2014 IMSA Season Review

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Bringing the Capulets and the Montagues – two entirely disparate sets of philosophies, sanctioning bodies, rules & regulations and personnel – together for the new-for-2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season was never going to be an easy task.

But for the most part, the fusion of GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series from the past came good in 2014 and set the groundwork for better 2015 and 2016 seasons.

TUDOR United SportsCar Championship

There were controversies and frustrations, notably the GTD results at Daytona and Sebring, and other issues such as driver ratings or Balance of Performance that seemed to be incessant talking points.

Focusing too much on those aspects though would ignore the positives, and the highlights, of the 2014 season.

Action Express Racing was entirely clean and consistent throughout the season en route to a deserved Prototype class championship for Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. That car and the similar Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP staged a thrilling duel for the win in Detroit – the Taylor brothers emerging at the end.

Despite horsepower deficits, both P2-spec cars from OAK Racing and Extreme Speed Motorsports overachieved on occasion, with Gustavo Yacaman (OAK) and Ryan Dalziel (ESM) each turning in some fantastic drives throughout the year. Yacaman, in particular, made major strides from a challenging 2013 season where incidents were more frequent.

While CORE autosport dominated most of the year in PC with Colin Braun and Jon Bennett, new stars emerged such as Sean Rayhall and Renger van der Zande with 8Star Motorsports and Starworks Motorsport, respectively. IndyCar rising star Jack Hawksworth was a badass in his cameo appearances for RSR Racing and is set to undertake more PC races next year on non-conflicting weekends.

GTLM offered up the long-awaited Corvette vs. Viper duel occurred for the championship, even if either manufacturer was occasionally hamstrung by the BoP. Kuno Wittmer ultimately prevailed for Viper after a last-minute switch at the last race to break up the season-long driver pairing of he and Jonathan Bomarito in an effort to ensure either got the title.

In GTD, occasionally AIM Autosport’s Ferrari or the consistently unlucky Alex Job Racing Porsche had the edge, pace-wise, but for most of the season it was Turner Motorsport’s BMW – driven by Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala – that delivered the goods.

IMSA faced challenges at year’s end, as neither SRT Motorsports (Chrysler pulled the Vipers) nor Turner (set for a switch to Pirelli World Challenge) was set to return on a full-time basis for 2015.

However there were some positive steps taken throughout the year. Two tape-delayed TV broadcasts at both COTA and Petit Le Mans brought excellent numbers thanks to NFL lead-ins. The competition department saw veterans Simon Hodgson and Beaux Barfield added.

And a consistent class structure – words rarely uttered in sports car racing – was established through 2016, with the P, PC, GTLM and GTD format remaining in place. There was also the news at the same time that full FIA GT3-spec cars would come to the series for 2016; ideally, this is not a case of too little, too late.

The verdict? An opening season that graded, you’d give a solid B – decent overall, with some stumbles along the way, but enough to see growth signs possible for a pivotal year two.

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge

The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge delivered as usual throughout 2014, with consistent fields in the 50-car range between the GS and ST championships and title battles that came down to the final race.

Young 19-year-old Trent Hindman – an open-wheel convert – drove with a maturity and poise beyond his years co-driving with similar ex-open-wheeler turned sports car stud John Edwards en route to the GS title for Fall-Line Motorsports. The Fall-Line BMW M3 staged a good duel with the new Camaro Z/28.R from Stevenson Motorsports, driven by Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell, for the class title.

Eric Foss emerged a worthy champion in ST, driving for Murillo Racing, with co-driver Jeff Mosing. The team made a mid-year switch from a BMW 328i to a Porsche Cayman – the class favorite – which was enough to ensure they held off another Cayman from Team Sahlen’s Wayne Nonnamaker.

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.