Young drivers star in mixed, primarily wet conditions at Watkins Glen

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One of the highlights of this past weekend’s IMSA event at Watkins Glen International, which featured the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen as the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship headliner but also additional races from four other championships, was seeing so many young drivers drive so well in arguably the toughest conditions a driver can face.

Both Saturday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Sunday’s TUDOR Championship races presented an opportunity for drivers to hang onto their cars on a dry track, drying track coming off rain, a wetter track where rain intensified, or a crazy heavy rain.

Here were the standout performers:

  • Cameron Lawrence, No. 93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R, TUDOR. Lawrence, in only his third TUDOR start, ran smoothly while on slick tires as rain began to intensify from the fourth to fifth hours in the six-hour race. His final stint, taken after teammates Al Carter and Marc Goossens raced earlier in the event, helped place the car into position for Goossens to bring the car home to win. The under-the-radar 22-year-old should be on the radar for bigger teams, and in contention for a full-time ride in 2015.
  • Conor Daly, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09, TUDOR. I’ve written at length about “CD” this year and it baffles me as to why the 23-year-old from Noblesville, Ind. doesn’t have a full-time ride (yeah, OK, it comes down to financial reasons, but that doesn’t make it right given his efforts this year). In the opening hour of the race, Daly put more than a minute on the rest of the PC class field, nearly lapping it before the first yellow of the race. Daly has proven multiple times this year, both in IndyCar and sports cars, he can star in wet conditions – and it’s because they’re one of his favorites. “The car was amazing on the stint. I love these conditions. Sadly we got the yellow when we did which ruined the strategy. I was happy with what I could do,” Daly told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam after his stint, after yet another great drive following a last-minute call-up.
  • Daniel Burkett, No. 16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, TUDOR. If Daly’s call-up was last-minute, Burkett’s was last-second. The 20-year-old from Winnipeg has previously been known for his red hair and humorous, self-deprecating “trying to find sponsorship” videos, but had his first test in a PC car with BAR1 only last week. It was only as of Thursday Burkett even knew he had a ride with the team for the race; once in the car, it didn’t take long for the Pro Mazda rookie to get within half a second or less of the team’s more experienced lead pro, Martin Plowman, a past 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner. Burkett led during his sports car debut and certainly opened some eyes, as together with Plowman and 17-year-old Matt McMurry they finished third in the PC class.
  • Ashley Freiberg, No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, CTSC. Freiberg and the Fall-Line team, together with co-driver and defending GS class champion Trent Hindman, have had a challenging year with the venerable BMW M3 down on power compared to other cars in class. With rain the great equalizer, Freiberg stormed up to second in her stint at a track she’s won at before in another category. Hindman didn’t get a chance to match or exceed it with heavy rain forcing the race to end under yellow, but Freiberg, 23, had done enough to put the car a season-best second.
  • Austin Cindric, No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C, CTSC. Cindric, youngest of this group at just 16, drove far beyond his years in the mixed conditions to take the debuting car to the lead at one point in his stint. It’s shaping up as a banner year for the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, who’s raced Bathurst, won the opening two GRC Lites races in Red Bull Global Rallycross, and has this full-season effort with Multimatic and Ford.
  • Kenton Koch, No. 60 JDC Motorsports, IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites. In both dry and wet conditions, the lanky, personable and down-to-earth 20-year-old won his fourth and fifth races in six races this season. Koch turns 21 next month, but has already been a rising star in sports car racing for the last three years; he’s well on his way to adding a Prototype Lites title to the Mazda MX-5 Cup crown he achieved last year.

Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

IndyCar.com
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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”