most recently on the podium at Mosport, was there, too. Add to the mix three Aston Martins fielded by Automatic Racing, #97, #99 and #09, and there was plenty to watch.

Compass Racing’s Paul Holton would not have to do double duty as a driver in both the Michelin and the WTSCC races, as he had previously. Brit Paul Rees would be partnering with Kuno Wittmer in the Michelin, leaving Holton to concentrate on the 720S, with Matt Plumb, in the WTSCC.

Corey Fergus took the #69 McLaren to a 7th-place finish in the Michelin’s first practice session Friday morning. This was the best result of the five British cars out on the track. Greg Liefooghe brought Automatic Racing a (hopefully) lucky 13th for the top Aston, #09.

The second practice was red-flagged when a Mercedes stopped on the track after only two laps. At that point, the two McLarens were 2nd and 3rd in the Grand Sport (GS) class, and 3rd and 5th overall — split by a Hyundai Velostar N running in the Touring Car (TCR) class. (During practice, cars in both Michelin classes line up in pit lane and start at the same time.) That changed when the race went green and the GS cars began moving up. Driver changes also jumbled things, but Liefooghe’s co-driver, Ali Balogh, had a decent finish in 7th position, the top result for a British car.

Fergus and his partner Jesse Lazare returned #69 to the top ten in the third practice in the 9th spot, while the leading Aston, Liefooghe and Balogh’s #09, managed only 13th — again.

Ambient and track temperatures meanwhile were climbing, and it was supposed to be even hotter on Saturday. The WTSCC GTs got in their first practice, with the McLaren finishing last and putting in only 35 laps where others recorded 53 or more. Holton brought the car in 19th overall and 11th in class in the second practice session, ahead of a Lexus and an Acura but still only logging 37 laps with Plumb.

Practice 3 in WTSCC found #76 in 20th overall and 12th in class with its slowest time so far.

I know I’m partial to British cars, but quite a few people would agree that #76, in its orange-and-black livery, was the best-looking car on the track. One could forgive Holton and Plumb if they wanted to “go easy” in practice with their new car. Qualifying might tell a story needing telling.

[2-Sept_19_Ecklin_and_Shea_Adam.jpg] IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam talks to Automatic Racing’s Rob Ecklin, Jr., about the race ahead.
Photo by Bruce Vild

Qualifying

Lest you think that the TCR cars in the Michelin, being smaller than the GS entries, are much slower, take a look at the results of qualifying: overall and GS pole by Team TGM’s Mercedes at 53.963, 2nd overall and TCR pole by Herta Autosport’s Hyundai Veloster at 54.034, and 3rd overall and 2nd in GS by Carbahn Motorsports’ Audi R8 at 54.051.

(However, all TCR cars start the race behind the GS grid. One would presume this is to manage traffic in a usually very crowded grid, at least in the first lap.)

I looked down the list and found the #69 McLaren in 8th position overall, and 5th in class the #97 Aston next in 12th overall and 9th in class the #75 McLaren, 21st overall and 13th in class the #09 Aston, 23rd overall and 14th in class and, two up from the bottom, the #99 Aston, 31st overall and 19th in class. The range of qualifying times among the British cars was 54.477 to 56.686.

Matt Plumb was the qualifying driver for #76 in the WTSCC. Unlike practice, where the classes were combined, qualifying sessions were split between GTD and GT Le Mans with GTD going first. His result, 52.008, shaved more than two seconds over #76’s practice times. There was less than a 0.7 second gap between him and pole sitter Trent Hindman. This put the McLaren in 10th position among the GTDs.

I had a chance to chat with Paul Holton at the pre-Michelin-race fan walk about the two Compass Racing McLarens and just how different they are.

The car entered in the Michelin is, he said, about 70% street car, with race modifications added, whereas #76 is about 90% racecar, developed from the get-go exclusively for the track. I asked if the new car was particularly challenging getting used to, and he replied, not so much — he played an active role in its development from the very start, including testing the car in Europe on Formula 1 tracks.

But Holton was quick to add that Lime Rock presented its own challenges, especially in the heat. The track surface, he said, was really abrasive, with pebbles poking out that were contributing hugely to tire degradation.

(This confirmed an early conversation I had with one of the crew members for Automatic Racing, who said that tires were only good for about five laps.)

Not offering excuses by any means, he said this was all part of the learning experience as teams go from track to track — at least it’s “not as bad as Sebring,” he told me.

Back at Automatic Racing, the conversation drifted to the three cars the team is fielding at Lime Rock — “two new cars, and this old relic,” a tech grinned as he leaned against #99, which I pointed out was also being piloted by two of the most senior drivers in the series. That “relic” and those two older guys managed 2nd place at Daytona after a last-minute pass edged out the #69 McLaren, prompting a comment about “old age and treachery” once again getting the better of youth and skill!

[3-Sept_19_Compass_Racing_Crew.jpg] Three of Compass Racing’s drivers (left to right) — Kuno Wittmer, Paul Rees and Paul Holton.
Photo by Bruce Vild

The races

Starting in the Michelin, in descending order, were Jesse Lazare, #69 McLaren, Rob Ecklin, Jr., #97 Aston, Paul Rees, #75 McLaren, Ali Balogh, #09 Aston, and Gary Ferrara, #99 Aston.

Lazare handed off to Fergus a little less than halfway through the race, the pit stop costing a handful of positions that Fergus immediately began recovering. At the midpoint #69, so far the top Brit, was running 7th overall, 6th in class, and as others pitted #69 climbed to 4th.

Ferrara had an early incident with a tailgating Mercedes coming out of Big Bend, with both cars going off-course but recovering with no apparent damage or change in position.

Cautions were rare. One came when a car’s passenger-door window fell onto the track, was run over, shattered and splintered — the “sharp debris on the track” prompted a yellow until it was removed.

A Honda had an engine fire that sent it to the pits. There was a lot of spirited driving, but squeezes and passes were done expertly and contact was minimal — exuberance did not quash skill. The Honda was the only car to be retired, and it wasn’t due to an accident.

An easy lesson from the short track at Lime Rock was how quickly one could fall off the lead lap. A car in 6th place was likely to be off it, and a gap of more than 52 seconds from the overall leader could make the difference.

It turned out not to be so great a day for either the McLarens or the Astons, with the only top-ten class finish enjoyed by Corey Fergus in #69, in 7th and but one position off the lead lap — but all in all, a good, consistent performance by the Motorsports in Action team.

Automatic Racing just missed the top ten, with T. Long in #97 crossing the line 11th in class and 14th overall. The sister cars came 15th in class and 20th overall (#09, brought in by Liefooghe) and 18th in class and 25th overall (#99, with Kris Wilson).

Kuno Wittmer finished #75’s race near the bottom of the list, some five laps down at 19th in class and 30th overall. Disappointing, but Compass Racing was still on the hunt in the WTSCC.

A height infraction sent a Lamborghini that had qualified 3rd in GTD to the back of the grid, so the #76 McLaren moved up a position for the start. Matt Plumb took the first shift.

Trackside commentators talked about the heat. One of their guests, a driver whose name I didn’t catch, remarked that extended stints in this kind of heat clouded one’s judgment, even with the air conditioning that’s used in the cockpit. It was surprising we didn’t see more offs or relief drivers fainting from the heat as they waited for the predecessors to pit. Seriously.

They also mentioned tire life under these conditions and how five to ten laps took you to the absolute limit — and yet, with these Michelins, two or three laps were needed to dial them in, at least at Lime Rock.

With a little more than an hour to go, air temperature had reached 94°, and track temperature 116°. The timing of driver and tire changes, always critical in pit strategy, seemed particularly so today, yet for many cars the starting drivers (including Plumb) were still doing a stint. Minutes later, Paul Holton finally took over, losing two positions but regaining them when an Acura that had gained the advantage had an off.

As the race entered its last stages, the excitement seemed limited to GTLM, where two Porsches and a Ford GT jockeyed for position and traded the lead. It became obvious that the podium in GTD would be shared in some shape or form by the pole-sitting Acura, a Porsche and a Mercedes, with the McLaren in the top ten — just.

The outcome saw Richard Westbrook take the Ford to an overall victory and the GTLM class win, while the Porsche prevailed in GTD. The McLaren finished 18th overall and 10th in class, ahead of a Ferrari, Acura and Lexus.

Next on the IMSA schedule was Road America and the return of the DPis. More later.




[1-Aug_19_Victory_Lane.jpg] August 2019

The celebration begins for Mazda Team Joest. Front row, left to right: #77 drivers Timo Bernhard, Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez, team director John Doonan, and #55 drivers Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Olivier Pla.

Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT Images

Victory!
Mazda-AER DPis Top the Podium at Glen Six Hours

by Bruce Vild

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 29-30 — What difference can a few weeks make? How about going from “not the outcome we were hoping for” to “this is our day”!

After grabbing two podium steps at Mid-Ohio, but having each car being forced into shunts at Belle Isle in Detroit, Mazda Team Joest, powered by AER, ascended the podium again at Watkins Glen — only this time, it was the top two steps.

The team that showed so much promise throughout the season but had more than its share of bad luck was at last able to claim victory at Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, with Mazda RT-24P #55 taking the checker and sister car #77 finishing right behind.

The good news began in Saturday’s qualifying session, with driver Oliver Jarvis taking pole in #77 (his third time this year) and setting a new course record for the DPi class to boot. Both #77 and #55 led throughout the first five hours of the six-hour race, their fastest laps varying by less than a tenth of a second. Number 55 had started in 4th position, and its move up the ranks was a testament to both driver skill and team pit strategy.

There was some drama toward the end when #55’s left-side engine cover came undone with the car in the lead, but #77 guarded its flank and enabled Harry Tincknell to bring home the win.

The partnership between Japan’s Mazda and Britain’s AER dates back to the American Le Mans Series. Their winning formula combines a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a light chassis, and arguably some of the most talented drivers in the world.

After the race, team director John Doonan was not the only one talking about “their day.”

Tristan Nunez, one of Jarvis’ co-drivers in #77, said the win was “something we needed for so long” because of “the hard work and dedication that’s gone into the program.” Nunez has been racing for Mazda since he was a teenager and was part of the team long before Joest took over.

Whether this was truly a breakout moment for the team would be tested in a week’s time, when the WTSCC would go to its next race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario, which everyone still calls “Mosport.” More on that next issue.

Spoiler alert: they won that one, too.

[2-Aug_19_55.jpg] The winner — at last.
Photo by Jake Galstad/LAT Images

Michelin Pilot Challenge

Watkins Glen is a longer-than-usual race in the WTSCC, one of a handful of endurance races that include Daytona, Sebring, and Petit Le Mans. The Michelin Pilot Challenge race is also longer than usual for its Grand Sport (GS) and Touring Car (TCR) entrants, 240 minutes instead of 120 — hence its official name, the “Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240.”

This contest preceded the WTSCC race and there was a delay in the start due to rain, but commentators at the scene described the track as “bone dry” when the cars were ready to play.

Thirty-seven cars made for a tightly-packed grid, but that’s typical for this series. The larger and faster GS cars are gridded first, and things get interesting when they start to lap the TCRs. Add some rain to the mix, and they get very interesting.

Naturally we were watching the British cars in the Michelin, the #69 and #75 McLarens (which we’ve seen before at the Glen) and the #97 Aston Martin GT4 (new to its team this season).

Kuno Wittmer, driving for Compass Racing, started #75 3rd. Jesse Lazare was there for Motorsports in Action with #69 in 9th, and Rob Ecklin was in the thick of it in Automatic Racing’s #97, starting 15th.

The final result for #97 belied its performance earlier in the race, where Ecklin took it to its first race lead in the early laps. This sadly was short-lived when what his team charitably called “an overly ambitious competitor” forced Ecklin off the track at Turn 1 on a restart. It cost the offender a drive-through penalty, and #97 nineteen positions.

Ecklin fought back valiantly and was able to pass the car on to co-driver Ramin Abdolvahabi in 9th place, who in turn, with 90 minutes to go, passed it on to Brandon Kidd. And then the skies opened up.

[3-Aug_19_97.jpg] The #97 Aston took a gamble with their tires when the track got wet.
Photo by Jake Galstad/LAT Images

“It’s always difficult when [the rain] comes in like that, when the track is half-wet and half-dry,” Abdolvahabi commented later. “It’s a tough decision between rain tires and slicks.” Seeing a few of their competitors spin in the wet and one go into the tire barrier, the team went with rain tires.

But the cell moved through quickly, the track dried, and the Aston found itself unable to keep up with the cars that took a chance on slicks.

Number 97 finished 21st overall and 16th in class, but in one piece and ready for next time. The team opted to sit out Mosport, the next race on the schedule, and is looking forward to Lime Rock.

Lazare and co-driver Corey Fergus took #69 to an 8th-place finish, placing them in the top third overall and in class, but Wittmer and partner Paul Holton finished a disappointing 23rd overall and 17th in class.

Compass Racing is also fielding a brand-new GT3-spec McLaren in the GT Daytona class in the WTSCC, though it was not here at the Glen. We’ll be watching for it at Lime Rock.

[From IMSA and team reports, and Lee Driggers’ Pit Notes.]




[1-Jul_19_Susten_Pass.jpg] July 2019

The famous and very well-traveled Lotus on the Susten Pass in Switzerland.

Photo by Peter & Allison Cotes

Alpine Elan
by Peter Cotes

There’s more than one way to tour Switzerland. One might take the ‘Grand Tour of Switzerland’, a route that is mapped out by the tourist board and sounds good, or our tour, called ‘The Seven C’s of Switzerland’, which Allison and I took last September.

It was very gentle — we did more miles travelling to/from the start than we did in Switzerland, but then again, it is a small country! We met up in Neuchâtel (near the French border in the northwest) after taking the ferry to Hook of Holland and having a 500-mile thrash through Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. We rushed because had to be there in time for the Welcome Dinner at 7.30. Swiss wine and cheese fondue were on offer, and I hadn’t had a fondue since they were all the rage 40 years ago!

There were six cars in the tour at first, but that reduced to five when word came that one couple’s house had been broken into and their E-type stolen. They hastened home to sort out the chaos. Another interesting development came from a German-speaking Swiss couple who drove a Corvette until that broke down and they switched to a Mustang. I was intrigued and perhaps given some insight into Switzerland when they spoke to a waitress in a French-speaking area — in English!

The tour was a clockwise meander round the centre of the country with plenty of ‘all-you-expect’ views of Alpine scenery — cows, lakes, vineyards and hills.

[2-Jul_19_Thun_Castle.jpg] Thun Castle.
Photo by Peter & Allison Cotes

Chocolate and cheese were on the menu from Day 1 with a tour round the Cailler factory, a few miles from the town of Gruyères. Our journey on Day 2 was interrupted by people in ceremonial jackets directing all cars to pull off the road. When I asked what was happening, the short answer was les vaches. Cows, decked out with cow bells and straw hats, were descending to winter pasture, and around here cows, ‘les vaches’, are the source of income!

After cows the next feature was the Schilthorn, a scene of James Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where a sequence of cable cars go up to the 2970-metre summit. This is the centre of Swiss skiing, but fortunately there was no snow to worry us in September.

Our next stop was the City of Thun, with a castle dating from 1180. Switzerland has an amazing number of mediaeval buildings, many still in use. I guess that avoiding two World Wars helped.

We spent a day wandering round Lucerne. The size of the Elan not being a relevant barrier, I had to try a different tactic to lure Allison away from the watch shops that comprise most of the shopping opportunities here. The wooden bridges with their painted panels and sculpture of a dying lion seemed to do the trick!

That evening in Vitznau I thought I should reduce the noise pollution from the Elan’s squealing brakes and was joined by an underworked rally mechanic who thought he should show he was willing and provided the copper grease that helped reduce the screeching.

A guided tour round the Swiss Army Knife visitor centre occupied us before we took the ultra-modern funicular railway to Stoos. The train consists of four barrel-like carriages which rotate as they climb so the passengers are always upright despite a gradient of 110% (48° in old money)!

[3-Jul_19_Dying_Lion.jpg] ‘Dying lion’ sculpture commemorates 786 Swiss Guards who died defending Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Photo by Peter & Allison Cotes

The next stop was Andermatt, and then we had some mountain passes to test us. We started on the Susten Pass, opened in 1945 for tourism and generally the last to be cleared of snow. We decided to walk up to the Steinen Glacier and found the Swiss Army in training. This consisted of shooting at the rock face — not sure why, but as they were having their lunch break they didn’t mind us being in the line of fire!

The next pass was the Grimsel, a much narrower road where a black Rolls hooted furiously at our temerity in ascending whilst he was descending, just missing us in the process. We had a choice of routes at Gletsch and took the shorter route via the Furka Pass, spending some time in a passing point as a group of 25 French Porsches followed a bus slowly uphill. Probably not what they had in mind when they set out!

Sadly we missed out on the Tremola and Saint Gotthard Passes, but we did drive them five years ago as part of the Peking-to-Paris rally (not in the Lotus!).

Day 8 saw us reverse the Furka Pass and this time we stopped to visit the Rhône Glacier, a rather sad lump of ice covered in white sheeting in a vain attempt to reduce the melt.

After a rest day in Crans-Montana, mainly spent hiking around some expensive ski slopes, we found our way to the Château de Chillon. Who can forget Byron’s poems about the democratic Protestant prisoner, François Bonivard, chained to a pillar in a dungeon for four years by the Dukes of Savoy?

There are seven pillars of Gothic mould,
In Chillon’s dungeons deep and old…

Chillon sits at the edge of Lake Leman and from the lake is a picture of peace and tranquillity — until one sees the railway line and highway running right along the lake shore, but it is Switzerland’s most visited site and the tourists have to get there!

[4-Jul_19_Chillon.jpg] The Château de Chillon on Lake Leman.
Photo by Peter & Allison Cotes

Our last day revealed an unexpected treat at the Abbey of Romainmôtier. This huge building, constructed between 990 and 1030, is hidden away in a tiny village below a narrow mountain road — and the entrance is via a cupboard door in the café! There are huge rooms with wide floorboards and massive pillars in the cellar to take the weight.

And then it was time to close the door on expensive hotel rooms and Swiss luxury — with another 500-mile trip to the Harwich ferry.

[Stay tuned for more adventures with Peter and Allison and their Lotus Elan. Rumor has it the next trip will be to Central Asia, along the Pamir Highway and through the old Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Tashkent. “Some tarmac on the route and a few hills,” quips Peter! —Exec. Ed.]




[1-Jun_19_Mazda_77.jpg] June 2019

Two steps on the podium were grabbed by Mazda DPis #77 and #55 and their AER-developed engines.

Photo by Jake Galstad, LAT Images

Mazda-AER 2-3 at Mid-Ohio
And Now There’s a McLaren in the GT Daytona Class

by Bruce Vild

LEXINGTON, Ohio, May 3-5 — The jaded among us might have called this year’s IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship a cause lost to the Cadillacs, as the series’ top class, Daytona Prototype International (DPi), seemed dominated by them: outright victories in the first three races, and at Daytona and Sebring, at least one additional podium step.

That changed this weekend at Mid-Ohio.

Acura Team Penske, whose two cars had chased the Cadillacs with a passion — grabbing 3rd at Daytona, 4th at Sebring and 2nd and 3rd at Long Beach — took the win at the race officially (and coincidentally) called the “Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.” The glory went to their #6 car, co-piloted by Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And two of the other three races’ also-rans, the Mazda DPis campaigned by Team Joest — #77 and #55 respectively — flew past Mid-Ohio’s checker in 2nd and 3rd place. This followed a brilliant qualifying session in which #77 driver Oliver Jarvis took pole, a nail-biter because he ran out of fuel two turns from the end and might have lost position had the 2nd-place car not gone wide on the track, piling on critical fractions of a second, to avoid him!

The highest-placing Cadillac was Whelan Engineering Racing’s #31, which just might have overtaken Jonathan Bomarito’s #55 Mazda had driver Felipe Nasr not had to run a drive-through penalty in the last two minutes of the race for passing under yellow during the session’s sole caution.

Several firsts at Mid-Ohio

Track commentators called this race the first standard-length contest in the WTSCC year, “standard” being two hours and 40 minutes. That’s in contrast to the 24-hour and 12-hour sessions at Daytona and Sebring, and the one hour and 40 minutes spent on the streets of Long Beach that brought us to this point.

Other standard-length races will be run at Mosport, Lime Rock, Road America, VIR and Laguna Seca. The remainder will vary: one hour and 40 minutes at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, six hours at Watkins Glen, and ten hours at Road Atlanta (Petit Le Mans).

Mid-Ohio also inaugurated the seven-race Sprint Cup competition for the WTSCC’s GT Daytona class, described as a “championship within a championship” to be run at the standard-length races and at Belle Isle Park.

[2-Jun_19_McLaren.jpg] The debut of an all-new McLaren in GTD was another WTSCC highlight.
Photo by Jake Galstad, LAT Images

Another debut at Mid-Ohio — to take advantage of the new contest? — was a hot new McLaren piloted by Michelin Pilot/Conti stalwarts Paul Holton and Matt Plumb for Compass Racing and wearing the familiar #76. The car is a 720S GT3, with a slightly larger twin-turbocharged V8 than Compass’ other McLaren, a 570S GT4, which will continue to run in the Michelin Pilot Challenge series. Holton drives in that series as well, but with Kuno Wittmer — his partner in victory at Daytona in January.

The race

Although the practice sessions were wet, with rain either falling or remaining in puddles on the track, qualifying and the race were dry, the race itself marred by only one caution late in the session.

The entry list included 11 DPis, two LMP2 cars, eight in GT Le Mans, and 15 in GT Daytona, where the Holton/Plumb McLaren ran. If you are a fan of the Gibson-engined LMP2s and appreciate their British connection, the list does not compare favorably with last year’s, when there were five P2s competing — in a combined class with the DPis.

The four races to date this year have seen a significant decline in P2s, which compete in their own class now and have to start the race behind the DPis no matter how well they qualify. In light of the results some of the P2 cars achieved last year when they had no such disadvantage, the drop-off confirms a suspicion this writer had when the current series began — that most P2 teams would opt out of IMSA or would switch to DPis. (One example of the latter is CORE Autosport, which jumped ship to a Nissan DPi this year.)

The Mazda DPis run a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine developed by UK-based Advanced Engine Research, Ltd. It has proven remarkably competitive against the much larger engines in its class, and Jarvis’ pole and the 2-3 finish in the race with his teammates, Tristan Nunez, Jonathan Bomarito and Ryan Hunter-Reay, showed the cars’ potential.

Jarvis even set the best lap on the 2 1/4-mile track within the first half-hour of the race at 1:12.410 — which held to the finish.

With the addition of the McLaren, there are now nine different marques competing in the GT Daytona class. McLaren is the only one that’s British. Matt Plumb qualified #76 8th on the GTD grid and ran as high as 4th in class in the race, but a gearbox problem compounded by a hit from the back led to a long pit stop that ultimately took the car behind the wall and out of contention. Maybe next time.

The car is gorgeous, though.

[From track and team reports, and Lee Driggers’ Pit Notes.]

[3-Jun_19_Traffic.jpg] Michelin Pilot Challenge race start. Traffic only got worse when the smaller TCR cars, which start behind the GS cars shown here, started moving up or were lapped.
Photo by Jake Gastad, LAT Images

Rain, Traffic Complicate Things in Michelin Pilot Race
by Druha Nahoda

Racers and commentators will tell you the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is challenging enough in dry conditions, with elevation changes and tight turns that make passing a real test of skill and... well, luck. Add rain, slick conditions and the abundance of traffic that’s typical in a Michelin Pilot Challenge race and you’ve got yourself a real time.

The rain was with the teams for most of the weekend, leaving muddy conditions off-track that trapped several cars that took a turn too wide or spun in the wet. There was a slew of full-course cautions as the tow trucks went to retrieve them (very quickly, I must add — even the IMSA radio commentators were impressed by the crews’ efficiency), and the smaller TCR cars nudged the larger GS machines into the top six or seven overall positions as they seemed to have an easier time of it.

Precipitation started to get heavy in the last 45 minutes of the race, just as Paul Holton and Kuno Wittmer were returning to the track after repairs had been completed on their #75 McLaren GT4. They had taken a hit from the back (an experience repeated for Holton in the WTSCC race that followed) with damage to the car’s suspension. By then they were several laps behind.

It was not what one would call a good weekend for the Compass Racing Team. Holton had qualified #75 in 5th and moved his way up to 3rd in the first lap, then to 2nd by Lap 6. But Compass’ reversals of fortune had the car falling to 29th by Lap 17, struggling back to 11th by Lap 21, and then falling again to 32nd by Lap 26, less than halfway through the race.

[4-Jun_19_Aston.jpg] Automatic Racing’s #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
Photo by Jake Gastad, LAT Images

The team would finish 34th, and 22nd, next to last, in class.

The other McLaren in the hunt, Motorsports in Action’s #69, fared much better. Gridded at 2nd, the car with starting driver Jesse Lazare led for ten laps early in the race, fell back with the usual pit stops for tires, fuel and/or the driver change to Corey Fergus, but escaped the worst of the rain and the traffic to take the checker in 9th position, 7th in class.

The good news for MIA was that they went to Mid-Ohio tied with Bimmerworld for the class championship, and emerged one point ahead with their 7th-place finish to Bimmerworld’s 9th.

The only other British manufacturer in the Michelin Pilot mix is Aston Martin, and Automatic Racing’s new #97 Vantage GT4 put in a good run under co-drivers Rob Ecklin, Jr., and Brandon Kidd. Ecklin gridded 15th and took the car as high as 7th in the first half of the race, the best performance so far for #97 — which was on only its third outing.

But the Aston wound up finishing 29th, 18th in class, its flawless run marred by a problem with the refueling rig when the car pitted, and a later stop-and-go penalty for Kidd for exiting pit lane during one of the race’s many yellows when the pits were officially closed.

The team also had to grapple with the wet conditions (as did everyone else) and decide whether to switch from slicks to rain tires. They opted to switch. Interestingly, the Porsche that ultimately won the race stayed on slicks, taking the gamble that the rain wouldn’t get any worse and driver Trent Hindman could find the “dry line” to keep ahead of the others. It worked.

The Michelin Pilot Challenge is skipping the next race on the WTSCC schedule in Detroit and will return at Watkins Glen June 27-30.

[From track and team reports.]





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