Renger van der Zande. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Hectic month of news hits before Road America

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There’s been a lot of news in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship over the last month or so beyond its on-track activity at Watkins Glen International, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Lime Rock Park before this weekend at Road America, and the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase.

There’s been the three pieces of really big news – formal confirmation of the Penske Acura and Joest Mazda programs, and the series announcing this past weekend its return to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2018. But those aren’t alone.

A recap of the rest is below.

VISIT FLORIDA Racing swaps Riley Multimatic for Ligier

Troy Flis’ team overachieved with a podium on reliability, rather than outright pace, in the Rolex 24 at Daytona with drivers Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and Rene Rast. But that was late January and seems an eternity ago, and the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing team has found the going tougher since.

The Riley is out and a Ligier JS P217 is in, starting this weekend at Road America.

“We have seen what the Ligier JS P217 is capable of, not only here in IMSA, but also in Europe as well, so we are eager to get to the track and learn about the JS P217 at Road America,” Flis said, via IMSA.com. “I’m impressed with the customer support that Onroak Automotive has in place, and I have known Max Crawford for a long time so that relationship is another key element for us and VISIT FLORIDA to make this commitment.”

The team completed a shakedown this week at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill. See photos from Radio Show Limited’s Eve Hewitt posted on Twitter, below.

WeatherTech goes back to Porsche

Photo: WeatherTech Racing

Ahead of or at the Road America weekend, it seems WeatherTech is always in the news.

Two years ago, WeatherTech was revealed as IMSA’s new entitlement partner, replacing TUDOR. Last year, the team ran two Porsche 911 GT3 Rs, one for Cooper MacNeil and Sven Mueller following the mysterious departure of Leh Keen, and a second for MacNeil’s father David with Gunnar Jeannette. The WeatherTech team then promptly withdrew after Road America from the WeatherTech series season to run a couple Pirelli World Challenge races with the Porsches instead.

Now, with the Balance of Performance not in the favor of the WeatherTech Mercedes-AMG GT3, the Cooper MacNeil and Jeannette entry for this weekend at least… is a Porsche.

“The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is a great car,” MacNeil said. “We were fortunate to win at Long Beach on strategy, but the ebb-and-flow of BoP has the Mercedes at a big disadvantage right now. It is 231.5 lbs. heavier and has a 5.5mm smaller restrictor than the Porsche. So we are blowing the dust off of our 911 GT3 R and running it at Road America. We will see what the rest of the season brings.”

Jeannette added, “Since we still have a Porsche 911 GT3 R ready to go we thought what the heck, let’s run it at Road America and see where we stand. Porsche has been very supportive in helping us get everything back up and running for next weekend and it will be a nice homecoming for Cooper and myself to drive a Porsche in IMSA again. We already have one podium this year in a Porsche over at the Tour Auto in France and hope to get a second at WeatherTech’s home race!”

Shank’s new liveries

The pair of Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s have their third different liveries of the season. After the base but inverted black and white liveries on the team’s Nos. 86 and 93 cars through Round 5 Detroit, the team then switched to a patriotic livery which has been on the cars the last three races.

Now for Round 9 at Road America, it gets switched up again. Each car features a sleek chrome look to it – with the No. 93 blue, and the No. 86 red. Both colors are similar to that of the OEM color of the Acura NSX GT3 road car – Nouvelle Blue Pearl and Valencia Red Pearl.

Several of Michael Shank Racing’s previous liveries through the years have displayed a chrome look and is highly popular with fans of the Ohio-based team. Once again, AERO™ Advanced Paint Technology has created a chrome livery for the Michael Shank Racing cars.

“We’re really excited about this livery,” Shank said. “From the racing world to the street car world, these are very popular OEM colors. The chrome look to them is eye-catching and they look great. AERO once again hit it out of the park for us.  It’s very clean and simple this time. We will have one more scheme before we are done this year!”

Risi’s return?

The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE is listed for a comeback this weekend, after missing the last three GT Le Mans class races at Watkins Glen, CTMP and Lime Rock.

Team owner Giuseppe Risi temporarily pulled the plug after another crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its second Ferrari chassis. It would see Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella back in action and bring the GTLM class back to nine cars.

JDC’s second car

The No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson has been pleasant surprise of the year in IMSA. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The JDC-Miller Motorsports team has placed an order for a second Oreca 07 Gibson ahead of the 2018 season. The “JDC banana boat” has been one of the more popular cars on the grid and one of the most pleasant surprises of the season to date. The team’s full release is linked here.

“This year has been a big step up for everyone but we have been proud of how the team has been able to handle the transition,” said team co-owner and managing partner John Church. “Moving to the premier prototype class with a new car and new equipment has been a significant undertaking but we have a great group of people and we were confident we could be competitive. Sitting third in the standings after seven races with two podium finishes is validation of our efforts and gives us confidence to continue on the path we have been on. Campaigning a second car next season is the logical next step in our goal of becoming one of the strongest professional sports car teams in North America.”

Other notes

  • As Performance Tech Motorsports looks to continue its perfect season in Prototype Challenge, the team is switching up its strategy. Pato O’Ward will qualify the No. 38 Oreca FLM09 before James French, a native of nearby Sheboygan, will finish the race. All year, it’s been French qualifying with O’Ward finishing. The PC class has just two races left – here and Road Atlanta.
  • The No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be back to the lineup of Olivier Pla alongside Jose Gutierrez, the same pairing that achieved the car’s best result in Watkins Glen of fourth. Nick Boulle and David Ostella ran the car at CTMP; Ostella having gotten out OK despite a rollover just before the checkered flag.
  • Park Place Motorsports is partnering with Dyson… the vacuums, not the race team and its litany of famous sports car drivers, this weekend. Per a release: “Park Place Motorsports is proud to welcome Dyson to the team for two races of support. Dyson will join Park Place at Road America and Road Atlanta, bringing with it an impressive and interactive display for spectators in the Vendor Village. (Patrick) Lindsey and (Joerg) Bergmeister will be on hand at the Dyson Cord-Free Experience to meet with fans and sign autographs.” The pair won the most recent GTD race in the No. 73 Porsche 911 GT3 R.
  • The No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Mike Skeen and Dan Knox is also set to return to action for the first time since Circuit of The Americas in May. The team has done some private testing in the interim.

There will be more to follow from the IMSA world at Road America this weekend.

MRTI: Road America Sunday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Sunday at Road America for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires saw two series complete their second races of the weekend, with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda taking to the track – the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires completed their weekend on Saturday.

Indy Lights saw a driver take an emotional first career win, while a chaotic USF2000 race saw the championship leader complete a weekend sweep.

Reports on both races are below.

Indy Lights: Franzoni Takes Emotional Maiden Win in Indy Lights

Victory Franzoni took an emotional first career victory Sunday at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Victor Franzoni finished third in Race 1 on Saturday, but did so despite driving what he described as “the worst of my career” to the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sunday, however, was the exact opposite for the affable Brazilian driver, who took his maiden Indy Lights win in what has been an emotional weekend for him and his Juncos Racing team as they raced in memory of the late Jeff Green, Franzoni’s Pro Mazda teammate last year.

Pato O’Ward started on the pole, but engaged in an intense duel with Santi Urrutia in the opening laps.

Their battle came to a head on Lap 4, when Urrutia tried diving inside of O’Ward entering Turn 5, but they both ran wide on the exit – O’Ward even took to the outside grass – which opened the door for Franzoni to blitz by both of them entering Turn 6.

O’Ward, Urrutia, and Colton Herta then immediately had a hard fight for second, which saw them go three-wide in Turn 8. Ultimately, Urrutia lost out as he was pushed off the track and suffered front wing damage, forcing a pit stop for repairs – he ultimately finished seven laps off the lead in seventh.

Up front, Franzoni pulled away from everyone to win by nearly seven seconds. Herta emerged in second after battling with O’Ward, while Aaron Telitz passed O’Ward in the final laps to take the final spot on the podium. Ryan Norman rounded out the top five, with Dalton Kellett finishing sixth.

Full results are below.

USF2000: Kirkwood Survives Race 2 Carnage to Complete Weekend Sweep

Kyle Kirkwood survived a lot of chaos to win Race 2 at Road America and complete the weekend sweep. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

While Race 1 almost appeared easy for Kyle Kirkwood, who passed pole sitter Jose Sierra for the lead in Turn 1 off the start and then led every lap on the way to victory, Race 2 was a completely different story.

Kirkwood needed to outduel Kaylen Frederick and Lucas Kohl and survive a seemingly endless slew of carnage in Race 2 to grab the win, his fifth of the year, to complete a weekend sweep.

Three times the race was slowed by full-course cautions for on-track incidents.

The first came on the opening lap for separate incidents involving Sabre Cook, Russell McDonough, Jose Sierra, and Max Peichel – Cook and McDonough appeared to go off into the Turn 1 gravel, while Sierra and Peichel got together approaching Turn 5 and ended up against the outside wall.

A second caution was flown only a couple laps after racing resumed when Darren Keane and Kyle Dupell got together in Canada Corner, spinning off the track and stalling as a result.

And a third caution was flown in the waning laps when Lindh, who had been running second, went off into the Turn 3 gravel trap, while Kory Enders and Calvin Ming got together and spun in Turn 6.

Up front, Lucas Kohl had worked his way into the lead, passing Lindh in Turn 1 off the start, while Kirkwood had moved up to second, ahead of third-place runner Kaylen Frederick.

A restart with one lap remaining saw Kirkwood jump to the outside of Kohl entering Turn 1, and he completed the pass before they even got to the corner, Frederick then was able to get around Kohl for second, while Colin Kaminsky and Igor Fraga rounded out the top five. Of note: second-place man in the championship Alex Baron finished seventh, allowing Kirkwood to widen an already immense championship lead.

Results are below. Kirkwood now leads Baron by 94 points. Frederick now sits third, jumping ahead of Fraga and Sierra, who sit fourth and fifth.

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