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[1-Sept_21_Red Flag.jpg] September 2021

A familiar sight all weekend long — corner workers waving red flags.

Photo by Bruce Vild

Seeing Red at Lime Rock
Heart of Racing’s Aston Takes the Win as Lightning and ‘Incidents’ Reduce Track Time
from Practice to the Big Race

by Bruce Vild

LAKEVILLE, Conn., July 16-17 — You might say that the #23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage was in it for the long haul at Lime Rock, but in a flash it was over.

A lightning flash, that is. Several, in fact.

With about an hour and 10 minutes track time left in IMSA’s Northeast Grand Prix, the race was red-flagged due to lightning in the area. The cars all pitted, the corner workers left their posts, the spectators sought shelter — and the Aston, which had led for most of the race, wound up with the GT Daytona class victory as the clock ran down to zero.

No fewer than eight red flags waved this weekend, starting from the practice sessions. The threat of thunderstorms loomed large, very large, but there were also shunts that called for more than just a caution flag.

IMSA enters the Bull Ring

Lime Rock Park is a 1.5-mile course, shortest on the IMSA schedule. It makes the circuit at Watkins Glen look like a slog. It’s too short for many (none of the IMSA prototypes raced here this weekend), challenging for all.

And so, only two classes were present, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD). The GTLM cars numbered but three, two Corvette C8.Rs and a lone Porsche 911.RSR. Three is barely enough to qualify as a class in a British car show, and two marques hardly make for a variety. But it beats Belle Isle in Detroit, where the only entrants were Corvettes.

(One note regarding the Corvettes at Lime Rock: the Northeast Grand Prix marked the IMSA debut of the C8.R, and “reconnaissance laps” were part of the show before Thursday morning’s practice. This meant once around the track, then back to the pits, and then out again for the practice.)

For this writer, the action in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) remains in GTD, where the #23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin is grabbing podium after podium and even a class victory at Belle Isle.

Even if you’re not a fan of British machinery, GTD is the place to be, with no fewer than 14 entrants and GTs from Italy, Germany and Japan, as well as the U.K. (where #23 remains the sole example). The mix of eight manufacturers, as opposed to one or two, gives just about everyone someone to cheer for.

And then there’s the Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) that also ran this weekend. This series remains packed with Grand Sport (GS) and Touring Car (TCR) teams. You get a spread of countries here similar to IWSC’s GTD, and a mix of machines one step closer to what you can buy at a local dealership.

Plus not going unnoticed is the added attraction in IMPC’s GS class of two McLarens and (at least) two Astons running — including, this weekend, the #23 Notlad Racing by RS1 car that won the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 race at Watkins Glen during the Six Hours weekend.

The Northeast Grand Prix schedule called for two practice sessions each for IWSC and IMPC Friday morning. These ended by mid-afternoon, with qualifying for IMPC following almost immediately and for IWSC shortly before 6 p.m.

The weekend’s first red flag appeared during the Michelin cars’ second practice session after a TCR Hyundai Veloster suffered a mechanical problem and was driven off the course and onto the grass. Everyone pitted, with the #23 Notlad Racing Aston leading at the time. When racing resumed the Aston held the lead, but the Camaro that was chasing it was closing the gap.

[2-Sept_21_AWA.jpg] The AWA crew at work to bring the #13 McLaren back from its crash.
Photo by Bruce Vild

The second red flag came later in the same session, this time when a car went off at Turn 1 — the #13 McLaren with Kuno Wittmer at the helm. Wittmer hit a tire wall and the car was severely damaged, going back to the paddock on a flatbed.

The session did end under the green flag, however, with the Aston setting the fastest lap at 54.274 seconds, the Camaro 2nd at 54.328, and a BMW from the formidable Turner Motorsport outfit 3rd at 54.346.

Practice 2 in IWSC was also marred by a red flag (the third so far, if you’re counting), but not because of an on-track incident but because of lightning in the area. A sprinkle of rain that IMSA commentator Shea Adam said “was more like a heavy mist” became a downpour, and thunder could be heard in the paddock and viewing areas. Spectators on the hillside were advised to seek shelter.

At this point the #23 Heart of Racing Aston was running mid-field (8th out of the 13 GTD cars). Driver Roman De Angelis was just getting acquainted with the track. This was his first time at Lime Rock.

The clock kept running, and at 16:17 to go the session resumed. Plenty of water was kicked up on the track, but drainage overall was good and this did not lead to problems.

As expected, the GTLM Corvettes finished on top of the mixed IWSC field. De Angelis brought his Aston home 8th in GTD and 11th overall.

Qualifying: more red flags

Separate qualifying sessions soon followed for the IMPC cars, first for TCR, whose session ran till the end, and then for GS, which was stopped just a third of the way into it. The red flag this time was once again due to a track incident.

It was noted that the #13 McLaren that Wittmer had run into the tires was not present as repairs were still underway in the paddock. As he or co-driver Orey Fidani was not able to post a time, they would start at the back of the grid.

However, sitting on pole when the dust settled was the #23 Notlad Aston, taken there by Patrick Gallagher, besting runner-up Bill Auberlen’s BMW by 0.028 seconds.

There were two sessions in IWSC, too. The first, for GTD position, was relatively unblemished, with rookie De Angelis posting the fastest lap time and grabbing the pole. (Apparently, this was a good day to have an Aston with the number 23!) He led Aaron Telitz’s 2nd-place Acura by 0.045 seconds.

The next session — this one for GTLM position, and open for points for drivers in both classes — did have its red-flag moment, however. This time it was for the #79 GTLM Porsche, which went into the grass right outside the track’s Left Hander about halfway through the session and spun his wheels in the mud.

The clock kept ticking. At this point, De Angelis’ co-driver, Aston Martin works driver Ross Gunn, was 10th in class after having been as high as 2nd.

The green flag came out again after the Porsche managed to extricate itself after nearly three minutes of trying. Its driver, Cooper MacNeil, still had the 2nd-fastest lap overall, splitting the Corvettes — a position he did not lose until the last two and a half minutes of the session.

At this point there will little room to move and Gunn finished 10th in class and 13th overall. What really counted, however, was his team’s GTD position: the pole, the front row, thanks to Roman De Angelis.

Race day

Saturday, the 17th, was race day, and it began with a 20-minute warmup for IWSC cars. The session was interrupted by two red flags, first for a Lamborghini off course in Turn 3, then for a Porsche and a Lexus in Turn 1. This writer had to wonder, were the drivers getting a bit careless, or was the circuit tripping them up with its challenges?

Some respite was to be had soon afterward during the IMPC “fan walk,” where the GS and TCR cars were angle-parked in pit lane and spectators had the chance to take pictures and chat with the drivers.

[3-Sept_21_Gallagher.jpg] Patrick Gallagher poses with the pole-sitting Aston Martin during the IMPC fan walk.
Photo by Bruce Vild

The #23 Notlad Racing Aston held pride of place at the top of the fan walk grid. Toward the back was the #13 AWA McLaren with Messrs. Wittmer and Fidani, all fixed up and ready to race. It was good to see them back.

Also in the GS line-up were the #7 VOLT Racing Aston of Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman, and the #3 Motorsports in Action McLaren of Sheena Monk and Spencer Pigot. Monk was signing autographs for fans on the rear spoiler of her McLaren, while members of the VOLT crew mugged for the camera alongside their Aston.

And happily, the IMPC race to follow had yellow flags but no red ones. Not so happily, mechanical problems seemed to bedevil both McLarens, with #13 going behind the wall within the first 45 minutes after managing to move up several positions, Fidani driving, and #3 retiring after completing only nine laps, Monk driving.

That left the two Astons. Gallagher had started in the #23 car and led for this portion of the race, but was overtaken by the #95 Turner Motorsport BMW of Darren Machavern. The #7 VOLT Aston, piloted first by Brynjolfsson then Hindman, moved up a couple of positions, and at the race’s halfway point was running 6th.

Other retirements were announced, namely the #71 Camaro after 30 laps and the #21 Toyota Supra after 27. Number 13 was still just officially pitted.

Gallagher’s co-driver Steven McAleer regained the lead for #23. Pit rotation, however, dropped the Aston several positions. As Gallagher did another stint he sat at 11th in class, but soon enough set the fastest lap time. When a TCR car crashed just past a corner workers’ station, prompting a caution flag, #23 was running 8th in class, 12th overall.

The #13 McLaren rejoined the race, to the surprise and delight of many, including this writer. Kuno Wittmer was driving now, and running (predictably) last — 18th in class, 30th overall — the three GS cars behind him having already retired.

When the race returned to green it was McAleer at the helm of #23, and he moved up with some skillful passing to 3rd in class with 15 minutes left to race. Then he took 2nd, behind Eric Foss in the #56 Murillo Racing Mercedes. With a minute to go, McAleer was still 2nd, and Hindman, back in the saddle of the #7 Aston, was running 4th.

Foss went on to win. McAleer’s Aston came 2nd, and Jan Heylen’s #16 Porsche 3rd. Hindman followed, only 0.206 seconds off the podium.

Of the 35 cars that started the IMPC race, 12 were not running at the end — seven TCRs and five GS cars. The top 16 finishers, including six TCRs, completed 112 laps. Wittmer and Fidani completed 63, ending up 27th overall and 17th in class. But at least they finished.

And then there was the IWSC race.

It was now late afternoon. An overnight Corvette engine change put its recipient at the back of the grid — but fortunately for them, the grid (GTLM) was only three cars long. As mentioned, Roman De Angelis and the Heart of Racing Aston were in the first row in GTD.

Ambient temperature within the first 45 minutes of the race reached 91°, track temperature 102°. A pit stop cost #23 three positions, but within minutes relief driver Ross Gunn had the Aston back in front.

Ominous black clouds were gathering in the west. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning, with an 80% chance by 5 p.m. At 4:19, it had decreased to 70%, hardly an improvement. There was a severe thunderstorm watch in place till 11 p.m.

[4-Sept_21_Heart.jpg] The Heart of Racing team started in front of the IWSC pack and pretty much stayed there. By sheer coincidence, the pole-sitters in both races were Astons sporting the number 23.
Photo by Bill Richardson

The race was supposed to last two hours and 40 minutes. With a little less than an hour and a half to go, the GTD class leader was on Lap 80. The GTLM leader was on Lap 83 — some indication of how much faster the GTLM-spec cars are, yet lap times well within a single second vis-à-vis the leading Corvette were recorded by at least two GTD cars, including the #23 Aston.

By 4:30 the wind had picked up and the sky had gotten much cloudier. All three GTLM cars had just pitted, beginning with the Porsche. Pit rotation did not affect class position — the top two were still Corvettes, the third still the #79 Porsche.

Another yellow flag waved with an hour and 11 left in the race, for “weather in the area.” Nearby Litchfield, Conn., was now under a flash flood warning.

One minute later came the red flag, the clock still running.

With rain now here and predicted for the next hour by the National Weather Service, not to mention lightning in the area, it became more and more unlikely the race would resume. Early on it had settled into a rhythm, with #23 in front, followed by a Lamborghini, followed by a Lexus. At the last lap run (so far), the Lambo was four seconds behind the Aston.

IMSA readied a corner of the press room for the post-race interviews as the clock wound down past the 30-minute mark. Finally the race was called. Helluva way for an Aston Martin to win a race, but…

Remarks by De Angelis & Gunn

IMSA offered members of the press an opportunity to interview Heart of Racing pole-sitter Roman De Angelis after the IWSC qualifying session, and then after the race with co-driver Ross Gunn.

Post-qualifying, De Angelis — still technically “learning the course” as this was his first time at Lime Rock — was asked to comment on the absence of prototypes in the Northeast Grand Prix. He replied that it was nice not having to watch the mirrors constantly for prototypes as they charged through traffic, and that they were very hard to get around when jockeying for position. However, it was not lost on him that Lime Rock remains a tight and challenging course, two straights linked and limited by curves, including one that was broad and sweeping (Big Bend) and another at the beginning of a tricky chicane.

After the race, this writer asked the team, given the heat today, what effect track temperature had on the car, the drivers, and the tires. Gunn replied that although things cooled down a bit as the clouds became thicker, the track is abrasive (“it’s really extreme,” he said) and tire wear was something to contend with along with the heat. Given the short course, there was little time for the brakes to cool down, so that had to be monitored as well. But Gunn added he thought the circuit itself was “really, really fun.”

In response to another question, De Angelis commented that “it is always cool to learn a new track,” and Gunn added that he was impressed by how well the track is kept up and the high quality of the facilities. He also said “I love an undulating circuit” and hopes to be able to return here next year.

[1-Aug_21_Mazda_Victory.jpg] August 2021

The familiar #55 Mazda-AER — seen here in Victory Lane with drivers (left to right) Jarvis, Tincknell and Bomarito.

Photo by Jack Webster

Double British Wins at Watkins Glen
It’s Mazda-AER in IWSC, and a Newcomer Aston in IMPC

by Jack Webster

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 24-27 — Watkins Glen may well be the most historic racing circuit on the IMSA schedule.

“The Glen” is literally the birthplace of American road racing, having held the first sports car race through the streets of the small town in 1948. In 1956, with the street circuit proving too dangerous for both spectators and drivers, the permanent Watkins Glen International road course opened just outside of the village. They have been racing there ever since.

This year’s IMSA weekend included the Sahlen Six Hours of the Glen, featuring the cars and drivers from the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC), and the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240, a four-hour support race featuring the cars and drivers from the Michelin Pilot Challenge Series (IMPC).

Both races were held in front of a massive crowd of fans as COVID restrictions were eased and the weather was perfect. Also, the IMSA paddock was open all week to fans so they could get up close and personal once again with their favorite cars and drivers.

It felt like we were finally getting back to normal.

Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen

The IWSC race was a great one for British fans.

The Mazda Motorsports RT24-P DPi — piloted by American Jonathan Bomarito and Brits Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell, and powered by a British-made AER turbocharged four-cylinder engine — won the Six Hours overall, besting the Acura DPi of Frenchman Olivier Pla and American Dane Cameron by less than one second at the finish.

It was an amazing drive for Harry Tincknell in particular, who managed to stay in front of the Acura on his last stint while saving fuel. A late-race full-course caution set up the dramatic race to the checkered flag, as all the teams pitted for fuel and then had to stretch and conserve their fuel to have any hope of getting to the finish without making another stop.

The legendary Leena Gade, Mazda’s team engineer from partner Multimatic Motorsports, made what turned out to be the winning move on that final pit stop. She had her crew change just one tire on Tincknell’s Mazda while other teams took the time to get four tires — and that move let Tincknell take the overall lead in the race when exiting the pits.

[2-Aug_21_Aston_Heart.jpg] Heart of Racing drivers (left to right) Ross Gunn, Roman De Angelis and Ian James. Their Aston finished on the podium once again.
Photo by Jack Webster

Track position was everything at that point, and over the next 40 or so minutes Harry put on a classic show of superb driving, using traffic to his advantage to both maintain the lead and conserve his fuel.

How close was the Mazda on fuel? Well, Harry’s car ran dry on the cool-down lap after the checkered flag and had to be towed to Victory Lane — that’s how close it was.

As Tincknell said after the race, “My gosh, the mechanics and the guys and girls on the stand did just incredibly. To get me out, in the lead with track position in the last 30 or 40 minutes of the race, that was the key moment. We just changed one tire!”

On the fuel situation, he added, “I knew it was going to be tight. I could do the math in my head to know I wasn’t going to be able to go flat out the whole way. Again, massive team effort to be able to calculate those numbers really quickly and be able to give those to me!”

In GT Daytona (GTD), the #23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 once again was on the podium, finishing 3rd. Drivers Ross Gunn, Ian James and Roman De Angelis combined for the excellent result in what is arguably the IWSC’s most competitive class.

This was the Aston’s third podium in five races, including the class win at Belle Isle in Detroit.

Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240

Held on Saturday, the IMPC four-hour race was another triumph for British cars and drivers.

In qualifying it was an all-McLaren front row, with the #13 AWA 570S GT4 of Canadian co-drivers Kuno Wittmer and Orey Fidani in pole position. A second McLaren 570 GT4, the #34 Blackdog Speed Shop entry piloted by Americans Michael Cooper and Spencer Pumpelly followed less than a heartbeat later.

(Pumpelly was a last-minute substitute for team owner/driver Tony Gaples, who had suffered an injury the previous week.)

Rounding out the top three overall in qualifying was the #23 NORLAD Racing by RS1 Aston Martin Vantage GT4, piloted by American Matt Dalton and Scotsman Stevan McAleer.

In an eventful and ultra-competitive race, it was the NORLAD Aston that took the overall (and Grand Sport class) victory after a dramatic move by McAleer. With under four minutes remaining in the race, McAleer lined up and passed all-time-IMSA-wins legend Bill Auberlen’s BMW as they entered the track’s “Bus Stop” on the back straight at the Glen.

[3-Aug_21_IMPC_23.jpg] Saturday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge belonged to the #23 NORAD Racing by RS1 Aston, seen here in Van Halen-inspired colors.
Photo by Jack Webster

“I told the team (over the radio) that I was going to put it all on the line,” said McAleer after the race. “I’m sure I scared the hell out of them!”

He made the pass stick and went on to win by just over one second at the finish.

A fan favorite, the victorious Aston Martin carried a special paint scheme inspired by the late Eddie Van Halen’s famous “Frankenstein” guitar.

With Auberlen in 2nd, the #3 Motorsports in Action McLaren 570S GT4 of Spencer Pigot and Sheena Monk finished 3rd overall, taking the final podium spot.

It was a fine result for Aston Martin, and, with Pigot and Monk, another strong showing for McLaren.

AWA and Blackdog no doubt came away disappointed, however. They had to settle for 20th and 27th place respectively in the crowded 38-car field, which included no fewer than 14 entries in a Touring Car class dominated by Honda Civics and Hyundai Velosters, several of which finished ahead of the McLarens.

There were two other Astons in the hunt — VOLT Racing with Archangel’s #7 and Automatic Racing’s #09. Both cars, with Trent Hindman and Ramin Abdolvahabi at the helm respectively, were found in the battle for the lead at different times during the race, but when it was over the teams placed 8th and 23rd.

A personal note

Once again, Watkins Glen lived up to its reputation for being a great venue for both teams and spectators alike, and as usual the racing was superb. I have been covering races at the Glen since the U.S. Grand Prix in 1971 and every year look forward to returning. Standing in the pits and paddock where true legends of motorsport have competed over the years really gives one a sense of the history of the place. Sports car racing in America could not have had a better birthplace.

[4-Aug_21_Galstad_3_McLaren.jpg] The Monk-Pigot #3 McLaren grabbed 3rd place during the IMPC race a week earlier, and was a contender this time, too.
Photo by Jake Galstad, LAT Images

One Weekend Later: Watkins Glen Redux
by Bruce Vild

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., July 1-2 — You might say COVID claimed another victim when the U.S.-Canada border was closed. IMSA’s annual visit to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, a/k/a Mosport, was off.

However, the Mosport races were still on, but in the USA. That meant everyone was back at Watkins Glen International the weekend after the Sahlen Six Hours.

And what a difference a week made. Both the IMPC and IWSC races were plagued by bad weather, with a red flag lasting nearly 46 minutes halting action in the latter because of lightning in the area.

Watkins Glen 120 (IMPC)

Michelin Pilot entries only had to deal with rain and that was at the very end, making teams in the lead do their best to get by with slicks and hope conditions would not lead to last-minute pit stops for rain tires. That could really scramble the field.

Bill Auberlen in the #95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 was out in front, sweating out his fuel supply, with about 15 minutes left in the IMPC race. Trent Hindman was hounding him in the #7 VOLT Racing with Archangel Aston Martin Vantage GT4, but ducked into the pits for a splash of fuel.

Another contender, the #3 Motorsports in Action McLaren 570S GT4 helmed by Spencer Pigot, made its own fuel stop while running 3rd. Others down the field had visited the pits, and had every expectation that eventually Auberlen would have to, too.

But things can happen, and in this case, they did. IMSA commentators remarked, “This is the yellow that Bill Auberlen needed.”

While Auberlen, Hindman and Pigot were having it out in the Grand Sport (GS) class, there was another field on the track, the Touring Cars (TCRs). One of them, John Miller’s #88 VGMC Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR, spun around and went into the gravel at Turn 10, needing to be retrieved by a tow vehicle.

The caution flags waved with just short of 14 minutes to go in the race, meaning no passing. This was a “short yellow,” which also meant the pits were not open. So, no fuel for Auberlen, or fresh tires, and the BMW’s were getting pretty thin by then. That would have to wait until the race went green again.

Racing finally resumed with less than five minutes to go. The die was cast and the likely podium was already jumbled, with Hindman now in 6th and Pigot in 7th. But all that could change if Turner Motorsport decided they desperately needed one last pit stop.

Instead, they went for it — the dash to the end, with tires just starting to lose their grip (as Auberlen would later reveal) — and took the victory.

A last-lap pass by Pigot placed the #3 McLaren in 6th at the finish, the best result in the race for a British car, with Hindman’s #7 Aston coming 7th.

Two other teams we’ve been watching, AWA and its #13 McLaren and Automatic Racing and its #09 Aston, finished much further down the field.

[5-Aug_21_VOLT_Aston.jpg] Another contender in the IMPC, Trent Hindman in the #7 Aston, had his sights on the win but finished 7th after late-race pit stops and a caution scrambled the field.
Photo by Jake Galstad, LAT Images

WeatherTech 240 (IWSC)

The “240” here refers to the duration of the race, but in this case means two hours and 40 minutes, not 240 minutes (four hours). This was a sprint race, not an enduro. However, unlike some of IMSA’s sprint races, all five IWSC classes were represented — DPi, LMP2, LMP3, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.

For one DPi team, Mazda/Multimatic Motorsports, it was the best of times and the worst of times. Like everyone else, everything they had learned the weekend previous that led them to victory had to be reset for the predicted wet-weather conditions. Rain had already come before practice and was likely during the race.

Then came disappointment during qualifying. Driver Harry Tincknell came on a tad too strong and went wide in the track’s “Boot,” picking up a piece of a sign at the exit that obstructed the cooling systems on #55 and forced the team to sit out the rest of the session. Tincknell wound up having to start the race 5th on the grid.

But almost immediately following the start, prospects improved by leaps and bounds for the Mazda crew. Tincknell took advantage of a dust-up between two of the DPis ahead of him, maneuvered into 2nd place — “a brilliant start from Harry Tincknell,” remarked IMSA Radio’s Jeremy Shaw — and soon had the pole-sitter in his sights, Ricky Taylor in the #10 Konica Minolta Acura DPi.

During the first hour of the race, Tincknell made the most of the car’s AER four-cylinder turbo, setting one fastest lap time after another. He and #10 pitted right behind each other, leaving pit lane with their fresh tires and fuel (and for #10, a driver change to Felipe Albuquerque) with the Mazda once again nipping at the Acura’s heels.

And then, 10 minutes after the stop, Tincknell found his way around Albuquerque and went chasing after the new race leader, Pipo Derani in the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi — who would soon pit himself, at last giving Tincknell the lead.

Things got a little complicated just before the one-hour mark when a GTD car lay stranded at the Inner Loop and had to be retrieved, prompting the race’s first full-course caution. By this time the skies had darkened considerably, and anyone pitting for new tires had to take a gamble — slicks, or wets?

[6-Aug_21_Aston_23_Webster.jpg] Good news came with another podium finish for the Heart of Racing and their Aston.
Photo by Jack Webster

As the safety car led the parade of cars behind the Mazda the rains came with a vengeance. A few minutes later the race went from yellow to red because of lightning in the area and all the cars rolled back to the pits, with an estimated restart time in 45 minutes.

The cars returned to the track under a yellow flag, and pits opened for the DPi cars. Tincknell took advantage for fuel and tires (slicks), plus a driver change to Oliver Jarvis. The other prototypes followed suit.

Jarvis exited pit lane in 3rd position and faced a greasy track on tires he had to get up to temperature. He brushed the curb at Turn 8 and the car spun around — with a traction control problem — dropping #55 two places while still under yellow.

Jarvis moved up to 4th when racing resumed. Then another yellow was called to remove debris from the track. After the restart he fell two positions, but, with just a few minutes left, charged back up to finish in the top five.

This was still a disappointing result. Jarvis said later that the car “came alive” after the rain stopped and as the track was drying. Just a few additional laps might have made a difference, even a podium finish.

In GTD, meanwhile, Heart of Racing drivers Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn did it again — another strong, measured and consistent run leading to the podium.

De Angelis started 6th in class (24th overall), but that soon changed. Ten minutes into the race he moved to 5th. By the 18-minute mark he was running 3rd, where he and Gunn basically kept their #23 Aston for the duration of the race, give or take a position or two.

Their 3rd in class/20th overall finish cemented their lead in championship points as the team looked forward to Lime Rock, IMSA’s next destination, where only the GT classes — Le Mans and Daytona — will be running.

British Marque will be there, too.

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

[1-July_21_Aston_Garage.jpg] July 2021

Heart of Racing’s #23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3, as it appeared at the previous race at Mid-Ohio. The team’s looking forward to its next outing, Watkins Glen, and another outstanding result.

Photo by Jack Webster

Aston Wins at Belle Isle
Audi Disqualification Places #23 on Top of Podium

by Jack Webster

DETROIT, Mich., June 12 — For most of Round 4 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship — a sprint race on the street circuit at Belle Isle in Detroit —it looked like car #23, the Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3, would have to settle for another impressive podium finish in the competitive GT Daytona class, but their elusive first win would have to wait.

As the race reached its final moments the team was running a solid 3rd. But with 10 minutes to go, the BMW that would have finished 2nd stopped on the track, ultimately losing six positions, and the Aston moved up.

And it wasn’t until after the checkered flag fell that the Aston was elevated to the top podium step after the apparent winners, Jeff Westphal and Richard Heistand in an Audi R8 LMS GT3, were demoted to last place in class due to a fuel-delivery pit infraction.

As commentators John Dagys and Alan Brynjolfsson later explained, refueling times are set by a Balance of Performance standard that accounts for different sizes and capacities of fuel cells from car to car. Using appropriate restrictors on fuel rigs, GTD teams must meet a 40-second class-specific minimum to go from empty to full. In a post-race audit it was shown the Audi “topped off” in less than the required time, giving the team quicker pit stops for fuel and therefore an unfair advantage.

Be that as it may, a win is still a win, and drivers Ross Gunn and Roman De Angelis did an excellent job. They kept #23 between the narrow walls and out of trouble for the duration of the one-hour-and-forty-minute race through the tight but very fast confines of the Belle Isle circuit. They ran up front all race long and were in the right place at the right time to take their maiden GTD win at the end.

This means the team advances in one of IMSA’s championships-within-the-championship, the Sprint Cup, where Ross and Roman now hold a 45-point lead.

“We had a really strong weekend,” Ross said post-race. “We didn’t expect [Belle Isle] to be our best circuit but we hit the ground running and the team did an excellent job setting up the car.

“Of course,” he added, “it’s not the circumstances that you want to get your first IMSA win, but a win is a win. The Sprint Cup championship holds just as much importance as all the championships. Every points-gaining position we can get, the better.

“So far, we’ve d a good season. We haven’t made many mistakes. Very, very proud of this team. I came here with really high expectations from what I saw last year and they’ve exceeded it in many ways.”

[2-July_21_Aston_Profile.jpg] The Aston in profile.
Photo by Jack Webster

Gunn is a factory racer for Aston Martin. His partner De Angelis has been winning championships since he was 16 and is now a seasoned racer at all of 20 years of age.

“It’s been a really good weekend but a win’s a win,” he said, echoing Ross’ comments. “Whether you take it after the race or during the race, it’s always going to say that we won the Detroit Grand Prix in 2021!

“I’ve always dreamt about winning an IMSA race... I still don’t really know what to say, it hit us all really quickly. To say that we won the Detroit Grand Prix and that the Heart of Racing finally won their first race with the Aston Martin is just unbelievable!”

The rest of the race

There were only two other classes racing at Belle Isle, DPi and GT Le Mans. The GTLM grid was entirely Corvette, as the two factory teams racing them were the only ones participating. The #4 car prevailed, co-driven by Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy.

In DPi, Mazda Motorsports’ #55 prototype — which comes with Brit drivers Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell and a Brit engine designed and manufactured by AER — finished 4th, its only non-podium result so far this year. A Cadillac, car #01 co-driven by Kevin Magnussen and Renger van der Zande, took the class and overall victory.

Next stop on the IMSA circuit is totally different than the sprint race and street course of Belle Isle — the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen on the world-famous Grand Prix circuit at Watkins Glen in New York.

The Heart of Racing team is poised to continue their success. As Ross said, “We want to take this momentum forward to Watkins Glen.”

See you at the Glen.

[Sources for this article include IMSA reports and Sportscar365.]

[3-July_21_Airlines.jpg] Super-rare MG Airline Coupes at the car show — Tom Metcalf’s 1935 NA six-cylinder (left) and Lou Louchios’ 1935 PA four-cylinder.
Photo by Bruce Vild

Live from Atlantic City...
It’s MG International 2021!

by Bruce Vild

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., June 14-17 — It happens every five years.

Four continent-wide MG registers, each representing MG models that span the period from prewar to post-Abingdon, get together for a big meet that features receptions, tours, tech sessions and meetings, and culminates in a huge car show numbering well into the hundreds, sometimes even topping one thousand.

This has been going on since the first such gathering in Indianapolis in 1996, where well over 1,000 cars were represented. The numbers were down considerably this time, likely due to lingering concerns about COVID-19 and what the rules would be for meeting and greeting.

MG International 2021 turned out to be, however, a largely mask-less affair, and those who had some apprehension about being this close to people again relaxed considerably after the first day. This is where people wanted to be, ready to rely on vaccinations and good faith.

The venue

Atlantic City is, well, Atlantic City. The faded but elegant image of pre-casino days has been replaced by glitz — understaffed glitz, it seems, but the staff that was around at Harrah’s, the host hotel, by and large did a good job getting us settled, clearing and equipping meeting rooms, and providing limited but quality options for food on the premises.

A car show on the boardwalk that was proposed originally did not happen, some say because the new Mayor decided he did not want to park cars there. That would have been really something, certainly unique to Atlantic City.

Plan B turned out to be excellent, though: a 4-H fairground some 30 minutes away from the hotel, a pleasant-enough cruise through green salt marshes and coastal towns on two-lane state and county highways.

The fairground was a combination of shaded areas and open fields that accommodated all the MGs, from 1930s PAs to an RV8 and MGF from the 1990s, plus a good half-dozen vendors (British Marque included) and two food trucks. The bases were covered, and complaints about having to “drive all that way” vanished quickly.

Kudos to Richard Liddick for finding the place, investigating it, and securing it for the car show.

The program

A four-day agenda allowed for tech sessions, register meetings and dinners, tours to nearby attractions and special features, such as the salute to the late Hank Rippert that happened Wednesday night — an emotional affair involving Hank’s family and many friends, including the man who purchased his beloved TD, Ian O’Shea.

A colorful and very detailed brochure, which this writer understands was largely the work of Kim and Charles de Bourbon (Kim is the Marque’s Contributing Editor for the Keystone Region MG Club), gave both a one-page outline where you could plan your week at a glance and the specifics in the write-ups that followed.

Though I didn’t cover them, I understand the rocker cover races were popular, and there was a most unusual funkhana in which teams had to assemble a model resembling a T Series MG — “IKEA style,” that is, with all the materials but no instructions. Everyone got a chuckle out of that.

There was also a bus tour to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, where I’m told two Aston Martins and an MG K3 were given a spirited airing-out on the course behind the building.

[4-July_21_PostAbingdon.jpg] ‘Post-Abingdon’ MGs, the RV8 and MGF.
Photo by Bruce Vild

Lots of tech sessions

A lull in vendor activity freed me to attend three tech sessions that I thoroughly enjoyed. One was on an MG model that has fascinated me since I encountered one at the very first all-register MG event in Indianapolis: the Airline Coupe.

Lew Palmer, owner of a 1936 PB Airline Coupe, gave an overview of the model and how it was marketed, more as a statement of current style than aerodynamic capability. The car on display for the talk, however, was an N-type (six-cylinder) model owned by Tom Metcalf, who had his own comments to add on the progress of its restoration — not an easy task considering the rarity of the model (only seven were ever built). Excellent presentations both.

John Twist, famous for owning and operating University Motors for many years and conducting “rolling tech sessions” at events across the country, gave a respectful but quite humorous talk about the workshop and owner’s manuals produced by the MG Car Company back in the day.

John tipped his trademark cap at the level of detail in the hand-drawn figures that populate these publications, but grinned at the odd or complicated descriptions that often accompany them in the text. He kept his audience entertained with several slides demonstrating both.

Ed Cooke, co-owner of Abingdon Spares (and the Marque’s Contributing Editor for the Connecticut MG Club), told us what he’s done to maintain and grow his business in light of shrinking parts availability but a commitment to customer service. A spirited discussion arose in the Q&A following his talk about the quality of new parts produced overseas. Ed revealed that he tests the parts he sells on his own cars to vouch for them — or remove them from his inventory. He’s found many of those parts are quality items, provided they’re built to a quality rather than to a price.

Other presenters, whose talks I was unable to attend, included Pete Mantell (MGB V8 conversions and fiberglass body kits), Rob Medynski (MG distributors), Kelvin Dodd (common MG electrical problems and MG model changes), Jim Miller (making MG parts with 3D printing), Steve Carrick (modern wiring for British cars), Jonathan Stein and Dave Kinney (our passion and the market), Len Fanelli (camshafts), Paul Dierschow (body repair and paint), and Tom Metcalf once again (MGs through the ages — a talking tour).

The car show

“Something for everyone” is a tired and overused phrase, but there’s no way else to describe the pièce de resistance of the week, the car show at the 4-H Fairgrounds. This was only appropriate for an event claiming to span the whole of MG production, which it did.

Someone who wandered into the British Marque tent asked me, “Which one would you take home?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Oh, the RV8,” I told him. “But that red PA looked pretty good, too.”

The N-type Airline was there, in all its work-in-progress glory, along with a completed example from the P Series. The ex-Hank Rippert TD was parked in the circle of T-types right in front of the line of vendors. I saw a familiar Dove Grey MGA, several two-tone ZB Magnettes, and a very understated though highly modified MGB. How highly modified? How about a Honda S2000 engine?

“Does it really rev to 9,000rpm?” I asked the owner, Zach Merrill.

“Take a look at the tach,” he said.

It was an innocent-looking Smiths gauge. But the redline was at 9,000rpm. How cool is that.

As MG International 2021 drew to a close I thought about what I learned, the friends I made and the fun I had. This was a job well done by Rick Ingram, Tony Burgess, Tom Metcalf, Blair Weiss, Tom Medeen, Richard Liddick, and all who pitched in. Here’s to 2026!

[2-Jun_21_AWA.jpg] June 2021

The #13 AWA McLaren getting prepped for victory in the Michelin Pilot Challenge.

Photo by Jack Webster

Another Podium, Another Win
British Machinery Up Front Again, this Time at Mid-Ohio

by Jack Webster

LEXINGTON, Ohio, May 14-16 — British car fans had two acronyms in mind at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend — AER and AWA. They were attached to cars #55 and #13 in two IMSA races, the Acura Sports Car Challenge and the Mid-Ohio 120.

One finished 3rd after grabbing pole, and the other won outright after gridding just a fraction of a second back from a pole-sitting Porsche.

Readers of this newspaper will recognize those numbers. They stand respectively for Mazda Motorsports’ DPi entry in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) and AWA’s McLaren in the Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC).

They also will know that both cars have been up front before. In fact, this was the third podium for Mazda and its AER engine in as many races, and the second victory for the Canadian AWA team.

McLaren win in the Michelin Pilot series

While much attention was focused on the “big” IWSC race, the Mid-Ohio 120 that preceded it also had worldwide fan interest and manufacturer support.

This was the third installment of the IMPC, featuring “Grand Sport” (GS) and “Touring Car” (TCR) classes. Grand Sport is where the McLarens and Aston Martins run. The “120” stood for the total minutes that would be run in the race — a full two hours of wheel-to-wheel competition.

In qualifying around the tight and twisty 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio track, Wright Motorsports’ Porsche Cayman GT4 CS came out on top with a lap of 1:27.021. But only 0.44 of a second back was the AWA team in their McLaren 570S GT4.

Kuno Wittmer and Chris Green would be doing the driving for AWA. Green was a last-minute substitute for regular team driver Orey Fidani, who remained in Toronto — awaiting the birth of his son.

The weather was clear and not too hot for the start of the race and the track was dry. A dry Mid-Ohio for an entire weekend is somewhat of a rarity, as veteran track spectators have nicknamed the circuit “Mud-Ohio” due to how often the infield parking areas are wet — and muddy. However, that was not to be this week.

The race turned out to be a dramatic affair, with Wittmer taking the #13 McLaren to victory after a late-race pass of the leading Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R driven by Matt Plumb.

Plumb then got spun by Trent Hindman in VOLT Racing by Archangel’s Aston Martin Vantage GT4, knocking Plumb out of a potential top-ten finish. In the shake-up in the running order that followed, the Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Alec Udell and Bryce Ward moved up to 3rd place and held on to that position until the finish.

At the end, Wittmer held off the hard-charging Wright Motorsports Porsche to take a 0.417-second victory. The win keeps Wittmer atop the IMPC’s GS Championship point standings, and improves the AWA McLaren’s excellent 2021 season.

As mentioned, the AWA squad has now won twice in three attempts this season. Not a bad start.

The second McLaren 570S GT4 in GS, #3 co-driven by Spencer Pigot and Sheena Monk for Motorsports in Action, finished 4th, while VOLT Racing’s Aston ended up 31st overall and 17th in class after their incident with the Camaro.

The #7 Aston was the sole representative of the marque in the Mid-Ohio 120.

Next up for the Michelin Pilot Challenge Series: the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240, a four-hour endurance event at Watkins Glen International on Saturday, June 26th, a prelude to the IWSC enduro the next day.

[3-Jun_21_Jarvis.jpg] Oliver Jarvis in the cockpit of the #55 Mazda-AER.
Photo by Jack Webster

Tincknell grabs Mid-Ohio pole, team finishes 3rd

And now, the main event. Mazda-AER DPi pilot Harry Tincknell took pole position in car #55 for Mazda Motorsports in the Acura Sports Car Challenge race, Round 3 of the IWSC.

The two-hour-and-40-minute race was the first “sprint” race of the season, as the first two races of 2021 were clearly enduros — the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

A sprint race on the challenging Mid-Ohio circuit requires a completely different set-up and plan. Tincknell bested Filipe Albuquerque, who was behind the wheel of the #10 Wayne Taylor Konica Minolta Acura, by just a tick of the clock. As a matter of fact, all six DPi entries were separated by less than half a second in qualifying, all in the general neighborhood of a minute and 10 seconds. Amazing stuff.

Tincknell, who shares driving duties with co-driver and fellow Brit Oliver Jarvis, said, “To be honest, the unexpected ones always feel better and I didn’t really expect that going into qualifying.

“We kind of had been near the bottom of the time sheets, not to our liking in the practice sessions. We were struggling with some front grip issues, generally just sliding around a little bit.

“We only had a few options left, but the guys and girls at Mazda Motorsports really analyzed the data well. I think the track really came to us as well, the tire temperatures came in…

“A 1:10 around Mid-Ohio is really pushing on quite a bit!” he grinned. “It was definitely a roller coaster ride, but I’m really, really happy.”

The tight qualifying times were a harbinger of things to come, with lap times, tires (as in Tincknell’s case) and fuel strategies making or breaking the outcome — which was the Wayne Taylor Acura on top, the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac 2nd, and the Mazda 3rd.

A white knuckle win for Acura

This writer can remember, on one of many cross-country drives, passing a sign out west in the desert that said “Next gas 138 miles.”

I assumed that I had plenty of fuel at the time, and just kept on going. However, as the miles ticked away and the fuel gauge needle kept getting lower and lower, I began to have that knot in the stomach feeling that I might just not make it to that next gas station.

So I know exactly how Ricky Taylor felt as he piloted #10 Acura DPi to victory. It was a real white-knuckle win.

Of course, when I was driving through the desert, looking for a fuel stop, all I had to do was cruise along, saving fuel. I didn’t have to worry about Felipe Nasr in the #31 Cadillac putting pressure on me from behind, like Taylor did.

And Taylor had to weave his way through traffic, keep his tire temps up, his lap times consistent and save fuel — all at the same time.

It was a great race, arguably a well-deserved victory for the Wayne Taylor-led Acura squad, and a great show for the real race fans who always show up in large numbers at Mid-Ohio.

Taylor’s co-driver Filipe Albuquerque, as other teams pitted for a splash of fuel near the end of the race, recalled how the team was committed to “go big, let’s go for the win.” It was going to be all — or nothing.

Seems simple, but remember that Albuquerque had experienced losing a race on the last lap when running short of fuel.

“I had a few flashbacks of Petit Le Mans, running out of fuel in the last corner and losing the race. So, I could see Ricky having a fuel surge and then missing the race. I was even looking to see where he was, and could Ricky coast the car and get a 2nd place? But it was good and he just pulled it off!”

How about Ricky’s point of view? How stressful was it?

“It was a fight from the green flag today. It was super intense... They were giving me a fuel number and I was trying to hit it. There were times I wasn’t telling them, no, I’m not doing it this lap. Nasr was putting me under so much pressure at some points that I had to push.”

[4-Jun_21_Heart.jpg] The Heart of Racing team just missed the GT Daytona (GTD) podium.
Photo by Jack Webster

How close was it on fuel?

Ricky again. “I got the fuel light with three laps to go. I didn’t say anything on the radio because I knew they knew and what was going on in the pits. You could see he [Nasr] was bagging up some fuel over the previous 10 laps, you could see the gap grow out. And I knew he was just waiting to use it at the end and make a charge.

“And so they kept telling me to back up to him and save the fuel — but the problem with that is the tires cool down and it makes it really difficult, and pick-up makes it really difficult when you want to push again.

“And by the time he was making the charge, the fuel light had been on for three laps, the tires are cold, it’s sliding around and he has a head of steam coming. Then we caught, like, two cars three corners from the end. It was very stressful.”

But proving once again that he is one of the finest sports car drivers on the planet, Ricky Taylor held on and brought his Acura home in first place, a scant 0.368 of a second in front of the Cadillac driven by the equally talented and determined Felipe Nasr — who co-drove with the equally fast and talented Pipo Derani. There is no shortage of driver talent in IMSA racing.

Mazda Motorsports took the final podium spot, nearly 13 seconds in arrears. Tincknell and co-driver Oliver Jarvis were strong early, leading the early part of the race, before running out of time and laps to chase down the top two cars — which were running on fumes, but still out front at the end.

Other IWSC classes

The Acura Sports Car Challenge race featured but three classes, DPi, LMP3 and GT Daytona (GTD). LMP2 and GT Le Mans (GTLM) were given the week off, but there was still a quality field of 25 cars that took the green flag at the start of the race.

Some fans were somewhat disappointed that GTLM was not represented at Mid-Ohio, as Corvette Racing has a large and loyal following, but exceptional racing throughout the field made up for Corvette’s absence. Besides, GTD is where the #23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 runs — representing the only British car manufacturer in the IWSC.

In LMP3, it was the #74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 of Gar Robinson and Felipe Fraga taking a 3.249-second victory over a similar Ligier, #38 entered by Performance Tech Motorsports and driven by Rasmus Lindh and Dan Goldberg, followed by the second Riley Motorsports Ligier of Jim Cox and Dylan Murry, #91, only 8.8 seconds behind the winning car. Once again, this class put on a good show.

In GTD, what can you say? Veteran driver and old pro Bill Auberlen won his 63rd IMSA race, once again at the wheel of a BMW, this time the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, which he shared with Robby Foley.

Auberlen would later comment, “It has very little to do with me, everything to do with the cars, the teams I drive for, the co-drivers I drive with.

“It’s a joke when you say, ‘Hey, give it to me with a 30-second lead.’ He [Foley] gave it to me with a 26-second lead!”

After BMW, the #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 of Zach Veach and Frankie Montecalvo took 2nd, with Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow taking the final podium position in the #1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.

Meanwhile the fan-favorite Heart of Racing team and the #23 Aston, finished 4th in class, just off the podium. Ian James and Roman De Angelis shared driving duties.

It was a great race weekend at Mid-Ohio. For the first time in recent memory, the weather was perfect and there was no rain at all.

IMSA put on a stellar show, large numbers of fans showed up to take it all in, and it looks like we might be looking at the worst of the pandemic effects on racing (fan access to the drivers and paddock area) in the rear-view mirror. I certainly hope so, for more people need to get out and see in person some of the finest sports car racing around.

Until the next time, keep a close eye on your gas gauge!

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