No. 67 Ford. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Polesitters set at Lime Rock Park

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Polesitters have been set following qualifying for Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix, the next round on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. It doesn’t feature the Prototype class but does have the other three classes (Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans, GT Daytona).

Colin Braun has the class pole in Prototype Challenge in the No. 54 CORE autosport Oreca FLM09, with Braun qualifying instead of teammate and co-driver Jon Bennett. The top four cars were only separated by 0.154 of a second.

Most PC teams opted to qualify their Silver-rated drivers instead for the two-hour, 40-minute race, which left Braun with a decided advantage going in over the lesser experienced pros or gentlemen drivers alongside.  But Braun only barely held on for the top spot.

Braun’s best time was a 48.824-second lap around the 1.53-mile Lime Rock Park bull ring.

Robert Alon edged into second at 48.840 in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09 he shares with Tom Kimber-Smith. “TKS” and Michael Guasch won this race overall last year.

James French posted a 48.930 in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry he’ll share with Kyle Marcelli, good for third on the grid. That team seeks to atone for a near-miss here last year, when it was leading overall before Conor Daly collided with then-GTD class leader Christopher Haase at the downhill in his No. 48 Paul Miller Audi to open the door for PR1.

French was only just ahead of Jose Gutierrez in the third Starworks Motorsport entry, the No. 7 Aviation American Gin entry at 48.978 seconds that he’ll share with Sean Rayhall this weekend.

Richard Westbrook took another GT Le Mans class pole for the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing outfit with its No. 67 Ford GT he shares with Ryan Briscoe. Westbrook ran a 50.748 best time.

That No. 67 car has been on a roll, having won the last three races in class since the car’s first triumph at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May.

The No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, No. 4 Corvette C7.R and No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE were second through fourth, thus making it four different manufacturers in the top four spots.

Spencer Pumpelly took the first GT Daytona class pole for Change Racing in its No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3, a car he shares with Corey Lewis.

Pumpelly edged fellow Georgia resident Andrew Davis in the first of two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMSs, the No. 6 car, ahead of Matt Bell in the No. 9 Audi. Davis shares with Robin Liddell, Bell with Lawson Aschenbach. Pumpelly’s best lap was 53.148 seconds to Davis’ 53.178.

Christina Nielsen was fourth (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3) with Madison Snow (No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completing the top five in the 14-car class.

The two-hour, 40-minute race begins Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, live there, and also live via IMSA Radio.

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge

Polesitters are set for Saturday’s two-hour, 30-minute Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race from Lime Rock Park.

CJ Wilson Racing has the pole in GS with Danny Burkett, who co-drives the team’s No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport with Marc Miller, edged Canadian countryman Scott Maxwell in his No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C he shares with Billy Johnson.

Meanwhile in ST, the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 of defending class champions Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer have that class pole over another Mazda from Riley Racing and the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si.

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida