All photos courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: GP3R, Road America set stage for development series title bouts

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While much of the focus last week coming out of Road America was IMSA’s future direction and platform for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the renamed Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda, four of IMSA’s developmental or single-make series have had particularly busy last couple weeks on track – potentially setting the scene for champions to move up in 2017.

Last week at Road America, IMSA’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America were in action.

This weekend, it was the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama and Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires racing on the streets of Trois-Rivieres, for the annual Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres (GP3R).

Morad (17) and Hargrove (28). Photo courtesy of IMSA
Morad (17) and Hargrove (28). Photo courtesy of IMSA

Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama

The battle between Canadian talents and rivals Daniel Morad and Scott Hargrove rolled onto the streets of Trois-Rivieres this weekend. Hargrove closed to within three points of Morad, 137-134, leaving the streets of Toronto in mid-July.

In race one of the GP3R weekend, Hargrove made the gap tighter still with a win in his No. 28 OpenRoad Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, edging ahead of Morad (No. 17 Porsche Centre Oakville/Alegra Motorsports Porsche) at Turn 6 after making contact with his title rival.

“I had an opportunity on the first lap, and I was kind of kicking myself for not really going for it because I didn’t know if I was going to get another chance,” Hargrove said. “But then coming out onto the back straight, I got a really good run up behind Daniel (Morad) and he knew, and I said, ‘It’s now or never,’ and I just went for it. Probably one of the sketchiest moves I’ve made, but I’m just very happy the car stopped.”

Morad bounced back in a big way on Sunday with a win while Hargrove lost points and time at the end of the race. He was credited with eighth place after sustaining damage to his car from a late collision, and was assessed a post-race time penalty for incident responsibility.

“The team and myself are working together, and we’re constantly improving the car,” Morad said.” I’m looking forward to our chances in the last race, although anything can happen, and we need Lady Luck on our side.”

Although Hargrove has five wins to Morad’s four, Morad now leads Hargrove by 13 points, 175-162, heading into the season finale weekend Sept. 2-4 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The doubleheader will be Rounds 11 and 12 this year, and will make this the first IMSA Single-Make Series that concludes its 2016 campaign.

Toppe. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Toppe. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires

Clark Toppe closed the gap on his JDC Motorsports teammate Austin Versteeg to just two points (154-152) with two race weekends remaining in the Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires season. Meanwhile the lanky (6’6″) 18-year-old Texan helped to extend the John Church-owned team’s overall win streak to 27 races straight, dating to August 2014.

Toppe passed Versteeg for the lead in the first of two races and Versteeg’s later spin dropped him down the order. Kyle Masson and Max Hanratty completed the podium.

Toppe then took the lead on Versteeg off the start in race two to pull away for his second win of the weekend. Hanratty and Masson swapped their race one positions. Behind them in easily his most impressive weekend of the year was Hanratty’s Patron ESM teammate James Dayson, who finished fifth and fourth in the two races.

Rounds 10, 11 and 12 will be Sept. 9-11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as part of the all-Mazda weekend at the scenic, 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit in Salinas, California. The final two races of the year will be part of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October.

Lazare. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Lazare. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama

Jesse Lazare’s weekend sweep at Road America last weekend, in the No. 21 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, brought his win total to seven wins in 10 races and extended his points lead over Lucas Catania (No. 26 NGT Motorsport Porsche) to 26 points (173-147). The win also occurred at Kelly-Moss’ home race; the team is based in Madison, Wis., 110 miles away from Elkhart Lake, Wis. 

Rounds 11-12 are scheduled for Aug. 26-28 at VIRginia International Raceway in Danville, Virginia, with additional doubleheader weekends to come at Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 14-17) and Road Atlanta (Sept. 28-Oct. 1)

Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America

After its third weekend of the year at Road America, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America has three more weekends left – at VIR, Circuit of The Americas and then at Circuito de la Comunidad Valenciana Ricardo Tormo (Dec. 1-2) for the final North American rounds of the year before the World Final there Dec. 3-4.

Ferrari Challenge

Ferrari Challenge North America has been off since the Canadian Grand Prix weekend in Montreal June 10-12. Remaining weekends are at Lime Rock (Sept. 23-24), Homestead (Nov. 4-6) and Daytona (Dec. 1-4), the latter of which is its World Final.

Graham Rahal tries to get up to speed in IndyCar iRacing Challenge

Graham Rahal Photo
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Although he’s just 31 years old, Graham Rahal has been driving an Indy car since the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he still a teenager.

When it comes to the virtual world, however, Rahal is an admitted “newbie.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver hopes to get up to speed in time to be competitive in Saturday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama virtual race. It’s part of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge and will be televised live by NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

The six-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner got his virtual racing rig before last week’s American Red Cross Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International but was still learning the nuances of the iRacing platform. He started 12th and finished 14th out of 25 cars in the contest. The first 12 finishers were on the lead lap. Rahal was one lap down.

“I had never done it before,” Rahal said Friday. “At least it probably had been 10 years since I had driven any sort of sim. It’s addicting…rather addicting. Second of all, it’s bad for your marriage, but it’s a great way to kill a day of quarantine.

“But I think it’s been a big challenge just to get used to the way that you feel a car, the way that you drive a car in the sim, it’s all completely different than real life. To get used to that sensation, to get everything set up right is a huge part of it.”

Inside the cockpit of his No. 15 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal feels at comfortable in his own element. It has taken him time to find that comfort level in the virtual world.

“For me it has been a challenge to just figure out the right settings, what to do from afar, too,” Rahal said. “Obviously you don’t have anybody here (at his home) that plays iRacing or anything to help you firsthand. It’s been a bit of a challenge; but I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Next up is Barber Motorsports Park, which in the real world is a very challenging course but it puts on some of the best road course racing on the real IndyCar schedule. Rahal believes it will also be quite a challenge on iRacing.

“I think Barber is going to be actually more difficult than Watkins Glen,” Rahal said. “The track has a little bit less grip than Watkins Glen did last week. Although everybody was still crashing at Watkins Glen, I think you can get away with more than what you can at Barber. In real life it’s that way, too.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be fun.”

Rahal is married to former drag racing star Courtney Force. Both are playing it safe by staying home by statewide order from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. But Rahal still has to find the balance between husband and virtual race driver.

By contrast, some of the other IndyCar drivers are spending 10-12 hours a day practicing on iRacing.

“That’s the challenge,” Rahal said, responding to a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I could definitely spend way more time on it. My line to Courtney is, ‘Just give me two laps.’ Then, one hour and 45 minutes later I’m still sitting there. It’s frustrating.

“As Robbie Wickens said, the frustrating part is you go out, you put in a good lap, then it’s, ‘I need to go beat that.’ You spin and you spin, and you spin. Then you get mad. The competitiveness in you, two more laps, two more laps. You try to go and go and go.

“You sit there for hours and hours and hours.”

Rahal admits he can’t stay away from iRacing for long. He is genuinely curious and interested in seeing what the competition is doing.

“I go on pretty frequently to see what’s going on,” Rahal said. “A lot of guys are on all the time. Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais has been on a load, Tony Kanaan, Willie P (Will Power). I think everyone is enjoying it. But it’s a huge challenge.

“There are a couple of guys that are clearly quicker than everybody else, Will being one of those. I’m trying to figure out where and how to find the lap time. I’m telling you, it’s so different than reality in that way.

“But it’s been fun, man. I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s good for the exposure, good because people are paying attention. You can see it on our Instagram. If you look at the clicks or page views in the last seven days, they’ve been doubled since we started to do this stuff. While it’s great for that, it also does help kill a ton of time.”

These are unique times as the world has essential shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more humans are testing positive of the potentially deadly virus, the threat becomes more real.

It has also created a tremendous void as people try to find something to do to pass the long times of isolation.

By giving race fans a few hours of entertainment, even if it is virtual instead of real, then Rahal believes it’s worth it.

“I think a lot of people are just dying for something to do, something to watch,” Rahal said. “The competitiveness in all of us wants to see some sort of sport.

“I know there are other buddies like hockey players that are watching it because they just want to watch something. They need something to do. So, I think that’s a big part of it.

“I think it’s great that NBC Sports is covering it this weekend other than just being online. I think it will be tremendous to see how that turns out.

“This is very realistic. When you see the cars on track, you watch a replay, see the photos, it’s eerily real looking. I did a race at St. Louis last weekend. It was extremely entertaining I think for the drivers that were participating. Other than 400 yellow flags, which happened early in the race, it was really, really entertaining to be a part of. People who watched that race would have loved the show that they had been seeing. I think there’s a lot of realism to it.

“I think it’s also people just want something right now. The desire and the demand is there to log in or tune in and see something competitive on TV.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500