Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Madison Snow solidifying presence with Paul Miller Lamborghini

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Given the depth of drivers and teams within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class, you tend to think of veterans as those in their late-20s, early-30s, who consistently have won races and contended for championships.

You don’t necessarily think of 21-year-olds in that vain; then again, Madison Snow is not your ordinary 21-year-old.

The Utah native has come into his own in his second full season in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 he shares with Bryan Sellers, the two drivers benefiting from a year of continuity in a class known for annual upheaval.

And for Snow, who’s bounced around a bit as he’s tried to make his home in the series following his own Wright/Snow Racing family team drawing down its WeatherTech Championship efforts midway through 2015, it’s provided him a proper home.

While he’s the son of Martin and Melanie Snow, who achieved a wealth of sports car wins and titles in their own careers, Madison emerged on the national sports car radar when he won the 2011 Porsche GT3 Cup USA championship at the tender age of 15.

It presented an interesting situation. He was talented enough to move ahead, but not yet old enough to really star in either the GRAND-AM Rolex Series or American Le Mans Series.

Still, he took opportunities when they presented themselves. Winning with Flying Lizard Motorsports in the GT Cup class (GTC) in the 2013 ALMS series swan song at Petit Le Mans, co-driving with Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache, was his first win in either of the top flight sports car championships.

Occasional podiums followed in the year and a half that followed in the Wright Motorsports-run Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America in IMSA’s GTD ranks, but the team pulled out midway through 2015 citing Balance of Performance concerns. It left Snow at a bit of a crossroads career-wise.

However he got back on the map with a second Petit win in 2015, albeit under unusual circumstances. Snow drove the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche with Pumpelly and Patrick Lindsey only in practice and qualifying, but didn’t get a chance to drive in the rain-shortened race. It wasn’t long afterwards, and after he’d made his introduction to the Lamborghini world with wins in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series, that he’d get signed up alongside Sellers at PMR.

Snow and Sellers (left) took second at Lime Rock Park. Photo courtesy of IMSA

So while the intervening four years have been an odyssey for Snow, they helped prepare him and develop him as a person into a more well-rounded 20 to 21-year-old now.

“Really for the first time in IMSA, there’s just been a comfort aspect to having the same of everything,” Snow told NBC Sports.

“It means you don’t have to learn everything, but they don’t have to relearn you either. The better you know someone, the better you can set up the car. So the engineer knows how to interpret both of our feedback; Bryan and I like a very similar car.”

Snow’s benefited from Sellers’ steady hand as co-driver. For Sellers, having a young driver to grow with has aided him in his own transition from GT Le Mans, when he needed a ride after the end of the Derrick Walker-run Team Falken Tire Porsche program.

“Bryan is just amazing to be with as a friend and a co-driver, and that helps you develop,” Snow explained. “We see each other, we can have a beer, hang out… so we have a good relationship off track. That is so important because then at the track, you get on better. It doesn’t matter who qualifies or finishes; we both want what is best. Whatever it takes, we’re willing to do it.”

That comfort level with Sellers has helped give Snow the confidence to dice within the GTD field, as he races so many drivers anywhere from a handful to a couple decades his senior. Snow’s also raced long enough where he’s known to the field, in a class that also has several other young 20-somethings but not as many with Snow’s experience level.

“It’s cool to race with everyone out there, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’m so much comfortable now because of how much running I’ve had,” he said. “You have to continue to learn. For me, I try to keep up with them on a more consistent basis. Me being young, I don’t have the experience compared to Bryan.

“And Bryan and I note it’s a tough series with the competition we have. Bryan coming from GTLM tells me, this is just as tough right now in GTD as it was in GTLM.

“Still, I feel like there’s a comfort level I’ve definitely gained driving, even though it feels I’ve only done this for three or four years. But I guess it’s been a bit longer!”

Snow’s also benefited from his younger brother McKay, 19, racing full-time in the Porsche GT3 Cup series and growing his own career. He can see a lot of parallels in McKay’s upbringing, as he’s now racing with Wright in that series. This gives Madison the chance to play both teacher and student, as he admitted he’s learned some things from McKay as well.

“McKay and I have a different upbringing. He was big into go-karts; I was only decent at go-karts,” Madison said. “It’s just different to see how we have changed coming from the same family by the amount of time in the car, racing various things. And I can use some of that to analyze myself.

“We’re at two separate teams, series, and we have different goals. But it’s easy to swing by there when I can.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Snow and Sellers enter this weekend’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America fourth in GTD points, yet to win but on the heels of their second 2017 podium with second at Lime Rock, and after Snow won the team’s second pole of the year in qualifying – his first this year.

Given their propensity for results in the GT-only races – Lime Rock last race and VIR the next one sandwich Road America this weekend – Snow is optimistic the team will end 2017 on a high, and that he can continue to establish himself in the paddock.

“You always want to look up to others as you learn,” he said. “Getting a name for yourself is the goal so more people see you, and how you can help them. I have a small following; Bryan’s is huge.

“But anyone who sees us on the podium might think, ‘Hey you’re good. We need to beat you!’”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.