IMSA: Street fight in Detroit brings season to halfway point

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship continues its 2016 campaign with the one-hour, 40-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Belle Isle Park this weekend and more or less brings the year to the halfway point.

It’s the fifth overall round of the season, though with the GT Le Mans class off this weekend – most of its cars are in France for the Le Mans Test Day – and the GT Daytona class having not been at the prior street race in Long Beach, those classes are only at four rounds complete apiece. The Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes head into their fifth rounds, respectively.

Detroit’s usually been a stomping ground for the Corvette DPs and like Long Beach, they figure to be the favorites this time around as well. Action Express Racing got its No. 31 Whelen Engineering-backed crew of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran into victory lane for the first time last year, while the Taylor brothers prevailed in a thriller here in 2014 over the No. 5 Action Express car of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. The Taylors also won at Long Beach this year; the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP pair of Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens sees Dalziel in his first street race start of the year after missing Long Beach owing to a FIA World Endurance Championship conflict.

Elsewhere in class the DeltaWing’s one-race absence has opened an opportunity for Katherine Legge to substitute for John Pew at Michael Shank Racing in the team’s No. 60 Ligier JS P2 Honda alongside Ozz Negri, while Pew and some of the MSR crew are at Le Mans prepping for the test day. It’s a complex labyrinth Shank has weaved, using a combination of his crew and Kevin Doran’s crew in Detroit, and with a couple others due to go to Le Mans straight after the race on Saturday. The Mazdas, meanwhile, got a 15 kg minimum weight addition following their pace at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but neither figures to be a major threat on the streets this weekend. If they are, it will be a pleasant surprise.

PC on a street course is often a war of attrition and JDC/Miller Motorsports will look to double up on the streets with Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports won in Monterey with Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon and no doubt have the desire to win for Andrew Palmer this weekend, the young driver recovering in hospital in Connecticut from his serious injuries sustained in Lime Rock Park. Palmer was part of PR1/Mathiasen’s run to the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup crown in 2015.

GTD is generally a more wide-open affair, although getting through the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R team remains a challenge. Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas dominated at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and passing was difficult. The No. 23 team won this race last year primarily on strategy when it changed drivers. Scuderia Corsa (Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan) and Turner Motorsport (Jens Klingmann, Bret Curtis) also enter on hot streaks with both having bagged successive top-fives, albeit months apart in Sebring and Monterey.

Notably absent from the weekend is the second Change Racing Lamborghini of Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, both doing Le Mans prep, while the remaining four Lamborghinis entered make their street race debut. Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen will look to win on Dodge’s home soil in the customer Gas Monkey Garage-supported Riley Motorsports Viper GT3-R.

With the eyes of the motorsports world fixated primarily on Indianapolis domestically, as well as Monaco and the Nürburgring on a worldwide scale in May, the focus does shift a bit back to sports cars for June.

Several IMSA drivers – Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Keating and Bleekemolen, Goossens and Dalziel, Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen, plus Nielsen, Negri and Joerg Bergmeister – are all due to participate in Sunday’s Le Mans Test Day and as such will be making a mad dash for the airport after the race on Saturday afternoon. Joao Barbosa is unable to attend but isn’t required to; Marc Miller, a Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competitor for CJ Wilson Racing, is running in Trans-Am this weekend and also heads from Detroit to France after the race. Additionally, Johnny Mowlem is due to participate in one of the Le Mans support races and will head over as well; he’ll be with BAR1 Motorsports this weekend and Tomy Drissi back alongside him.

IMSA has also, in the past few weeks, debuted a new website designed to improve navigation and planning to integrate the Alkamel timing & scoring into the site. A full release with more details is linked here.

Meanwhile, the entry list for this week is linked here.