No. 69 McLaren and No. 35 Porsche. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: CTSC kicks off its 2017 season today at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A new era for the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge begins this weekend at the BMW Performance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway, on two fronts.

GS sees the introduction of new FIA GT4-spec cars, while the series itself sees its first four-hour race, up from the standard two-hour, 45-minute platform (coverage available via live stream on IMSA.com, with audio from IMSA Radio).

As such, that makes handicapping both the race and the season a roll of the dice.

Dean Martin (GS, Ford Mustang GT4) and Connor Bloum (ST, Porsche Cayman) captured the pole positions for today’s race. Qualifying results are linked here.

So beyond the front row and the early story lines, here some of the notes to watch from here:

A REVAMPED GS FIELD 

While nearly all of the small GS field from a year ago returns, how they do so are in different capacities compared to this time 12 months ago.

Multimatic Motorsports’ previous Ford Shelby GT350R-C is history after just a year and a half, replaced by the seemingly Transformers-like new GT4 variant of the new Mustang, that is even more aerodynamically efficient than its predecessor. It was a rocket at the Roar test, which concerned some of the field, and the pace has carried over this week.

Gone too is Billy Johnson from the lineup, through no fault of his own but rather a circuitous regulations tweak that’s left him sidelined. Johnson’s FIA Driver Rating was increased from Gold to Platinum, the highest level of four and reserved for those largely with factory driver status. But IMSA has implemented a rule where Platinum-rated drivers can no longer compete in the series, and thus it’s Johnson out, and Jade Buford back in alongside the indefatigable Scott Maxwell, the Canadian who’s done so much for Multimatic and Ford over the years.

CJ Wilson Racing again has two cars, but the lineups shift. Till Bechtolsheimer will race alongside Marc Miller in the team’s No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 while new recruits Damien Faulkner and Russell Ward will share the No. 35 Techemet Porsche. Wilson, who announced Thursday night his plans to race a Porsche GT3 Cup car this year, explained the dynamic of the changed four-hour race.

“The four-hour will be really challenging. You have a lot of different variables and can shuffle things around. When do we use tires? When do you switch drivers? How different is it with two versus three (drivers)? It’s gonna be really different,” Wilson told NBC Sports.

Karl Thomson’s Compass360 Racing as a name has been fused to the edgier, shorter, C360R. With its singular Ford gone, the team now has two of the new McLaren GT4s, and the pairings of Paul Holton and Matt Plumb (No. 76) and Matthew Keegan and Nico Rondet (No. 77) make for strong lineups.

Several-time 2016 race winner Bodymotion Racing (Porsche), Team TGM (two Porsches of the Cayman GT4 MR variety), Muehlner Motorsports America (Porsche), Automatic Racing (adds two new McLarens to its two Aston Martins) and TRG (Aston Martin) are also back in action, but again with little year-to-year carryover. Bodymotion missed this race last year with Cameron Cassels sidelined per a family commitment, and he and Trent Hindman will be keen to impress this year.

And then there are the extra GS entries, which should figure to pack a punch. The two MIA/Pfaff McLaren/Garaga McLaren entries bring that manufacturer’s total up to six for this race. James Sofronas has assembled two solid lineups in his pair of new Porsche Cayman GT4 MRs, which ran late last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and other club race events. Two more Porsches come from championship-caliber Florida-based teams RS1 and BGB Motorsports, the latter making its series return after a several-year hiatus.

ST’S BATTLE OF CAYMANS VS. EVERYONE ELSE

In the 20-car ST class field, nine of the cars are Porsche Caymans, including defending class champions Spencer Pumpelly and Nick Galante in the No. 17 RS1 Porsche Cayman.

The remainder of the class features the usual fleet of three Mazda MX-5s from Freedom Autosport, three MINI JCWs from Luis Perocarpi’s LAP Motorsports, Bimmerworld’s pair of aging but venerable 3-series BMWs, the CRG-I Do Borrow Nissan Altima, C360R Audi S3 and JDC-Miller Motorsports BMW 228i.

The field is easier to predict here, with RS1, Freedom, Murillo Racing, CRG-I Do Borrow and perhaps the MINIs entering the race-winning equation.

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook

Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.

Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session)Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.7808 (Session 8)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.7953 (Session 8)
4. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.0900 (Session 5)
5. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.1419 (Session 5)
6. 31-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:16.1585 (Session 8)
7. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
8. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
9. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
10. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.8124 (Session 5)
11. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.1931 (Session 5)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8142 (Session 5)
2. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:19.9394 (Session 5)
3. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:19.9815 (Session 5)
4. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
5. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
6. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.1928 (Session 5)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.2141 (Session 5)
8. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:20.6289 (Session 5)
9. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
10. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
11. 82-Aaron Telitz, Team Pelfrey, 1:21.2144 (Session 8)
12. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:21.3713 (Session 8)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Keane ended head of queue in USF2000. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.1424 (Session 5)
2. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
3. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
4. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:25.7021 (Session 5)
5. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:25.7791 (Session 5)
6. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, 1:25.8514 (Session 5)
7. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
8. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:25.9792 (Session 6)
9. 37-David Osborne, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.9996 (Session 8)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.0042 (Session 6)
11. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2295 (Session 8)
12. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
13. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.3668 (Session 8)
14. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
15. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5058 (Session 2)
16. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.6004 (Session 8)
17. 90-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:26.6460 (Session 5)
18. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
19. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.9362 (Session 6)
20. 38-Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:27.7455 (Session 8)
21. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
22. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.5449 (Session 8)
23. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Old USF2000 teammates Jamin and Telitz share a high-five. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
  • There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
  • The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
  • Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
  • Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
  • Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
Veekay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.

Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.