Road America IMSA weekend musings, notes, observations

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Another weekend at Road America is in the books. Here’s a quick download of some of the items from the latest race weekend for IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship:

  • Multiple Road America winners aplenty. Dane Cameron (second straight win), Bruno Junqueira (fourth overall) and Jeroen Bleekemolen (fourth overall) added to their own Road America record books with wins in Sunday’s race.
  • Daly’s disappointment. “I got held up behind the Aston, but I went conservative. When you go conservative, you lose the race.” Such were the words of a dejected Conor Daly in the victory podium area after his latest heartbreak result, spinning from the lead on the last lap, as a first sports car win continues to elude him and co-driver James French this season. At least at Lime Rock, when he and Christopher Haase collided, there was some solace in that it was a racing incident. On Sunday, Daly called it what it was: a gut-wrenching mistake. Here’s hoping there aren’t lingering after effects for the talented young American driver.
  • Porsche’s dominant weekend in GTLM. Yes, the Porsche 911 RSRs received a 10 kg minimum weight break heading into the weekend, but the pace from the two factory cars on Michelins was unmatched in the usually tight GTLM class from start to finish. Arguably, the polesitting No. 912 car could have won, but the No. 911 car of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet rebounded nicely from a couple issues throughout the weekend.
  • The GTD title everyone wants to win, even without winning. The top four driver pairings entered Sunday’s race separated by only 10 points, none having won a race. They stayed close coming out, with Christina Nielsen of TRG-AMR unofficially moving into the class lead after her and Kuno Wittmer’s runner-up finish in the aforementioned Aston Martin. Meanwhile the No. 48 Paul Miller Audi, No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari and No. 22 Alex Job Porsche continue their season-long winless dry spells.
  • Great Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge drama. In both GS and ST, there were dramatic finishes on Saturday. Matt Plumb (Rum Bum Racing Porsche 911) held off a hard-charging BJ Zacharias (Doran Racing Nissan 370Z) in GS, while in ST, Spencer Pumpelly’s fuel gamble fell short and the win fell to Ryan Eversley ahead of Owen Trinkler and Eric Foss. The win was emotional for Eversley, paying tribute to NF hero Drew Leathers, and he also ensured to note the job done by Honda co-driver Chad Gilsinger, who took the car from 18th to second in his stint.
  • A weekend of change. I noticed this leaving on Sunday night, but there were signs of the past still very much present at the iconic, picturesque 4.048-mile road course. The Champ Car stickers underneath the tunnel on the walk to and from the infield bring back memories of the last major open-wheel race there some eight years ago in 2007. Now, there will be IndyCar signage when the series comes back next year. Meanwhile, with Saturday night’s announcement that WeatherTech would replace TUDOR as entitlement sponsor of IMSA’s flagship SportsCar Championship, suddenly everything TUDOR United SportsCar Championship becomes vintage in three months. Go figure.
  • Timing is everything. With hindsight, the way IndyCar’s announcement of its return to Road America occurred could have been handled better. Me, in my boyish enthusiastic state that this was actually real, wanted to be giddy as all hell as the lone full-time IndyCar reporter present in the media center at that time. So I ignored the fact that this hastily organized press conference – complete with IndyCar signage on a Road America banner – was essentially trolling the IMSA weekend as it was happening, during a TUDOR practice session. The announcement hit at 11 a.m. ET, 10 a.m. CT and local time, in what was a coordinated strategic effort by IndyCar and the track to maximize exposure on social media and with local reporters. From that standpoint, it worked. But the issue arose with the fact there was nothing to really, properly herald the fact IndyCar and Road America were getting back together after a nine-year absence. There were no past photos or graphics, no videos, no real IndyCar component – just the series’ outgoing president of competition of operations, Derrick Walker, next to track president George Bruggenthies. Walker had only switched from his Falken Motorsports shirt to his IndyCar one minutes earlier. If communication about the announcement was poorly delivered to key stakeholders, then it made for a more awkward presentation than it could have been. Am I stoked that IndyCar is finally returning to Road America? Hell yes, as are many others. But after a couple days to stew on it, I’d have to agree with other opinions I’ve seen that this could have been presented and revealed in a much better fashion, or at a better time. Especially as the sense for weeks has been that this was, in fact, coming, but was just a matter of when.
  • On the subject of awkward announcements… IMSA’s Saturday night “State of the Series” announcement went well, and according to plan, right up until we got to the partner announcement stage of the program. TUDOR and Rolex were announced as having extended for 10 years apiece; TUDOR as the Official Timepiece of IMSA and Rolex with Sebring International Raceway. That’s when things got weird. David MacNeil, founder and CEO of WeatherTech and son Cooper, who races the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America with Leh Keen, and the four WeatherTech girls came on stage. Some awkward introductory comments followed and for those who were on site, they’ll not soon forget what they heard. As above, it’s good for the championship to have a clearly defined automotive brand in WeatherTech take over and hopefully increase activation and the championship’s profile. But the way the introduction occurred was arguably one of the weirdest things I’ve seen in 10 years covering motorsports.