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.
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.”
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!
‘A five-acre oasis of manicured lawn, hidden just off City Road’ is the site of the London Concours, which will have much for British car enthusiasts to see. The dates are June 8-10.
Photo courtesy Thorough Events Ltd.
‘Iconic’ Brits Feature at London Concours
by Bruce Vild
LONDON, England — Of course no one knows for sure where the world will be pandemic-wise in the weeks ahead, so our American readers may have to give this one a pass — but everyone who will find themselves in London the second week in June should consider putting the 2021 London Concours in their diaries.
Organized by the same people who initiated the Concours of Elegance (note the Anglicization) at Windsor Castle in 2012 — an event since relocated to Hampton Court Palace and taking place in September — the London Concours will span three days, 8-10 June, on the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company.
The venue is described as “a five-acre oasis of manicured lawn, hidden just off City Road, a mere stone’s throw from iconic London landmarks such as the Barbican and the Gherkin.” Judged classes will include Italian Berlinettas, Great Marques, Lost Marques and Iconic British Designs.
Those who love British cars will find a lot to like at the London Concours. The “Great Marques” class this year, for example, celebrates two manufacturers, Porsche — and Lotus. Just shy of a dozen Lotus models will be on display, from the vintage Seven and Eleven to the modern Elise, Exige and Evora.
“With a long lineage of motorsport heroics and a model line-up of some of the most thrilling cars ever created, Lotus rightly takes its place in the spotlight at the London Concours this year,” commented Luke Madden, the event’s media contact.
“Lost Marques,” which features cars from manufacturers no longer in business, is, as might be expected, heavily weighted with vehicles frequently mentioned in this newspaper. Except for an Iso Rivolta and a Packard 426 Boat Tail the class will be all-British, ranging from such favorites as the Bugeye Sprite and Triumph TR3A to the not-so-familiar Bristol Fighter, Tornado Talisman and Unipower GT.
And then there are the “Iconic British Designs.” The London Concours will have a class entirely devoted to cars that are quintessentially British and to their designers. London Concours Director Andrew Evans explained why.
“On the global stage, Great Britain has always punched above its weight when it comes to automotive design and innovation,” he said. “What we really wanted to do was shine a light not just on the cars themselves but on some of the people responsible for these achievements. Without them, the U.K. automotive scene wouldn’t be quite the same.”
Jaguar XJR-15, as designed by Peter Stevens.
Photo courtesy Thorough Events Ltd.
Among the designers so highlighted will be Sir Alec Issigonis (Mini), Malcolm Sayer (Jaguar E-type), Peter Stevens (Jaguar XJR-15), Charles Spencer King (Range Rover), Ian Cameron (Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé), Marek Reichman (Aston Martin One-77), Matthew Humphries Morgan Aeromax), and Frank Stephenson (McLaren 12C).
Publicity for the London Concours has focused on three cars in particular: the Aston Martin One-77, the Jaguar XJR-15, and the Lotus Elite (Type 14).
From a press release:
“The One-77 is one of the rarest Aston Martins ever produced, with just 77 built. Priced when new from just over £1 million, the One-77 is powered by a 7.3-litre V12 engine and can hit 220mph.
“Mechanically based on the Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR-9, the XJR-15 was produced by JaguarSport, a subsidiary of Jaguar and Tom Walkinshaw Racing. Powered by a 450bhp, 5.9-litre mid/rear-mounted all-alloy Group C-spec V12 engine, inside a carbon-fibre tub, this XJR-15 is one of only 27 roadgoing examples produced.
“An ultra-lightweight two-seater coupé, the Lotus Elite or ‘Type 14’ was produced from 1958 to 1963. The car’s most distinctive feature was its fibreglass monocoque construction, which was used for the entire load-bearing structure of the car save a steel sub-frame which supports the engine and front suspension. Only 1,030 Elites were built.”
Like many Concours on our side of the pond, the London Concours will have a variety of non-car-related luxury displays and food and drink options graced by such brands as Breguet and Veuve Clicquot.
And finally, each of the three days of the Concours will have its own theme. The first is a VIP preview day for car owners, guests and media the second is style day, with the spotlight on the worlds of design, fashion and luxury, and the third is supercar day, featuring high-ticket manufacturers such as Bugatti, Ferrari and Lambor-ghini.
The displays attached to these themes will be presented in addition to the cars being shown in the Concours.
More information and tickets to the London Concours are available from londonconcours.co.uk, with a full-day adult admission ticket costing £40, and concessions from £20.
[From a press release courtesy of Thorough Events Ltd., organizers of the London Concours, and Newspress UK.]
Classic British cars on the road — MGB and Austin Mini (from which the picture was taken).
Photo by Faith Lamprey
British Car Week May 22-30!
by Scott Helms
Hard to believe, but this year’s British Car Week will be celebrating its 25th anniversary of promoting enthusiasm for classic British cars by bringing them front and center to audiences that might not be aware of them, had forgotten about them, or have memories of them not recently called to mind. In other words, the general public.
But was exactly is British Car Week?
Simply put, British Car Week is an annual tradition that promotes the British car hobby. It began as a response to columnist Peter Egan’s wake-up call titled “Seldom Seen Cars,” published in the March 1997 issue of Road & Track. Classic Brits were among those cars seldom seen — yet as we all know they are still “out there” and deserve to be seen!
The later part of May was chosen for the Week since it is a time of year when British car owners in most parts of the country start thinking about preparing their cars for the upcoming driving season, or in more southerly climes enjoy the last few top-down drives before summer’s heat and humidity make them uncomfortable.
As it has been since the very first British Car Week, the idea is to encourage British car visibility and get new people involved in the hobby. Today, using the vast resources of the Internet to contact enthusiasts wherever possible, through e-mail, the clubs, blogs, list groups and so on, we can all join forces to do this.
And, by getting British cars onto the roads of communities everywhere possible during the Week, it will increase awareness of these once very popular vehicles, introduce them to a new generation, and in turn help keep the hobby and businesses that support our cars flourishing.
Many owners have proudly kept them maintained to be driven reliably anywhere. Some drive them to work, others for pleasure, and some take them on long journeys that result in a seat-of-your-pants experience that results in cherished memories never to be forgotten. But, as Peter Egan might remind us, these cars are becoming scarce on the roads today, and as a result, they will eventually be forgotten by the average person if not promoted outside of their relatively small circle of enthusiasts in some way.
As with many of Mr. Egan’s other seldom seen cars, this wasn’t always so. During the late 1940s British cars became a popular means of fun transportation in the States, thanks largely to American servicemen whose eyes and hearts the little roadsters captured while they were stationed overseas. On returning home, they wanted one parked in the driveway.
Demand spurred production, and as a result British cars became a common sight to see, driving on the roads of North America through the late 1970s. This all began to dwindle during the early 1980s when British car companies ran into hard times, but any person who was aware of their surroundings during those years is likely to have some kind of special memory of these cars — whether it was owned by a family member or neighbor, or just was seen passing by on the road.
The years have passed, and we’re now well into the 21st century. Many of these cars continue to be very well maintained by second- and third-generation owners who enjoy them the same way as their original owners did. Current owners are realizing that this antiquated machinery is becoming older and parts more scarce, and how important it is to keep the Lucas lights burning brightly by supporting the clubs, suppliers, services, book and magazine publishers, and other sources that in turn support the hobby.
British Car Week is as close as we’ll ever come to recreating the wonderful motoring days of the past. It is our way of reminding the world these cars are still performing their job very well, and in many cases better than ever.
And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you and your favorite British car will spark the interest of someone new who might decide to get involved in the world of classic British cars — thus helping continue the tradition of fine British motoring for many years to come.
Just think of all of the curious eyes that watch your car while driving down the road, and touching the imagination of a budding British car enthusiast!
So grab your goggles and driving gloves, and top off your dashpots — it’s time to have some fun!
See you on the road May 22-30!
[Scott is the founder and curator of British Car Week, which British Marque and its Participating Clubs enthusiastically support. We encourage you to visit www.britishcarweek.org for more about the Week.]
This year’s lone entry for Mazda, #55, finished 2nd overall and in its class, Daytona Prototype (DPi). It led the race at the four- and eight-hour marks, earning Endurance Cup points.
Photo by Colin Sword
Podium for AER, Aston
Mazda DPi Places, Aston GTD Shows, at 12 Hours of Sebring
by Jack Webster & Eddie LePine
SEBRING, Fla., Mar. 20 — As has become the norm in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) endurance races, the 69th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts was a sprint from green flag to checkered flag.
That is, regardless of the adage “respect the bumps” — in reference to the original pavement of the 70-plus-year-old airport circuit — drivers in all classes literally went flat out the entire 12 hours.
The outright pace was reflected in some of the carnage that occurred during the race, with multiple accidents, off-course excursions and “avoidable contact” incidents happening throughout the event, which featured a total of 47 full-course-yellow laps. Attrition was higher than we have come to expect, as there were nine DNFs out of the 37 starters.
When the checkered flag waved and the dust settled, the #55 Mazda-Multimatic-AER DPi came 2nd overall and in the Daytona Prototype class, and the #23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 was 20th overall and 3rd in GT Daytona.
This represented two separate podium finishes for the cars we’ve been closely watching in the IWSC — the Mazda for its British-sourced AER engine, and the Aston for... well, you can’t get more British than Aston Martin, can you?
Overall and DPi class victory belonged to the #5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi, its back story being, “They came from France and they conquered the oldest and toughest endurance race in North America of them all — Sebring.”
The Cadillac may have belonged to an American team, but the drivers were all French. Pilots Tristan Vautier, Loic Duval and Sebastien Bourdais combined to cover a record 349 laps of the historic circuit on their way to victory.
In GT Daytona (GTD), arguably the most competitive class, the #23 Aston jumped to 3rd in class after qualifying 9th.
Photo by Colin Sword
“Being French helps!” Vautier joked. “The team knows that when we speak a lot of French, the car is no good. But when we speak English they know the car is O.K.”
They obviously spoke a lot of English on race day, as the car was perfect for the conditions.
But not all the Cadillacs did well. The #31 Whelen Engineering Racing DPi started 1st but ended 27th. This was the result of an aggressive move by driver Pipo Derani to pass another Cadillac and the GTD Aston in traffic, which led to contact and #31 hitting a concrete wall. Suspension repairs had the team down two laps, and mechanical issues followed that led to a DNF.
The most bizarre incident, however, had the #48 Ally Cadillac of Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Kamui Kobayashi disqualified from the results and demoted to last place in DPi for leaving Simon Pagenaud in the car for 50 seconds too long, exceeding the four-hour limit in a six-hour period.
All in all, it was a forgetful weekend for #48, which had to be rebuilt with a new tub after Johnson crashed in qualifying on Friday. It was a shame to see the work of the team to come to naught due to an error during the race.
Even with the all the incidents and yellows, track records were set in all five of the IWSC classes and the 349 laps covered by the top four finishers was a record in itself. To top that off, the top four cars overall were separated by only 2.704 seconds at the checkered flag.
Mazda had another fine race, as they were always at the top end of the leader board and nearly pulled off the win, with Harry Tincknell putting in an outstanding final stint as he chased down the leader. Jonathan Bomarito and Oliver Jarvis shared driving duties for Mazda Motorsports, and in the end, they only came 1.435 seconds away from victory.
In LMP2, a class run entirely with Gibson V8s developed in Britain, IMSA regular and fan favorite Ben Keating combined with Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker to take the class win in the #52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA.
Readers will remember that Keating partnered with Charlie Eastwood, Richard Westbrook and Max Root in TF Sport’s GTD Aston at Daytona.
Night racing with #23 and the ill-fated #48 Cadillac DPi.
Photo by Jack Webster
In LMP3 CORE Autosport took the win, with Jonathan Bennett, Colin Braun and George Kurtz sharing driving duties in their #54 Ligier-Nissan.
In GT Le Mans, it looked like it was going to be close but another Corvette victory — until the last eight minutes of the race. Conner De Phillippi, in the #25 BMW M8 GTE, elected not to keep “socially distanced” from class leader Antonio Garcia’s #3 Corvette C8.R, and the resulting incident removed both cars for contention for the win. This handed the class victory to the #79 Porsche 911 RSR-19, piloted at the end by Mathieu Jaminet.
Jaminet had to go off-course to avoid a collision, and offered one of the more interesting quotes after the race.
“When I turned the corner they were side by side,” he said. “They had big contact and I had to avoid the BMW, so I went straight in the grass. We got really lucky there. I was very close to having a big crash with the BMW. It was a little bit of a crazy fight, we’ll say.”
Finally, in GT Daytona, Porsche added to their GTLM victory by taking the top two spots in GTD. Heart of Racing’s #23 Aston, co-driven by Ian James, Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn, came in 3rd, as mentioned, only a little over 21 seconds behind the class winner.
So, the 69th running of the 12 Hours is now in the history books. Once again, people are talking about repaving the course so the “bumps” that must be respected are no longer an issue.
However, “there’s always an element of ‘be careful what you wish for’ when making major changes to historic venues,” says IMSA writer John Oreovicz. He points out what Jonathan Bomarito wrote on Twitter last year after Mazda Motorsports’ #55 DPi won Sebring:
“Repaving Sebring would make Turn 1 and 17 insanely fast, and actually make it more dangerous! The bumps slow down the corner speed and make it more technical on the driver and machine.
“Leave Sebring alone!”
Until next year, respect the bumps.
VOLT Racing’s #7 Aston advanced 13 positions, just missing the podium in the Michelin Pilot Challenge Race.
Photo by Jack Webster
IMPC: Almost Another Podium for Aston
by Bruce Vild
SEBRING, Fla. — The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) race at Sebring, the “Alan Jay Network 120,” returned to the usual two-hour format but with six fewer entrants than were at Daytona.
Among the missing was Notlad Racing by RS1, the team that boasted the best Aston Martin finish at Daytona (14th). However, the two other Aston teams — the stalwarts at Automatic Racing, fielding car #09, and VOLT Racing with Archangel, in car #7 — returned for Sebring, both running GT4-spec Vantages.
Also present were the #13 McLaren 570S GT4 that AWA’s Kuno Wittmer and Orey Fidani brought to victory at Daytona after Wittmer took pole, and Motorsports in Action’s #3 McLaren, again co-driven by Spencer Pigot and Sheena Monk.
The rest of the field featured the usual Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, Camaros, a Mustang and a Porsche, plus the smaller-displacement cars in the TCR class.
This was a race where teams started well and then slipped behind, or came charging up, gaining 13 positions or more by the checkered flag. Like VOLT Racing’s Aston. VOLT finished 4th, with drivers Trent Hindman and Alan Brynjolfsson just missing a podium finish that would have complemented the Heart of Racing team’s result in the 12 Hours.
Fourth place was something of a vindication for the VOLT team, as Brynjolfsson had qualified 3rd, but was forced to start at the back due to an infraction.
Fidani started 2nd in #13 but AWA finished 9th, losing seven positions, right behind the #3 McLaren that Monk started 5th and she and Pigot finished 8th, a loss of three. The MIA team had actually qualified 6th, but moved up one position on the grid with the reshuffle due to VOLT Racing’s penalty.
Automatic Racing’s Brandon Kidd started 7th (qualifying 8th) in the #09 Aston, and he and Rob Ecklin finished 14th.
The race was won by Robin Liddell, a Brit co-driving a Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R with Frank DePew. There was some drama at the very end as the car began smoking — a lot — from the rear end, but Liddell just went for it. “I was just waiting for something to tighten up or let go,” he said later.
[From IMSA reports.]
Mazda Motorsports’ #55 DPi is going it alone this year.
Photo by Jake Galstad (LAT Images)
Daytona’s 24-hour Sprint
Season Opens with New Class, two Astons, but Just One Mazda
by Jack Webster, Eddie LePine & James Edmonds
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 30-31 — Forty-nine cars, more than 190 drivers and more than 1,000 crewmen, a classic and challenging Daytona International Speedway, 24 hours of racing – it all added up to a Rolex 24 for the ages.
The winning #10 Acura DPi completed 807 laps (2872.920 miles) and took a scant 4.074-sec. victory over the #48 Cadillac DPi placing 2nd. Completing the podium was the AER-powered #55 Mazda DPi, co-piloted by familiar names Oliver Jarvis, Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell.
Three different manufacturers in the top three, separated at the finish by only 6.562 seconds. Amazing.
It wasn’t just this close at the finish, it was literally this close the entire 24 hours — almost like a sprint race. Long gone are the days when a team sends one of its cars out as the “rabbit” to lead and force others into errors or mechanical problems. The cars are so bulletproof now, and the drivers so close in talent, that the only strategy is to go flat out from green flag to checkered flag, and rely on superior pit work and racecraft.
And luck. As winning Acura driver Felipe Albuquerque was to comment after the race, “There is no one who won Daytona or any championship ever without luck.”
Daytona sets the pace
As the first “real” event on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) schedule, this year’s Rolex 24 introduced a few changes.
There is a new prototype class this season, LMP3. Reminiscent of the Prototype Challenge, with spec chassis running spec engines, LMP3 teams have their choice of a handful of racing tub manufacturers on which to run sealed, Nissan-developed 5-liter V8s. Daytona was the first time LMP3 cars entered a race as long as 24 hours, and commentators were wondering whether they’d hold up. They did.
British Marque’s favorite DPis because of their British engine connection, Mazdas #55 and #77, are down a car. This season it will be #55 only, driven by Jarvis and Tincknell, with Bomarito on hand for the endurance races.
The Heart of Racing team had one of the Aston Martin Vantages in the race...
Photo by Larry Schmidt
And Aston Martin Racing is seen living up to its strategy of keeping focused on Formula 1 while lending strong support to “customer” (partner) teams in other series, such as the Heart of Racing and TF Sport in the IWSC.
At Daytona, three-time Le Mans class winner Darren Turner and works driver Ross Gunn were drafted to co-drive Heart of Racing’s #23 GTD Aston with team regulars Ian James and Roman De Angelis. TF Sport, the GTE Am class-winning team at Le Mans last year, brought drivers Charlie Eastwood and Richard Westbrook to join Rolex 24 veteran Ben Keating and student racer Max Root in the #97 GTD Aston.
Meanwhile, LMP2 ran its own class powered exclusively by U.K.-sourced Gibson V8s, and mostly on ORECA chassis. Unlike years ago when they ran in the same class as the DPis, LMP2 cars are now gridded separately. This maintains their eligibility to compete at Le Mans and make modifications according to FIA rules.
Speaking of the grid, that was determined by a 100-minute qualifying race the weekend before called the “Roar Before the 24.” The only track sessions at the Rolex 24 were four practice runs before the big day.
Nothing was settled in the first 23 hours at Daytona that allowed any one team an easy cruise to the checkered flag. The final hour, in fact, was shaping up to be a monumental battle.
After their final pit stops, Filipe Albuquerque in the #10 Acura DPi was on point, with Renger van der Zande in the #01 Cadillac DPi hunting him down. Perhaps with some fire in his eyes, Renger, who had been dismissed in the off season by Albuquerque’s team, Wayne Taylor Racing, kept gaining and gaining on him.
...and Le Mans class winner TF Sport had the other.
Photo by Larry Schmidt
However, with a bare seven-and-a-half minutes remaining and with the Cadillac on the rear wing of the Acura, the Renger van der Zande challenge for the win abruptly concluded when the Cadillac suffered a cut down the right rear tire.
After the race, Albuquerque mused, “I always thought of him to be catching me. He was very fast. But physics tells us that, when you push too hard, something happens. When he blew, we were lucky, definitely.”
As the man said, there was no one who won Daytona or any championship ever without luck.
Now Albuquerque just had to drive smoothly and not let up for the final seven minutes, holding off the hard-charging Kamui Kobayashi in another Cadillac DPi. (Kobayashi had also been let go last year by Wayne Taylor Racing.) And, of course, there was that #55 Mazda running 3rd, ready to move up should either Albuquerque or Kobayashi slip.
The top five finishers overall in the Rolex 24 were DPis. But each of these races is a race within a race, and class winners are saluted as well.
In LMP2, the Era Motorsport squad brought their #18 ORECA-Gibson home first, with a better than 19-sec. win. Drivers Paul-Loup Chatin, Ryan Daiziel, Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman combined for a fine, trouble-free run.
In LMP3, it was the Riley Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Gar Robinson, Scott Andrews, Oliver Askew and Spencer Pigot on top, winning their class by three laps.
Pigot’s post-race comment addressed the skepticism about the rookie class: “It was a pretty smooth race, to be honest. We stayed out of trouble and just did our own thing. That was kind of the plan all along. No one knew how reliable these LMP3 cars would be.”
Darren Turner is looking forward to Sebring.
Photo by James Edmonds
GTLM saw a handful of cars competing, as compared to GTD with 19. Jordan Taylor co-drove Corvette Racing’s winning #3 C8.R, making it a great weekend all around for the Taylor family — dad Wayne, Albuquerque’s co-driver Ricky, and now brother Jordan.
Finally, in GTD, Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars finished both 1st and 2nd, besting the large and competitive field. Winward Racing took the top spot by just over 16 seconds, with the drive shared by Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Maro Engel.
Heart of Racing’s #23 Aston finished the race in 5th in the hotly-contested class. The team ran solid laps for most of the race, and despite some minor mechanical issues, they stayed in touch with the fast runners — so much so, that with an hour to go, they were in 1st place.
After the race, driver Darren Turner was philosophical.
“We just weren’t there at the end,” he told us. “We were only in 1st due to pit stop rotations. But the car was good and we got a few points. Back at it at Sebring!”
Daytona represented another solid performance for European circuit favourite TF Sport, with a finish just off the lead lap in 7th place — and still in front of most of the GTD field. Ben Keating had a spin at Turn 7 about 16 hours into the race, a Porsche penalized for causing it.
Incidentally, Team Seattle/Heart of Racing, which began partnering with Aston Martin Racing with its #23 Vantage in GTD last year, combines 25 years of racing passion with fundraising for the Seattle Children’s Hospital. To date they have raised over $6 million.
More from DT
Darren Turner does a lot of development work for Aston Martin nowadays as he transitions more towards that role and away from racing. What’s up next?
“I did the three last races here with IMSA, now this one, and after that I actually don’t know what’s going on. My current contract runs to the end of the year and after that…
“Well, the road car stuff is getting more and more involved,” he continued. “I’ve been five years into a road car contract that’s been sitting on the side besides the racing. As Aston continues to go forward under the new structure with Lawrence [Stroll], I’m sure there will be more and more.”
The “road car stuff” to which DT was referring is the development of the Aston Martin Valkyrie, a limited-production hybrid sports car that is essentially a track car that can be used on the street.
We will be sure to chat with him again in March, and hopefully get some news on Aston Martin F1!
[Many thanks to James for providing this coverage, which originally appeared in The Motorsport Diaries, www.themotosportdiaries.com. Additional comments were provided by Druha Nahoda.]
Who was that masked man? Kuno Wittmer, who put the #13 AWA McLaren on pole.
Photo by Michael Levitt (LAT Images)
IMPC 1st Round to McLaren
by Bruce Vild
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kuno Wittmer took a McLaren 570S GT4 to pole for the second time in as many years in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) race at Daytona International Speedway.
But unlike last year, when race day brought a disappointing 26th-place finish, he and his partner Orey Fidani went on to win the IMPC’s first contest of the season for their Ontario-based team, AWA.
Depending on whom you ask, victory came as a result of shrewd pit strategy or the McLaren’s straight-line performance. Wittmer credited the win to dialing the car in just right when it was needed the most.
“Every car has a sweet spot as to where you want to accelerate,” Wittmer commented after the race. “I put the thing right in the sweet spot. As soon as we had the clearance to accelerate in the acceleration zone, I took it.”
But he had to get there first.
He and Fidani started from the front, lost position in a penalty, but managed to move back up the field by taking advantage of a pit stop rotation in the race’s final hour. The lead was regained with a crafty pass around a Camaro, but then lost during a full-course caution.
The restart (green flag) came with five minutes to go, and Wittmer found the sweet spot and kept the McLaren there until the checkered flag.
The next four places were taken by BMWs that had been vying for runner-up and a shot at the win. Ironically for them, this particular round of the IMPC was called the BMW Endurance Challenge.
This was a four-hour race, one of the longer ones on the schedule — the typical IMPC session is two hours. AWA, Wittmer and Fidani intend to go the whole season.
Other British cars in the Challenge included Motorsports in Action’s #3 McLaren, which Spencer Pigot qualified 4th and he and Sheena Monk finished 9th.
There were also three Aston Martin teams — Notlad Racing by RS1, Automatic Racing and VOLT Racing with Archangel. RS1 achieved the best result, finishing 14th.
Wittmer had a tip for all IMPC contenders: it’s not just the drivers. It’s really a team effort.
“The only way you can win these races is by spending the least amount of time in the pit lane,” he said. “That’s what we did today.”
[From IMSA and other reports.]