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[1-Sept_18_73_MINI.jpg] September 2018

Luis Perocarpi’s MINI JCW Team grabbed two podium steps in the ‘Lime Rock 120’, with Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra taking the class win in #73 — just as they did in Long Beach.

Photo by Bruce Vild

Into the Bull Ring

Another Win for MINI, a 4th for McLaren on IMSA’s Shortest Track

by Bruce Vild

LAKEVILLE, Conn., July 20-21 — Now it was Lime Rock’s turn to host the IMSA races, and this session was called the Northeast Grand Prix.

Owing no doubt to the shortness of the course (1.5 miles, give or take the chicane), it was a no-prototype outing — only the two GT classes came to LRP for the WeatherTech race. That meant there would be no Gibson or AER engines roaring at Lime Rock this weekend, only those made by the likes of Porsche, Chevrolet, Lamborghini, Ford, BMW and Ferrari.

If your preferences ran toward McLarens, Astons and MINIs instead, your race was not the main event — it was the Lime Rock Park 120, part of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. And, as you’ll see when you read further, the three MINIs in the race and the lone McLaren all finished in the top five in their classes. Top four, actually.

As in all the other races on the IMSA schedule, the Conti ran first as something of an opening act, but this writer would argue (his British bias aside) that it had more to offer in terms of strategy, traffic management and variety. The short, fast track presented its own unique challenges, every moment earning its nickname “the Bull Ring.”

While McLarens #69 and #76 were on the entry list in the Grand Sport (GS) class, there was only one Aston, Automatic Racing’s #99, piloted by Rob Ecklin, Jr., and Kris Wilson. The sole Mazda MX-5, Riley Racing’s #66, returned to the Conti after sitting out Mosport, and ran with MINIs #73, #52 and #37 and the usual #21 Porsche Cayman and #81 BMW 328i in Street Tuner (ST).

Eight Audi RS3s and a VW GTI rounded out the field in the third class, Touring Car (TCR). Given the popularity of Touring Car racing in Europe, commentators predict that the TCR class will catch on with IMSA fans. It may, but it will have to attract something other than just Audi RS3s. Perhaps a MINI Clubman next year?

Practice and qualifying

Practice on Friday did not start until after 10 a.m., per the track’s agreement with the town and local homeowners. Five of the six cars we were watching were out, the exception being the #69 McLaren. (In fact, #69 was missing from all three practice sessions, qualifying and the race. Maybe they just needed a breather. They went on to finish in the top five at Road America, the next venue in the series.)

The other McLaren, Compass Racing’s #76, seemed measured and consistent, finishing 9th, 10th and 11th in the three practices, but qualifying 8th overall and 8th in class. Next in the line of British cars was the #99 Aston, qualifying 22nd overall and 18th in class, followed by the #52 MINI, 30th overall and 2nd in class, the #37 MINI, 31st overall and 3rd in class, and the #73 MINI, 33rd overall and 5th in class.

The qualifying session revealed something remarkable. On Lime Rock’s fast and unforgiving track, the spread between the top qualifier, Spencer Pumpelly in the #28 Porsche Cayman GT4 MR, and the 33rd-placed Mike LaMarra in #73, was less than 5 seconds. Standings in qualifying were determined by gaps of as little as 0.001 sec. The TCR pole, Tom O’Gorman in the #12 Audi RS3, got around the track in 55.747 sec., putting him only 0.722 sec. behind Pumpelly.

Contrast that to the pole sitter at Watkins Glen three weeks earlier, Brett Sandberg, whose best lap time in his GS Mustang was 13 seconds faster than the #73 MINI, which qualified 36th overall, and 1.574 sec. ahead of the top-gridded TCR car. Stretching the longer legs of a GS car was something to be done very carefully at Lime Rock, as a handful of drivers who spun and left the track coming out of Big Bend found out during practice.

All the cars would be gridded by class, meaning all GS cars would start first, the TCR entries behind them, and the STs behind the TCRs. But with qualifying times varying by fractions of a second, the classes would get mixed quickly and a lengthy pit stop might mean losing the lead lap. Someone mention strategy? Traffic management? Fuel, tires, and driver changes? Oh, yeah.

[2-Sept_18_76_McLaren.jpg] Just one McLaren at Lime Rock, Compass Racing’s #76, co-driven by Paul Holton and Matt Plumb.
Photo by Bruce Vild

Race day

With the track’s prohibition of racing on Sunday, IMSA was bound to a truncated schedule that meant everything had to be over and done with late Saturday afternoon. There still had to be room for fan events, such as the Mazda Corral Parade Laps and American Muscle Car Parade Laps. Each lasting all of eight minutes, they took up early Saturday morning until warm-up for the WeatherTech race at 9:05. The lunch break was from 10:15 to 10:50, and immediately following that was the Fan Walk for the Conti race!

This was an opportunity to talk to the MINI JCW Team’s manager, Luis Perocarpi, about the race. In the conversation I asked him whether he missed all the Mazda MX-5s that ran in ST last year (he didn’t — he said some of their drivers liked to bump other cars that were in their way), and if the additional, new-this-year class, TCR, would cause the MINIs traffic problems on such a short track. He wasn’t worried as much about the Audis in TCR as he was about GS cars that would lap the ST cars.

The pre-race formation laps for the Conti began at 11 a.m., and the green flag starting the race waved a few minutes later. The mixing started almost immediately. The ST Porsche, #21, hit one of the TCR Audis before the first lap was over. The Porsche pitted without a penalty, the crew worked a lot with tape, and prepared the car to re-enter the race — which it would do, but several laps down.

Rob Ecklin’s Aston was running 18th overall with a TCR car (#12) nipping at his heels, with two other TCR Audis in tow (#77 and #61). Behind the four of them was another GS car, the #65 Mercedes, which had been gridded at the rear for having the wrong driver start. It seems the paperwork required to make the change was never properly completed.

In ST, pole-sitter Nick Galante and 2nd-gridded Colin Mullan battled for the lead, and Galante’s #81 BMW started putting several seconds between himself and Mullan’s #52 MINI. The GS leaders brushed past them after barely five minutes of racing, throwing them both off the lead lap, while Jason Rabe in the #21 Porsche was seven laps down.

A TCR Audi, #75, had an off into a tire wall that resulted in significant damage, including a cracked windshield (which is a technical violation requiring replacement). Moving into the pits on its own power, the car was sent back to the paddock garage.

With a little more than an hour and a half to go, the overall leader — Pumpelly’s #28 Porsche — lapped the Aston.

It was now becoming obvious that wear and tear on the tires was leaving marbles a-plenty on the track, some of which could actually be seen bouncing across it. Tires go quickly here owing to the speed (and heat) of the track.

The #19 BMW M4 GT4 (GS) was spotted going slowly on the grass, beginning right after Big Bend, in an attempt to make it back to the pits without blocking traffic — the victim of a “touch.”

Paul Holton in the #76 McLaren went on a charge, moving up two positions, but it wasn’t as dramatic as his run into the grass at Watkins Glen that had him pass nine other cars seconds after the start.

The #66 Mazda came to a stop on the course after Big Bend, causing a full-course caution. Galante was still in the class lead, with the #52 and #73 MINIs in 2nd and 3rd. The pits opened for GS, and Holton’s McLaren, owing to pit stops by other cars, entered the pits in 2nd place. Most cars, including Holton’s, had driver changes. Matt Plumb took over, and returned the McLaren to the track in 5th.

With the race still under caution, the ST BMW pitted, allowing the Pombos to move up to 1st and 2nd in class. The Mazda’s woes were fixable — “down [several laps] but not out,” was the word, as the car got new rubber and re-entered the race.

[3-Sept_18_ST_Podium.jpg] Mike LaMarra (left) and Mat Pombo on the top podium step.
Photo by Bruce Vild

With an hour left (almost exactly), the race went to green. Number 99 pitted for a driver change to Kris Wilson, falling several positions overall. Seven of the TCR cars, including the lone VW GTI, were now ahead of it.

The #92 Mercedes tried unsuccessfully to take the lead but apparently was wearing out its tires and fell to 5th place. Plumb’s McLaren moved into 3rd place with about 54 minutes to go. Wilson’s Aston was off the lead lap at this point, and about 16 seconds behind another GS car that was off the lead. And in ST, two of the three MINIs were still in the top two places: #52, in the hands of Mark Pombo, and #73, piloted by his brother Mat.

Multimatic Motorsports’ #15 Mustang and #99 collided and ran off Big Bend. The Aston got back on its feet immediately, and #15 did the same after a brief interval as the driver took a while to restart it. An Audi coming out of pit lane was involved in the incident, and the Mustang was assessed a drive-through for contact with the two cars, but sustained sufficient damage so that the penalty was practically academic at this point.

With a little more than 31 minutes to go, commentators remarked that “the leaders are in a holding pattern now” assessing their fuel/pitting options. The #81 BMW moved into 2nd place in ST. A collision involving a GS Porsche (#5) and another Mustang (#8) with heavy impact happened shortly afterward. Immediately behind them, #81 made its move and passed the leading #52 MINI. A full course caution ensued, but the pits did not open. The Ford and Porsche both had to be towed off the field.

The race went back to green and a MINI was again on top. While the #81 BMW had passed #52, the “other Pombo” in #73 wound up in the lead in ST.

Talk about traffic! The lead TCR cars and the lead ST cars were scrambling for position alongside each other, with Mat Pombo, one lap down from the GS leaders, maintaining his own lead with one of the TCR Audis between himself and #81’s Devin Jones.

With 8-1/2 minutes to go, the #61 TCR Audi started proceeding very slowly and wound its way back to pit lane. It was 7th in a class of eight at the time.

The McLaren was running 3rd with two Mercedes, #56 and #57, on his tail. Indy Dontjie in the #57 managed to pass #76, and at the very end pulled into 2nd place, surprising the #28 Porsche. Come the checker #76 was denied its podium but finished a solid 4th, overall and in class.

Owen Trinkler and Hugh Plumb, whose #46 Mercedes ran 2nd in qualifying, won the race and the top spot on the GS podium. The #99 Ecklin-Wilson Aston finished 20th overall and 13th in class.

Touring Car was taken by Stephen Simpson’s #54 Audi after an incredible pass/loss/pass shuffle. If the name sounds familiar, he is the same Stephen Simpson who had that brilliant win in the #99 ORECA at Watkins Glen, where he passed two neck-and-neck prototypes that were battling for the lead in the last few minutes of the race and put them both behind him till the end.

And in ST, MINI #73 took the checker only half a second ahead of the 2nd place BMW, while MINI #54 grabbed 3rd — two steps of the podium again for Perocarpi and his MINI JCW Team. The third MINI, #37, which had been piloted by Nate Norenberg and Derek Jones, came 4th.

Post-race, Mike LaMarra and Mat Pombo came to the Media Center to field questions about their class win in #73. But first they commented about the fantastic support the team has, from MINI owners and fans all over the country. They were happy to bring another victory home for their many fans. Both commented about “the brand” and how strong it is.

When this writer asked what the team’s plans were for next year, as there will be no more ST, Mat said the team would love to have a TCR car in 2019, but the ultimate decision will come “from Germany.” Another possibility is for the team to go into another series (such as Pirelli?), but Mat was quick to add that the team right now is focused on this year and a good result going forward.

So far, this year has produced some great results. I can still hear them shouting “Olé!” for the MINIs at the Bull Ring.




[1-Aug_18_99_in_garage.jpg] August 2018

The #99 ORECA-Gibson in its garage prior to the WTSSC race.

Photo by Bruce Vild

Hot, Hot, Hot

IMSA Comes to Watkins Glen as the Temps Break 100

by Bruce Vild

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 29-July 1 — If the air temperature is barely south of 100°F, how hot can the racetrack be? This writer found out the weekend IMSA brought the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to the Glen.

This was IMSA’s first outing since Le Mans, and a resumption of both series’ endurance races: four hours for the Conti, six hours for WeatherTech. Mere sprints compared to Le Mans, where two of the drivers in WeatherTech competed (good results in IMSA leading to the invitation to the 24 Hours). One of them was Nicholas Lapierre who took the LMP2 win — his third class win at Le Mans. This weekend he drove a DPi car, the #22 Tequila Patrón Nissan. Not British-engined like his Le Mans machine, but worth watching as the same car with the same drivers won this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

Those familiar with these articles know that the most interest lies in the LMP2 cars with their British (Gibson) connection. The usual suspects were all there for the weekend’s main event, Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen: two Ligiers, #32 and #52, and four ORECAs, #38, #54, #85 and #99. This paper has also followed the Mazda prototypes as their team — this year, Team Joest — has always run engines developed in concert with AER. Our eyes were on the #55 and #77 Mazda DPis once again.

In the Conti, Aston Martin’s ranks were up one with the addition of the #9 car by Automatic Racing. Driving it were up-and-comer Aurora Straus, Nick Longhi, and ex-MINI JCW pilot Ramin Abdolvahabi. Returning were the team’s familiar #99 Aston, run by Al Carter and Eric Lux, and #09, driven by Rob Ecklin, Jr., and Brandon Kidd.

Readers may remember that Carter almost won the Conti race at the Glen last year, only to be nudged off the track by a Mustang in the very last moments of the race and forced to finish 7th.

Along with the three Astons in the Grand Sport (GS) class were two McLaren GT4s, Motorsports in Action’s #69 and Compass Racing’s #76. Readers may also remember that Paul Holton and Matt Plumb, this year’s drivers, took #76 to 3rd place last year after achieving pole.

And then there were the MINIs in the Street Tuner (ST) class. Earlier this season, we remarked that all the Mazda MX-5s that dominated the class, at least in numbers, had left it — the only contenders remaining being the MINI JCW Team’s #37, #52 and #73 cars, a BMW 328i and a Porsche Cayman. In this particular race, the MX-5 returned (though only one, Riley Racing’s #66).

Qualifying

You can’t really extrapolate from the practice sessions to likely race results, but qualifying sets up the race and gives a good idea of what’s to come — all other things being equal, which, of course, they seldom are. We’ve seen fuel management strategies go sadly awry, tire issues, off-courses and spins, but no one will argue that a top-three position in qualifying doesn’t give a team a leg up.

[2-Aug_18_MINIs_in_garage.jpg] The MINI JCW Team prepping its three cars for the Continental Tire race.
Photo by Jon Gardner

And here’s how that shook out in the Conti. The GS pole was taken by a Ford Mustang GT4 another Mustang came 2nd and a Mercedes-AMG 3rd. Highest-qualifying among the Brits was the #69 McLaren, which Jesse Lazare took to within 9/10 of a second of Brett Sandberg’s pole-sitting Mustang. It was placed 10th.

The other McLaren, #76, made 14th at the hands of Paul Holton, one position behind the top-scoring Aston, Eric Lux’s #99 (whose co-driver was Al Carter). Aurora Straus qualified #9 26th overall and 22nd in class, and Rob Ecklin, Jr., was right in line with #09 in 27th overall and 23rd in class.

There were 25 cars in the GS class, so qualifying was disappointing — especially when considering last year’s results at the Glen with the same cars. Holton took #76 to pole and Lazare was 3rd in #69 in 2017, and #99 (sans Ecklin) managed 11th. As the GS cars are the fastest ones in the Conti, position in class for these was essentially position overall.

Compass Racing, manager of the #76 McLaren, had another dog in the fight with huge potential, the #75 Audi RS3 LMS running in the series’ new Touring Car (TCR) class. Pierre Kleinubing took #75 to the pole position and would be the starting driver.

Pole in the remaining class, ST, was taken by Devin Jones in the #81 BMW 328i, but right behind him was Colin Mullan in the #52 MINI. (A word about Colin: he’s a Watkins Glen rookie, and only 16 years old.) Nate Norenberg qualified #37 4th, and Mike LaMarra brought #73 home in 5th.

In the WTSCC qualifying session, LMP2 cars held three of the top five positions. Grabbing pole was one of them, the #54 CORE Autosport ORECA driven by Colin Braun. Hot on his heels — really hot — was Brit Paul Di Resta in the #32 United Autosports Ligier, a mere 6/1000 of a second behind him.

Acura Team Penske’s two DPis followed. Qualifying 5th was Simon Trummer’s #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA. Stephen Simpson drove the team’s #99 sister car to 9th, and the remaining LMP2 car, the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA, came 10th.

As for the Mazdas, an incident during practice with #77 forced repairs that could not be completed in time for qualifying, so the car would start the race the next day in the back of the field. Meanwhile, Harry Tincknell qualified #55 13th, just behind two of the three Cadillac DPis in the session and ahead of the third.

The Conti

Labeling something an endurance race might tempt some people to tune in only to the last 10 minutes or so and figure they will pretty much be satisfied they’ve seen everything essential. Not so here.

In the Conti, as soon as the green flag waved cars were bunching up three or four across, and Paul Holton made an outrageous move with two wheels in the grass that catapulted him and his McLaren from 14th on the grid to 5th in the race — passing four rows of cars.

The fastest cars barely left Turn 1 when the #75 Audi (the TCR pole-sitter) struck and spun the #9 Aston (GS), ending Aurora Straus’ race, and one of the Mustangs hit the #26 BMW (GS), which had to call it quits as well. A detached wheel bouncing across the track from this encounter added its own bit of drama — and not even a single minute had passed in this four-hour contest.

As the race progressed, there were other cautions, and teams would pit for fuel, tires and driver changes, with everyone watching wide-eyed how these three factors were playing out in the heat. Cockpit temperatures easily exceeded 100°.

Eric Lux was the man to watch in the #99 Aston. Though he qualified 13th within the first hour he had advanced to 7th and shortly after that to 5th. He advanced another position after a full-course caution and was soon running 3rd.

However, #99 had some rear end damage, with something under the bumper flapping. Would race officials force it into the pits to have the crew remove it? Lux was still driving very aggressively, and even had a light touch with the Mustang in front of him — but backed off before it got him into trouble.

Then, about 15 minutes before the halfway point, the Mustang turned toward Lux, who tried to avoid the car by going on the curb, and both cars touched. Seconds later the Mustang spun and headed into the tire wall. Lux was now running 2nd, but would there by a penalty? The incident was reviewed, and no action against Lux was recommended.

[3-Aug_18_9_Aston.jpg] Automatic Racing ran three Astons, including the ill-fated #9 car driven by Aurora Straus.
Photo by Jon Gardner

The Mustang went straight to the pits, and the crew attempted a repair of the right rear fender with tape — which, unfortunately for driver Martin Barkey, did not last. The car by the race’s halfway mark was running 20th overall, 16th in class.

Lux meanwhile was “gently nudging” the leader, then pitted shortly afterward for a driver change to Al Carter (and to deal with the dangling rear piece? Apparently not, as a later touch by a different Mustang led to more dangling and flapping). Carter would slip to 14th overall, but as other cars pitted, Rob Ecklin would advance in #09 Aston to 3rd.

Ecklin finished his stint with a little more than an hour and a half to go, handing over to Brandon Kidd with a full service in the pits and four new tires. Positions were jumbled as other teams pitted, and a TCR car (the #77 Audi) found itself suddenly in the overall lead! But the Audi pitted shortly afterward for fuel, and the stop was delayed by a misaligned filler. The car not only lost the overall lead, it dropped to 17th overall and 3rd in TCR.

Carter in #99 was now in 6th, Plumb 4th in the #76 McLaren. A Mustang that had passed Carter after a prolonged battle for 5th place was penalized for blocking and charged with a drive-through, losing 5th place and moving Carter up to 4th.

Carter was dogged by a BMW for several laps. Driver Tyler Cooke did a masterful pass, pushing Carter (figuratively) to 5th. Carter eventually pitted for a few sips of fuel and got back to the race as soon as he could, but he had dropped to 8th.

Holton was running as high as 4th in his McLaren, and pitted (mistakenly?) when a Mercedes was sidelined by a seized right rear brake. There was a caution, but the pits were not open. Sadly for Holton and Compass Racing, it was not a “mistake.” The car had a problem. The crew gave it a splash of petrol, but then decided to retire the car — with a malfunctioning fuel pump.

The action was not limited to GS and TCR. With a bit more than a half hour to go, the leading BMW in ST, car #81, lost two positions after a prolonged pit stop. The #52 MINI vaulted into the class lead and #73 into 2nd. The third MINI, #37, was in 5th, behind the BMW and the #21 Porsche.

Lux was back in the #99 Aston, but had fallen to 18th position Brandon Kidd, Ecklin’s co-driver, was struggling with #09 in 12th position. The remaining McLaren, #69, was in 20th.

Ten minutes to go, the #81 BMW passed #73 but remained nearly 8-1/2 seconds behind the #52 car. Mat Pombo came back, however, and regained 2nd with less than five minutes to go. But literally a lap before the end, #73 parked off course between two pieces of Armco with skidmarks on the tracks — a classy move by Mat Pombo, so that no one else’s race (including his brother’s) would be spoiled by an obstruction and a caution.

So much for a 1-2 Pombo MINI finish it would turn out to be a 1-4 instead. Car #73’s run had been halted by the failure of an axle boot, something we’ve seen with the team cars before. The third MINI, #37, finished 5th, but was running at the end.

Taking overall victory was a Ford Mustang, the #8 car co-driven by Chad McCumbee (who qualified 2nd) and Patrick Gallagher. Completing the podium were a BMW M4 GT4 and another Mustang. The three cars were also the class leaders (GS).

In TCR, two of Compass Racing’s other three cars, the #77 and #74 Audi RS3s, grabbed class positions 1 and 2, followed by a third Audi, #54. Those Audis qualified 2nd, 3rd and 8th in class respectively. Of note: of the eight cars on the TCR entry list, all were Audi RS3s except for one VW GTI. The GTI finished 5th in class, after having qualified 6th out of eight entries.

[5-Aug_18_MINI_on_three_wheels.jpg] A MINI on three wheels!
Photo by Bruce Vild

The WTSCC

A driver change put CORE Autosport’s pole-sitting #54 ORECA at the back of the field, which jumbled the grid this morning (Sunday, July 1st). Paul Di Resta, #32 United Autosports Ligier, would start 1st, Jonathan Bennett would start #54 16th completing the top three would be two Acura DPis, the first Ricky Taylor’s #7 car and the second Dane Cameron’s #6. Both Mazdas started downfield.

The “start your engines!” prompt happened at 9:34 a.m. The start had Cameron leap ahead of Di Resta, and then moments later the #2 Tequila Patrón Nissan DPi and #90 Spirit of Florida Racing Cadillac DPi collided. The Cadillac had gone sideways and the Nissan tried to avoid it but was struck in the rear by its sister car, #22. This resulted in the race’s first full-course caution.

The damage to car #22 sent it back to the garage for 11 laps worth of repairs and dashed any hope for a podium finish for driver Nico Lapierre, though the car would gamely re-enter the race.

The woes of #90 continued, touching the #6 Acura and spinning off course and backwards into a wall. The incident was soon under investigation by officials, but no action was recommended. Cameron continued to lead with Di Resta following, but there was some damage to the front of the Acura — though not enough to prompt the pit crew to have a spare nose on hand for Cameron when he would pit.

At the half-hour mark, Taylor had lost a position to the #99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA, now in 3rd with Stephen Simpson driving — who, remarkably, was driving without a drink spout because it wasn’t working. This prompted some facetious remarks from the commentators that Simpson, who had moved up four places since the race start, is driving as fast as he can to use up the fuel, pit, and get out of the car!

By the time this happened, #6 had pitted and lost its lead Di Resta was back on top Gustavo Yacaman was 2nd in the #52 Ligier. Number 6 re-entered the race and moved up to 2nd as other cars pitted, then reclaimed the lead when #32 pitted.

There was a full-course caution called when a chunk of the #2 Nissan flew off the car — a “big enough piece” to prompt the yellow flag. At this point, with more than five hours left to the race, Cameron was 1st, #6 Acura Simpson 2nd, #99 ORECA Taylor 3rd, #7 Acura. Gibson engines powered the next three cars, the #32 Ligier (with new driver Phil Hanson), the #52 Ligier (still with Yacaman) and the #85 ORECA (Simon Trummer). The Mazda DPis were running 11th and 12th, as they had for several laps.

The #77 Mazda, which had been missing from yesterday’s qualifying session, had been completely rebuilt for the race, and when the race went to green was being piloted by Tristan Nunez.

The #2 Nissan continued to have a bad day. Now at the hands of Ryan Dalziel it was parked at Turn 5, reportedly losing power coming out of the Esses. The car retired, joining the team’s #22 car. The engine in that one had failed after completing only eight laps.

A battle for 2nd position was very much afoot as Ricky Taylor attempted to pass Stephen Simpson, who very skillfully used the slower GT traffic to keep his advantage. Simpson finally pitted, still ahead after an incredible performance — and Taylor led, though only briefly, as he too pitted at the next opportunity for tires and fuel.

Hanson led briefly in the #32 Ligier Cameron was 2nd, still in the cockpit of the #6 Acura. The #77 Mazda was slowing on the track, then picking up, then slowing again. The car and its sister, #55, had been bedeviled by electrical problems all weekend. Within minutes, #77 was seen heading back to the paddock. Number 55, with Spencer Pigot in control, was still in the race.

When Cameron finally handed over to co-driver Juan Pablo Montoya, he was drenched with sweat head to toe as the outside temperature continued climbing. It was nothing less than a triple stint.

Strategy, of course, remains king, whether a sprint or an enduro. Bruno Senna was now in the lead in the #32 Ligier, and the team decided to sacrifice the position and pit for fuel to be in good stead relative to everyone else for the finish of the race. (Yeah, I would, too.) In no time after #32 rejoined the race it was up to 2nd position, just behind #6, and well positioned to cruise past when the Acura pitted for fuel later. Race commentators were predicting an eight-lap fuel advantage over the Acura at this point.

And with a little more than two hours to go, Senna was back in 2nd, behind Cameron, with Felipe Albuquerque’s #5 Cadillac DPi just behind Senna. Cameron was leading by 2.4 seconds, then by only 1.43.

[4-Aug_18_99_Prototype.jpg] ORECA-Gibson #99 (left) gains position, and keeps it, on the #6 Acuri DPi.
Photo by Jon Gardner

Number 77, which had left for the paddock some time ago, rejoined the race with about 1:54 to go. The sister car, #55, had to serve a drive-through penalty, and then started to turn its fastest laps in the race to make it up.

When #6 pitted shortly later, Senna was again in the lead, with the #54 car — which, remember, had been sent to the back at the start of the race — was running 2nd, with pole winner Colin Braun at the wheel. In 3rd was the #52 Ligier, with a new driver, Sebastian Saavedra, followed by Chris Miller in the #99 ORECA. The top four positions were held by LMP2 cars.

The clock ran down. With 47 minutes to go, Braun was on top in #54, the number 2 car now the #6 Acura with Montoya at the wheel, but 10.156 seconds behind (at one point a couple of laps earlier, it was a full lap behind). At 43 minutes to go, the two Penske Acuras pitted for a splash of fuel and fresh rubber, but no driver change. (Would the leaders stay behind the wheel until the end?)

A fragment of tire from one of the Audis rolled into the middle of the course, prompting another full-course caution. Positions changed again as cars pitted for fuel and tires, and the #10 Cadillac DPi, driven by Jordan Taylor and opting not to pit, now had the lead. Montoya, however, wasn’t hearing any of it when the race turned to green. He made his move and the Acura overtook the Cadillac, but then lost ground. The two cars were side by side and nearly nudging each other — when through the melee came Stephen Simpson, back in the saddle of the #99 ORECA.

Simpson effected a wide pass around both the DPis and grabbed the lead with only 35 minutes to go!

The minutes kept ticking away. Montoya was still running 2nd. Taylor faltered, and Paul Di Resta, back in the #32 Ligier, was now 3rd. Romain Dumas, in the #54 ORECA soon was in 4th, Taylor falling to 5th.

It was a nailbiter to the very end. Montoya would not let go. He gained some time as the #55 Mazda, now running 10th, got in Simpson’s way as he tried to put some distance between himself and the Acura. But Simpson got through, and in the remaining laps used the GT traffic to his own advantage, always managing to get the slower cars in front of Montoya to block him.

And now Dumas started posing a threat to Montoya.

Simpson got the white flag and in the last lap was far enough ahead to bring it all home for JDC-Miller Motorsports. And, seconds before Montoya was about to cross the finish line, Dumas passed him and the #54 ORECA grabbed 2nd.

Post-race

So, do the DPis have an advantage in shorter races, where tweaking opportunities are virtually endless and only have to last two hours or less, while Gibson-powered cars — the LMP2s, with their spec determined by the demands and challenges of the 24 Hours of Le Mans — have it in the enduros because they’re built for same?

Pole-sitter and LMP2 driver Colin Braun commented when I posed a similar question to him that the DPi cars have “better torque,” which could explain their victories in this year’s series’ shorter-distance and sprint races. He said he liked the Gibson engine, however, and while modifications for a particular race are limited with a spec engine, the team running it does not get distracted by all the balance of performance issues the DPi teams have to address with different engine types, whether they are naturally aspirated or turbocharged, the number of cylinders they use, and so on.

Race commentators spent some time discussing the apparent fuel economy of the Gibson engines compared to what the DPi cars run. They observed that the various DPis had fuel tanks of (slightly) varying capacities, while all the Gibson-powered cars have tanks of equivalent capacity, 75 liters (which, while comparable to the DPis, is on the large side). Does this result in fewer pit stops for fuel, a distinct advantage best realized during longer-term races? Hmm...

Let’s see what happens at Petit Le Mans.




[1-Jul_18_Ginetta_going_into_downhill.jpg] July 2018

The #12 Ginetta of Drew Staveley, powering out of West Bend and heading for the Downhill at LRP.

Photo by Bruce Vild

‘How Racing Should Be’

Ginettas, Bentleys, a McLaren and a Lotus Compete in the Pirelli World Challenge Season-opener at Lime Rock

by Bruce Vild

LAKEVILLE, Conn. — As crowded with spectators as your usual IMSA race, the Pirelli World Challenge came to Lime Rock Park on Memorial Day weekend, May 25-28, with a pause on Sunday.

The entry list promised British car enthusiasts two Bentleys, two McLarens, three Ginettas and a Lotus to root for, but, for various reaons, not all of them showed up. No matter, it was still a great weekend with all four of those marques represented on the track.

For those unfamiliar with the PWC, there are five divisions for vehicles and four classifications for drivers. There are two Grand Touring divisions, GT and GTS, and three Touring Car divisions, TC, TCA and TCR, based on the entrants’ engine displacement, horsepower, body style and market placement.

The TCB division, where MINIs raced last year against cars like the Chevrolet Sonic and the Honda Fit, has been discontinued. Too bad, because it was great fun.

The races at Lime Rock in GT and GTS were part of the “SprintX” (SX) championship series in the PWC, 60 minutes long and requiring a driver and tire change during each run. The PWC is willing to make an exception to the driver change rule (but only in GTS) if a team is fielding a solo driver.

Drivers are ranked by race experience and age, following the FIA model: bronze, silver, gold or platinum. These determine the classes in the PWC for the GT and GTS divisions: Pro, Pro/Am, and Am.

For example, the drivers of the #9 Bentley Continental GT3, Alvaro Parente and Andy Soucek, are both ranked “platinum,” so they were in the class GT SX Pro/Pro. Paul Horton (silver) and Ray Mason (bronze) and their #78 McLaren 570S GT4 were in GTS SX Pro/Am, while solo drivers Drew Staveley (bronze) and Frank Gannett (bronze) and their twin Ginetta G55s, #12 and #24, were in GTS SX Am.

In TC, TCA and TCR, drivers are not rated by the FIA system. Some may have driver classifications from their participation in FIA-affiliated series, but others do not. It’s not unusual for the owners of TC teams/cars to be the drivers themselves.

Besides the four British marques mentioned above, Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ford (Mustang), Subaru, Honda, Nissan, Chevrolet (Camaro), Audi, BMW, Mazda and even Genesis are represented in the PWC. Except for being modified for racing, the cars are essentially the same vehicles you can drive out of a showroom — which explains using “market placement” as a criterion for classifying them.

“How racing should be” is this year’s tag-line for the PWC. All the cars get two sessions of practice and two races per weekend, with TCR and TCA running their sessions together. Each class qualifies separately.

Unlike IMSA, where super-fast prototypes race together with GT cars and the resulting traffic snarls are considered part of the game, it’s like against like in the PWC — but given the classes Pro, Pro/Am and Am in Grand Touring, and TC, TCA and TCR in Touring Car, there are still races within races to watch.

It all adds up to a very long weekend, particularly at Lime Rock, where a treaty the track has with the town prohibits racing on Sunday. The event stretched to late Monday afternoon with the final (the second of two) GT race at 4:05 p.m.

[2-Jul_18_Lotus.jpg] Nicolai Elghanayan did double duty for his team, MarcoPolo Motorsports, driving a KTM X-bow in GTS SprintX and a Lotus Exige in TC (above). Good results in the former, not so much in the latter.
Photo by Jon Gardner

Though this year’s PWC began in March on a street course in St. Petersburg, Fla., this was Lime Rock’s first “big” spectator event of 2018 — the season opener, if you will. IMSA will be here with the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge July 20-21.

The racing

There were a lot of cars racing this weekend — 88 on the entry list, with the cars within each class being remarkably competitive.

The division with the most by far was GTS, with 35 initial entrants, 31 of which qualified. At pole was Nicolai Elghanayan in the Austrian-built #71 KTM X-bow, and right behind him was Drew Staveley in the #12 Ginetta G55. The top three finishers were all GTS SX Am cars. Tops in the GTS SX Pro/Am class was a Ford Mustang GT4, which placed 4th overall.

GT SX qualifying provided more good news — at first, anyway. The #9 Bentley Continental (GT SX Pro) took pole after a very successful practice session that placed the car 2nd. K-PAX Racing’s other Bentley, #3 (GT SX Pro/Am), was 7th overall, and 1st among the Pro/Ams. The resulting grid was shaken up, however, when both Bentleys were sent to the back because of technical infractions discovered post-race.

GTS SX qualifying was no doubt disappointing for the #78 McLaren, which only managed 29th place overall and 17th in class (Pro/Am) in spite of encouraging runs in two practice sessions. The #12 Ginetta’s sister car, #24, placed 31st overall and 13th in class (Am), the very bottom of the list.

The second McLaren on the entry list and the third Ginetta were no-shows.

Elghanayan was also kept busy behind the wheel of another car his team was fielding, the #92 Lotus Exige in TC. Made sense, because he had already made a name for himself in the Lotus Cup USA series in its top-tier Trophy class.

And the Lotus bore watching. Lime Rock fans may remember that last year an Exige at the hands of Elivan Goulart qualified well and then won its first race, but went off into a tire wall after a dice with a BMW in the second. This year, it seemed the Lotus just did not have the pace. Elghanayan qualified 13th in TC, at the bottom.

[3-Jul_18_Bentley_9_Yellow.jpg] Two of K-PAX Racing’s Bentley Boys were Parente and Soucek in car #9.
Photo by Bill Richardson

To cycle through all the classes, race day was spread over Saturday and Monday.

In his first TC race on Saturday, Elghanayan and the Lotus finished 10th out of 14 cars, on the lead lap at checker and 58 seconds behind the winning #91 BMW. The second round, also on Saturday, brought them off the lead lap in the final minutes of the race and in 11th place out of 13 cars.

That performance was nothing if not consistent. The Lotus’ fastest lap in race one was 58.867 seconds in race two, 58.811. This contrasts with Goulart’s best last year, 56.857, and that of the winners this year, Karl Wittmer in race one, 58.005, and Johan Schwartz in race two, 57.637 (both BMWs, but from different teams).

Elghanayan did go on to win the first round of the GTS SprintX races on Monday outright in the KTM X-bow, but fell to 9th place overall in the second — which, however, still got him a step on the podium in the Am class.

Once again, Elghanayan’s races in the X-bow were spot-on consistent: his best lap in the first was 54.431, and 54.420 in the second.

Sharing the podium with him in race one was Ginetta driver Staveley, 3rd overall and 2nd in class (Am). Staveley finished 9.5 seconds behind Elghanayan — and would go on to win race two.

Staveley would comment after that race that it was a “big win” for his team, Ian Lacy Racing, and Ginetta.

“We felt the Ginetta G55 would be a good car for the Lime Rock circuit,” he said. “The high-speed corners suit this car very well.”

The team’s other Ginetta, however, only managed 23rd overall and 8th in class in race one. In the second race Gannett completed only 15 laps, below the minimum for classification. The 16 top finishers completed 50.

Monday did not bring joy to the #78 McLaren either, which finished off the lead lap in both races — 25th position overall and 16th in class in the first session and 22nd overall and 13th in class in the second.

GT SprintX, where the Bentleys ran, featured Rodrigo Baptista and Maxime Soulet in the #3 car chasing Parente and Soucek in #5 in that division’s Monday double header. Both Bentleys made the top five in class in both races, with their best results in the second race.

To this writer, the spectacle was remarkable. Both Bentleys have such a presence, they seem so much bigger than the other GT cars, even when reposing in the paddock — yet according to the official program, each tips the scale at a mere 2800 lbs., making them only 66 lbs. heavier than a Porsche 911 GT3R, the same as a Lamborghini Huracan GT3, and 308 lbs. lighter than a Mercedes AMG GT3!

In the first GT SprintX race, Parente and Soucek just missed the podium, placing 4th overall and in class (Pro/Pro), behind a Porsche, a Ferrari, and another Porsche. Baptista and Soulet finished 8th overall, but on podium with a 3rd in class (Pro/Am).

These were excellent results considering both cars had to start race one from the 10th and 11th position, and maybe not all that surprising since Alvaro Parente has been called “one of the best GT drivers in the world.”

And it got better in race two. Five of the 13 cars running were lapped and the leaders had to dodge them, which Toni Vilander, in the #61 Ferrari, was able to do. But Parente was right on his tail and, in spite of occasional bottlenecks because of the slower cars, took the checker about 2.5 seconds after him for a 2nd overall, 2nd in class finish.

The good news for Baptista and Soulet in the second race was a top-five finish overall, and a class win (Pro/Am) — and, by the way, they won convincingly, with the 2nd-in-class Audi nearly 25 seconds behind them.

“Good race, no touch,” grinned Soulet afterward.

Commentators before the race speculated that a good result for the #3 Bentley could mean a promotion for Rodrigo Baptista from bronze to silver. We’ll see.

[Many thanks to the PWC and LRP staff for contributing to this article.]




[1-Jun_18_Mazda_77.jpg] June 2018

Has Mazda Team Joest finally hit its stride? With a 4th at Long Beach and a 3rd at Mid-Ohio — the team’s best results to date — and a lap record at Sebring, they’re looking for a win in Detroit.

Photo by Michael L. Levitt, LAT Images, courtesy IMSA

And Now for Something Completely Different...

by Bruce Vild

LONG BEACH, Calif., Apr. 13-14 — The Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach. If you tried to design a race more different from the two before it — Daytona and Sebring — you couldn’t.

This one, the third in the IMSA series called the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, took place on streets instead of on a track, and started and finished in the space of 100 minutes, rather than 24 hours or 12.

Which called for a different strategy. When to pit and how to position your car becomes all the more critical when time is short and the number of cautions, with open pits, are likely to be few rather than several.

Add to this a very narrow course improvised from existing city streets, with limited runoff space and unforgiving barriers. And traffic from slower cars? Sure, though this time limited to only one GT class (GT Le Mans) instead of the usual two.

Not to mention that a street race is a sprint rather than a slog, and early leaders are the ones likely to prevail — or at least they have less time to falter.

Within the IMSA prototype line-up, it would be interesting to see whether a shorter race would give one type of prototype the advantage over the other. The Le Mans Prototypes (LMP2s) were designed with an eye toward les 24 Heures and did well at Daytona and Sebring, though pipped by the DPis. How would they do in a sprint?

All the LMP2s run but one engine, the Gibson V8 designed and built in Britain and seen in European and Asian endurance races. Might that single spec be a handicap, since the DPis all have their own variations on the theme — four, six or eight cylinders, turbocharged or naturally aspirated — that might allow more tweaking?

Well, as it turned out, the DPis dominated Long Beach. Only one LMP2 car qualified in the top ten — the #52 Ligier piloted by Gustavo Yacaman, who ran 9th. Every other position was grabbed by a DPi, with Juan Pablo Montoya getting his first IMSA pole in the #6 Acura DPi for Acura Team Penske.

My eyes were on Mazda Team Joest. Harry Tincknell and the #55 Mazda DPi, with its feisty turbocharged inline 4 developed by UK-based AER, qualified 3rd, and teammate Tristan Nunez in the #77 sister car came 7th.

For the Mazdas, Long Beach was like homecoming weekend. Mazda’s North American Operations and its Research & Design facility are in nearby Irvine, where the Mazda RT24-P (the official name of their DPi) was developed. Both facilities hosted events leading up to the Grand Prix, and Mazda brought a bunch of employees to watch the race on Saturday.

The race went O.K. for Mazda, with Tincknell starting and enjoying an incident-free stint before pitting during a caution (the race’s second) and turning #55 over in 4th place to Jonathan Bomarito. The pit stop was quick and clean, and #55 was the first out of the box of all the cars that pitted. Bomarito found himself running 3rd when racing resumed under green.

Things were looking good for #77, too. Starting driver Nunez jumped to 6th place during his turn at the wheel, handing over to Oliver Jarvis. (Incidentally, this was the first time at Long Beach for both Jarvis and Tincknell.)

For the rest of the race, the story was one of #55 losing ground and #77 gaining.

By the time the team decided to make its next pit stop (for fuel), Bomarito was running 5th and Jarvis 6th. The strategy now was to be among the first prototypes in and out as soon as the pits opened, and to move up for a charge to the finish while others were still pitted.

[2-Jun_18_Mazda_55.jpg] The #55 Mazda DPi started well but was caught in traffic in Long Beach.
Photo by Perry Nelson, LAT Images, courtesy IMSA

Things were looking good for #77, too. Starting driver Nunez jumped to 6th place during his turn at the wheel, handing over to Oliver Jarvis. (Incidentally, this was the first time at Long Beach for both Jarvis and Tincknell.)

For the rest of the race, the story was one of #55 losing ground and #77 gaining.

By the time the team decided to make its next pit stop (for fuel), Bomarito was running 5th and Jarvis 6th. The strategy now was to be among the first prototypes in and out as soon as the pits opened, and to move up for a charge to the finish while others were still pitted.

Unfortunately, what seemed like a good idea was negated by traffic from a group of slower GT cars. The advance never happened for Bomarito, who fell further behind, and was deferred for Jarvis.

The clock was beginning to run out, and Jarvis, now in 5th place, was right behind Ricky Taylor’s #7 Acura DPi. Taylor had just lost a position to his brother Jordan in the #10 Cadillac DPi, and the Acura was off-pace and off-grip, perhaps with a tire going down. Ricky drove as defensively as he could to prevent the Mazda from overtaking him, but Jarvis made the pass and was now running 4th — and chasing the other Taylor.

With lapped GT cars adding to the traffic and preventing one last charge, Jordan Taylor was able to put a little distance between his car and the Mazda before the checkered flag waved. Taylor made the podium and Jarvis just missed it, but the 4th-place finish for Mazda Team Joest was their best to date.

There was plenty of other drama that weekend. Jonathan Bennett, in the #54 ORECA LMP2, took his car into the runoff at Turn 8 and recovered, but about 20 minutes later his co-driver, Colin Braun, went hard into the tires there. A five-minute red flag resulted.

Turn 9 was also problematic, with the #24 GTLM BMW of John Edwards having an off there twice, and James French grazing the wall in his #38 ORECA. Eric Curran also went wall-grazing at Turn 9 in his car, the #31 Cadillac DPi, continued, and was hit three minutes later by Johannes van Overbeek in the #22 Nissan DPi, prompting another red flag.

Robert Alon’s #85 ORECA went off at Turn 1 and stalled, forcing yet another red flag.

And all these incidents happened during practice.

During the race, the first lap was barely underway before the #52 Ligier of Gustavo Yacaman spun and hit Kyle Masson’s #38 ORECA at Turn 2, sending Masson into the wall and resulting in the first yellow while a tow truck retrieved Masson’s car.

Robert Alon had an off when the race resumed, and seven minutes later he pitted with problems with his shifter. Masson’s car was brought in for fuel and fresh tires and hopefully a hand-off to teammate James French, but a lot of work was needed behind the wall.

[3-Jun_18_Oreca_99.jpg] Top Gibson-powered finisher at Long Beach was the #99 ORECA, which placed 8th.
Photo by Perry Nelson, LAT Images, courtesy IMSA

Both ORECAs were in for very long stops. Only Alon’s would eventually rejoin the race, but would pit barely a minute later and retire with a broken left rear toe-link. Like French, Alon’s teammate, Simon Trummer, would not get to drive. Ironically, two cars designed for endurance racing were the first to retire at Long Beach.

Porsche, competing in GTLM, had a bad day, too. For several of the early laps one of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs was dragging something from its rear. It eventually fell off and onto the track, just barely missing the racing line, and was later traced not to the Ford but to the #911 Porsche 911 RSR of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet.

The debris was part of the Porsche’s undergrille diffuser, essential for braking and cooling. It had come off as a result of contact with the Ford. Car #911 had other damage to its nose but soldiered on, with Tandy pitting for four new tires and a new front bumper section, and then losing a piece off the front moments after exiting the pits. This led to another yellow.

The Porsche team’s other car, #912, was leading the class when it started having trouble with its front suspension and suffered a tire puncture. There was not enough time to do the repair and get back in the race. The Porsche was retired, a gutting result when you’re in the lead.

As in qualifying, the DPis dominated the race. Eight of the top ten finishers were DPis, led by Joao Barbosa and Felipe Albuquerque in the #5 Cadillac DPi. Jarvis, as mentioned, took the #77 Mazda DPi to 4th place, and Bomarito finished with #55 in 9th. The highest-placing LMP2 car was the #99 ORECA of Mischa Goikhbert and Stephen Simpson in 8th, and Colin Braun and Jonathan Bennett’s #54 ORECA finished 10th.

Does this prove anything about the DPis and LMP2 cars in sprints vs. endurance races? The jury’s still out until we compare the results from Mid-Ohio and Detroit.

[4-Jun_18_Ligier_52.jpg] Top LMP2 car at Mid-Ohio was the #52 Ligier-Gibson (in 8th place overall).
Photo by Michael L. Levitt, LAT Images, courtesy IMSA

On to Mid-Ohio
by Bruce Vild

LEXINGTON, Ohio, May 4-6 — Changing up again and going from streets to a storied racetrack, IMSA took the WTSCC to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for its fourth session and brought along three support races including the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.

The weekend was called “the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio” and it would have been, well, embarrassing if the Acuras did not do well. They did. Acura Team Penske delivered their first WTSCC victory at Mid-Ohio via Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves in the #7 Acura DPi, with the #6 Acura DPi of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron right behind them.

Interestingly, Acura is the only manufacturer in the WTSCC with a presence in both prototype and GT, a claim that not too long ago could have been made by Porsche and even Aston Martin. They came close to grabbing a class victory in GT Daytona as well as the overall win, but Alvaro Parente and Katherine Legge and their #86 NSX GT3 could not get past a Lexus and had to settle for 2nd place.

IMSA commentators were quick to point out that, on the prototype side, Acura dominated the weekend — but it wasn’t a cakewalk as Mazda Team Joest’s own prototypes, #55 and #77, had the Acuras constantly in their sights. Penske’s DPis may have come 1st and 2nd in all three practice sessions, qualified that way, and taken the race, but 3rd place in both qualifying and the race was Mazda’s.

While Acura celebrated its first win, Mazda grabbed its first podium and emerged as the team to watch going forward. Both #55 and #77 qualified in the top five — in 3rd and 4th position respectively — and by the time they pitted for a driver change (Jonathan Bomarito to Spencer Pigot in #55 and Oliver Jarvis to Tristan Nunez in #77), both cars were in the top three.

But there’s always an issue with traffic from the GT cars, and at Mid-Ohio they were back to running both GT classes with plenty of opportunities for side-to-side contact. After the pit stop and a charge to jump ahead, Pigot was struck by one of the GT cars and had to pit again with debris on #55’s right front side. He would not rejoin the race.

Nunez also lost some time in lapped traffic but managed to close the gap and ran strong as the race came to a close to take 3rd place. After the race he congratulated everyone on a “true team effort” to get to the podium, right down to Multimatic, the chassis constructor, and engine provider AER. He predicted they would learn from their experience with traffic and the possibility of contact, “and go to Detroit and be competitive again.”

And the LMP2 cars? Down on the list, but not nearly as far as at Long Beach. During qualifying, four of the five of them made the top ten. Gustavo Yacaman led the pack with the #52 Ligier in 7th place, followed 8th through 10th by three ORECAs — Mikhail Goikhberg’s #99, Robert Alon’s #85 and James French’s #38. Jonathan Bennett gridded the #54 ORECA 14th.

Alon’s teammate Simon Trummer set a few fast lap times during practice in the #85 ORECA, but in the race the car crossed the line in 12th. Early in the race, Alon spun and had an off (which led to a drive-through penalty for the responsible party, a Nissan DPi). This cost #85 a couple of positions and no doubt contributed to the result.

Most of the other LMP2s advanced one position from grid to race finish, suggesting a very consistent and perhaps cautious race, and perhaps also an unexpected consequence of Pigot having to retire his Mazda and everyone behind him moving up.

Mid-Ohio was a race that was “intermediate” between a sprint race and an endurance challenge. I’m tempted to point to the results — with the improvement in standing, vis-à-vis Long Beach, of the LMP2 cars — and say, look, it’s a longer race (exactly one hour longer than Long Beach), so the endurance racers were naturally going to do better than before. But I won’t, until at least after Detroit, another sprint/street race — and instead think about just how competitive those four-cylinder Mazdas are against sixes and V8s in the prototype class.

[5-Jun_18_Pombo_and_LaMarra.jpg] On the top step of the podium in ST at the Mid-Ohio 120 were MINI JCW drivers Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra.
Photo by Michael L. Levitt, LAT Images, courtesy IMSA

MINI 1, 2 at Mid-Ohio
by Dave Newman

The MINI JCW Team finished 1st and 2nd in their class on what was otherwise a lackluster day for British cars in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Mid-Ohio, “the Mid-Ohio 120.”

The two-hour endurance race included cars from the GS (Grand Sport) and new TCR classes along with the ST class, where the MINIs were competing against a Porsche and a BMW.

The Mid-Ohio track is 2.4 miles long with 16 turns and many elevation changes and blind corners, perfect for a MINI. It was the first time the team had raced at Mid-Ohio, as the last time IMSA was here was in 2013.

The recently married Nate Norenburg qualified 1st in class in the #37 MINI JCW. At the start of the race, he initially fell back but fought his way to the front before the driver change, with Derek Jones taking over.

The MINI JCW Team has technicians from different local MINI dealers helping out at races as part of MINI USA’s Service Tech Education Program (commonly referred to as STEP). This race had four techs from Cincinnati MINI and one from way down south, Tom Bush MINI in Jacksonville, Fla.

The STEP techs noticed that the #37 MINI JCW had a torn CV boot. They could not fix this and still be competitive, so while Derek was sent back out onto the track, they probably were not surprised when the CV joint (axle assembly) broke with about 30 minutes left in the race. Derek was forced to retire.

This left the race up to the #52 MINI JCW, first driven by Colin Mullan. At mid-point Colin handed the car off to Mark Pombo, who would run a close, bumper-to-bumper race in 1st or 2nd for the last hour with the team’s third car, the #73 MINI JCW.

Number 73 started with driver Mike LaMarra, who swapped positions back and forth with the #52 car, eventually passing his MINI to Mat Pombo (keep your Pombos straight here!). Mat led the race with his brother Mark in the #52 on his tail for some fantastic racing in the last half hour.

The television announcers clearly love the MINI team and the competition between 1st and 2nd was tight. Mat in #73 MINI crossed the finish line inches in front of Mark, bringing home the victory.

Luis Perocarpi, who campaigns the three MINI JCW cars for MINI USA, runs a tight and focused team. Except for the CV joint problem on #37, they had the perfect race. For those of you with a MINI: have you checked your CV joint rubber seals lately?

[Track commentary from IMSA, the teams covered, and Lee Driggers’ Pit Notes contributed much to these reports on Long Beach and Mid-Ohio. Thanks to all.]





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