Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Madison Snow solidifying presence with Paul Miller Lamborghini

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Given the depth of drivers and teams within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class, you tend to think of veterans as those in their late-20s, early-30s, who consistently have won races and contended for championships.

You don’t necessarily think of 21-year-olds in that vain; then again, Madison Snow is not your ordinary 21-year-old.

The Utah native has come into his own in his second full season in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 he shares with Bryan Sellers, the two drivers benefiting from a year of continuity in a class known for annual upheaval.

And for Snow, who’s bounced around a bit as he’s tried to make his home in the series following his own Wright/Snow Racing family team drawing down its WeatherTech Championship efforts midway through 2015, it’s provided him a proper home.

While he’s the son of Martin and Melanie Snow, who achieved a wealth of sports car wins and titles in their own careers, Madison emerged on the national sports car radar when he won the 2011 Porsche GT3 Cup USA championship at the tender age of 15.

It presented an interesting situation. He was talented enough to move ahead, but not yet old enough to really star in either the GRAND-AM Rolex Series or American Le Mans Series.

Still, he took opportunities when they presented themselves. Winning with Flying Lizard Motorsports in the GT Cup class (GTC) in the 2013 ALMS series swan song at Petit Le Mans, co-driving with Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache, was his first win in either of the top flight sports car championships.

Occasional podiums followed in the year and a half that followed in the Wright Motorsports-run Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America in IMSA’s GTD ranks, but the team pulled out midway through 2015 citing Balance of Performance concerns. It left Snow at a bit of a crossroads career-wise.

However he got back on the map with a second Petit win in 2015, albeit under unusual circumstances. Snow drove the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche with Pumpelly and Patrick Lindsey only in practice and qualifying, but didn’t get a chance to drive in the rain-shortened race. It wasn’t long afterwards, and after he’d made his introduction to the Lamborghini world with wins in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series, that he’d get signed up alongside Sellers at PMR.

Snow and Sellers (left) took second at Lime Rock Park. Photo courtesy of IMSA

So while the intervening four years have been an odyssey for Snow, they helped prepare him and develop him as a person into a more well-rounded 20 to 21-year-old now.

“Really for the first time in IMSA, there’s just been a comfort aspect to having the same of everything,” Snow told NBC Sports.

“It means you don’t have to learn everything, but they don’t have to relearn you either. The better you know someone, the better you can set up the car. So the engineer knows how to interpret both of our feedback; Bryan and I like a very similar car.”

Snow’s benefited from Sellers’ steady hand as co-driver. For Sellers, having a young driver to grow with has aided him in his own transition from GT Le Mans, when he needed a ride after the end of the Derrick Walker-run Team Falken Tire Porsche program.

“Bryan is just amazing to be with as a friend and a co-driver, and that helps you develop,” Snow explained. “We see each other, we can have a beer, hang out… so we have a good relationship off track. That is so important because then at the track, you get on better. It doesn’t matter who qualifies or finishes; we both want what is best. Whatever it takes, we’re willing to do it.”

That comfort level with Sellers has helped give Snow the confidence to dice within the GTD field, as he races so many drivers anywhere from a handful to a couple decades his senior. Snow’s also raced long enough where he’s known to the field, in a class that also has several other young 20-somethings but not as many with Snow’s experience level.

“It’s cool to race with everyone out there, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’m so much comfortable now because of how much running I’ve had,” he said. “You have to continue to learn. For me, I try to keep up with them on a more consistent basis. Me being young, I don’t have the experience compared to Bryan.

“And Bryan and I note it’s a tough series with the competition we have. Bryan coming from GTLM tells me, this is just as tough right now in GTD as it was in GTLM.

“Still, I feel like there’s a comfort level I’ve definitely gained driving, even though it feels I’ve only done this for three or four years. But I guess it’s been a bit longer!”

Snow’s also benefited from his younger brother McKay, 19, racing full-time in the Porsche GT3 Cup series and growing his own career. He can see a lot of parallels in McKay’s upbringing, as he’s now racing with Wright in that series. This gives Madison the chance to play both teacher and student, as he admitted he’s learned some things from McKay as well.

“McKay and I have a different upbringing. He was big into go-karts; I was only decent at go-karts,” Madison said. “It’s just different to see how we have changed coming from the same family by the amount of time in the car, racing various things. And I can use some of that to analyze myself.

“We’re at two separate teams, series, and we have different goals. But it’s easy to swing by there when I can.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Snow and Sellers enter this weekend’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America fourth in GTD points, yet to win but on the heels of their second 2017 podium with second at Lime Rock, and after Snow won the team’s second pole of the year in qualifying – his first this year.

Given their propensity for results in the GT-only races – Lime Rock last race and VIR the next one sandwich Road America this weekend – Snow is optimistic the team will end 2017 on a high, and that he can continue to establish himself in the paddock.

“You always want to look up to others as you learn,” he said. “Getting a name for yourself is the goal so more people see you, and how you can help them. I have a small following; Bryan’s is huge.

“But anyone who sees us on the podium might think, ‘Hey you’re good. We need to beat you!’”

Chevrolet hoping it finally has edge on Honda in Indy 500

Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chevrolet engines have powered some of IndyCar’s biggest wins over the last six years.

Their drivers have won three of the first five races this season, four straight series titles and claimed the top four starting spots in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

So why is there so much chatter about Chevy vs. Honda in Sunday’s race? It’s the one mountain Chevy continues to try and conquer.

“We have more horsepower at the top end but race running’s going to be different because you’re not going to be flat out,” 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud said. “You’re going to have to manage your tires, you’re going to have to lift a lot and reaccelerate, and the Honda is really strong at that. So I think it’s going to equalize the race and I think there’s a good chance it will show, which is fantastic.”

Pagenaud knows both engines well.

He spent his first four seasons in the series working with Honda teams before switching to Roger Penske’s powerhouse Chevy team in 2015.

Yet as dominant as Chevy has been over the years outside Indy and as good as Penske’s team has been on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval, Honda continues to have the upper hand in the 500. Their cars have driven to victory lane 12 times over the past 14 years, including a run of nine straight (six coming when Honda was the series’ sole-engine manufacturer).

Chevy has two 500 wins since returning to the series in 2012. But the engine battle is becoming far more competitive even at Indy where the disparity from the top qualifier to the last qualifier was cut from 11.083 mph in 2017 to 5.198 mph this year.

Drivers have already noticed a difference on the track and casual fans who only watch the 500 might pick up on the changes, too.

“It’s certainly exciting for the fans, for us, for the teams,” said three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a Chevy-powered driver for Penske. “It’s all about the end. Right now, we happen to be competitive so let’s see what happens in the race.”

Last year, Honda grabbed four of the top five spots and powered two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the race’s rookie of the year award. The problem: Three Honda engines blew during the second half of the race and those still on the track worried they would face the same fate.

This year, some of those same questions could return after Marco Andretti blew an engine just hours before the start of the IndyCar Grand Prix. Still, Andretti has been fast and qualified 12th for the race.

The new aero kits have drivers complaining about handling and passing on Sunday. Practice and qualifying speeds haven’t provided many hints about what to expect, either.

The practice session Monday was the first time everybody worked heavily on race setups and attempted to run in traffic.

The result: Chevy and Honda each had five cars among the top 10, in practice led by 23-year-old Sage Karam at 226.461 mph in a Chevy. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champ and 2014 Indy winner with Andretti Autosport, was third-fastest at 224.820 – and No. 1 among the Honda teams.

Chevy, however, posted the top three non-tow speeds with rookie Kyle Kaiser leading the way at 221.107. Marco Andretti wound up fourth at 220.407 and was the top Honda car the list.

Four-time series champion Scott Dixon has learned not to read too much into all these numbers. The Chip Ganassi Racing star qualified ninth and is one of only two Honda drivers starting in the first three rows Sunday.

Last year, Honda took six of the top nine starting spots and had four of the top five cars at the finish line.

“I think there’s a lot of good Honda cars. Hopefully this one is one of them,” the 2008 Indy 500 winner said. “It showed pretty good, I think, in practice. But again it doesn’t guarantee you anything. You’ve got to give it your best, put in the effort and work hard.”

And hope for the best.

“I believe, even last year, even though the Hondas were really strong, we were able to fight in the end,” Castroneves said. “It’s all about being a good, balanced car.”