IMSA Mid-Ohio notebook: Taylor, Montoya sweep WeatherTech practices

Photo courtesy IMSA
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Courtesy: IMSA Communications

Notebook items include:

  • Taylor Leads 1-2 Sweep in Mid-Ohio Practice for Acura Team Penske
  • WeatherTech Championship Weekend Schedule for Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio
  • Bamber Tops GTLM Charts for Porsche GT Team
  • Auberlen Picks Up Where He Left Off in Turner Motorsport BMW
  • Faulkner Leads Continental Tire Challenge during Practice Day at Mid-Ohio
  • Estep Leads Day 1 of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Practice at Mid-Ohio
  • Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo Evo Makes First Official Laps at Mid-Ohio

Acura Team Penske got its Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio weekend off to an outstanding start, with both of its ARX-05 DPi cars sweeping the top two positions in both of the day’s two practice sessions.

Leading the way was Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi with a best lap of one minute, 13.601 seconds (110.443 mph). Taylor’s lap came in dry conditions during the morning session. He was second to teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 6 Acura in the afternoon session, which was interrupted twice by stormy weather.

“It’s been a great start to the weekend,” Taylor said. “We tested here about a week and a half ago. I’m really happy with the way we’ve unloaded. I think we learned a lot at our test. Now was a good opportunity to get some laps in the wet, because it looks like it could go either way in the race on Sunday. I’m just really looking forward to starting this Acura Sports Car Challenge in our Acuras. I think we’ve got a really good shot.”

In the wet afternoon session, Taylor did spin and make contact with the barrier. However, the team still was able to make repairs and get him back on course before the checkered flag came out.

“There was 15 minutes left in the wet and I really wanted to kind of get going quickly,” Taylor explained. “I made a simple mistake and spun, and once I got in the grass, I was going to hit the wall. Unfortunately, I cost myself the laps and the guys had to do a little bit of bodywork repair, so I feel bad for that, but I’m glad they were able to get me back out for a couple more laps.”

Montoya was second on the day at 1:14.089 (109.716 mph). Third was Prototype points leader Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R at 1:14.608 (108.953 mph).

WeatherTech Championship Weekend Schedule for Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio

The WeatherTech Championship race cars return to the challenging, 2.258-mile, 13-turn circuit for a final, pre-qualifying practice session Saturday morning from 8:35 to 9:35 a.m. ET. The three 15-minute qualifying sessions for the three classes begin at 12:05 p.m. ET for GTD, followed by GTLM at 12:30 p.m. ET and Prototype qualifying at 12:55 p.m. ET.

Live streaming coverage of qualifying, with IMSA Radio audio, will be available on IMSA.tv and on the all-new IMSA app.

Sunday’s schedule gets under way at 8 a.m. ET with a 20-minute warm up session for the WeatherTech Championship. The two-hour, 40-minute race will take the green flag at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Live FS2 television coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET, with live IMSA Radio coverage also available on IMSA.com, the IMSA app, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.

Bamber Tops GTLM Charts for Porsche GT Team

In preparation for the final GT Le Mans (GTLM) race before June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, two-time Le Mans overall winner Earl Bamber got the Mid-Ohio weekend off to a solid start in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR for the Porsche GT Team.

Bamber posted the fastest lap in GTLM at 1:20.148 (101.422 mph) in the car he is sharing with Laurens Vanthoor. Not unlike Taylor, Bamber also credited a recent test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as a key contributor to early success in the Acura Sports Car Challenge weekend.

“We had really good preparation before coming here,” Bamber said. “I think we were one of the only teams that managed to actually run. We had a little bit of snow and a little bit of ice and stuff like that, but we had some prep, so the car came out really good.

“Obviously, it’s the first time for IMSA being back here in a long time. It’s a track that I really like. I enjoy it. It’s going to prove quite a challenge, because it’s super slippery in the wet and we’re unsure about the conditions, but generally, I love driving the track here. It was an OK lap, the setup was good, acceptable, but I think it’s going to be super tight.

“If you look, all manufacturers are pretty competitive all the way down the range, so I think qualifying is going to be mega tomorrow, tight and a tough job. It’s going to be a good race.”

Second in GTLM was Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R at 1:20.467 (101.020 mph), while Jesse Krohn was third in the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE at 1:20.704 (100.723 mph).

Auberlen Picks Up Where He Left Off in Turner Motorsport BMW

The last time Bill Auberlen raced a Turner Motorsport BMW at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, he won the race. That was back in 2013 in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

From 2014 through 2017, Auberlen was a full-time driver of BMW Team RLL’s GTLM team. This year, however, he’s shifted to a Tequila Patrón North American Endurance role with that team in addition to new responsibilities as a BMW Brand Ambassador.

That made Auberlen available to rejoin Turner Motorsport, which he has done at this weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio, sharing the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 with 2017 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Grand Sport champion Dillon Machavern.

And in Friday’s WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) practice session, Auberlen picked up right where he left off with Turner at Mid-Ohio. He led practice with a best lap of 1:20.803 (100.599 mph).

“The last time we were here in Ohio, I think we won,” Auberlen said. “The neat thing about BMW is we all run our teams the same. When I jump from one car into this car, I know it very well. The procedures are the same, the way we do driver changes is the same, everything is the same, so it’s very comfortable right away.

“Then, to get back with my old engineers, my crew chiefs, it’s like coming home. And to see the P1 running around on the car this morning after I got out, that was icing on the cake.”

If P1 is showing on the car at the end of Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute race, it will be Auberlen’s 59th career IMSA victory, moving him to within one of all-time win leader Scott Pruett’s record 60 victories.

Faulkner Leads Continental Tire Challenge during Practice Day at Mid-Ohio

It was a tale of two seasons for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge on Friday, with the day’s two practice sessions at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course being run under vastly different conditions.

The first practice, held early in the afternoon, gave teams a chance to test their cars under sunny skies on a slick track – the conditions expected for the series’ Mid-Ohio 120 Saturday afternoon.

Damien Faulkner in the No. 33 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4 topped the charts in the Grand Sport (GS) class during the first session with a time of one minute, 28.762 seconds (91.579 mph). The lap was just .096 seconds quicker than second-place Nate Stacy in the No. 60 Roush Performance/KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.

“It’s quite a nice track,” said Faulkner, who owns a third-place finish at Mid-Ohio from a 2001 Indy Lights race. “It’s challenging, it’s going to be really challenging to overtake. It’s got some undulating sections where it goes up and down and over and back, and I like it. It’s a nice rhythm track. Sector Two for example, if you get the first part of it wrong, the rest of it is tougher so it’s nice when you get into a rhythm. It’s very sort of flowing.”

Following two brief rain cells that cooled temperatures and dampened the track, drivers played it safe in the day’s second practice session later Friday afternoon. As a result, the fastest times in the TCR and Street Tuner (ST) classes were also posted in Practice 1.

Kuno Wittmer’s lap in the No. 74 Compass Racing Audi RS3 LMS – 1.29.903 (90.417 mph) – stands as the fastest in the TCR class, while Mat Pombo’s time of 1:35.690 (84.949 mph) tops the ST charts for the No. 73 MINI JCW Team MINI JCW.

Saturday’s schedule for the Continental Tire Challenge involves a 15-minute practice session before qualifying begins at 11:10 a.m. ET. The Mid-Ohio 120, the third of 10 rounds on the year, goes green at2:20 p.m. ET and can be streamed live on IMSA.com.

Estep Leads Day 1 of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Practice at Mid-Ohio

Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama points leader Trenton Estep posted a best time of one minute, 24.076 seconds (96.683 mph) during Friday’s practice sessions at Mid-Ohio in the No. 3 JDX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machine.

Estep turned in the best time during the second of the day’s two practice sessions. His speed was more than four seconds faster than the time Roman De Angelis turned to lead the first official practice session of the weekend on Friday morning.

“It’s been raining the past couple of days so the track has been pretty green,” Estep said. “But as soon as (the) WeatherTech (Championship cars) got on track, the track gripped up quite a bit. The guys gave me a really good car to go and put it on the top.”

After leading the morning session, De Angelis ended the day second on the time charts with a best lap of 1:24.273 (96.457 mph) in the No. 1 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche. De Angelis comes into the Mid-Ohio weekend third in the Platinum Cup championship standings, just two points behind Estep and one behind second-place Will Hardeman.

The Canadian is expecting each of this weekend’s two 45-minute races to be challenging.

“I think in a 45-minute race, it’s going to be super tiring,” De Angelis said. “There’s no breaks on this track at all. Even the straightaway’s not straight, so you’re really, really busy. That’s one of the things that’s going to play a huge factor, the physical performance of yourself. I think it should be a lot of fun for the race, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Hardeman was third quickest on the day at 1:24.434 (96.273 mph) in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche. Mark Kvamme, who hails from nearby Columbus, Ohio, led the way in the Platinum Cup Masters class with a best lap of 1:26.078 (94.435 mph) in the No. 43 JDX Racing entry.

Victor Gomez IV, who leads the GT3 Cup Challenge USA Gold Cup standings for cars built between 2014 and 2016, also led the way in Gold Cup practice. His best time was 1:26.530 (93.941 mph) in the No. 25 Porsche from NGT Motorsport.

Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo Evo Makes First Official Laps at Mid-Ohio

The Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series made its official return to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car course Friday with a pair of 40-minute practice sessions ahead of the weekend’s first and second rounds of the 2018 North America championship.

The morning session was run under dry conditions despite the threat of rain that lingered all day, which provided a good opportunity for teams to take the new Huracán Super Trofeo Evo out on track for the first time.

Sixteen of the seventeen teams entered made laps, paced by the Pro-Am class co-drivers JC Perez and Loris Spinelli in the No. 71 P1 Motorsports Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo Evo with a time of one minute, 22.487 seconds (98.546 mph) around the 2.25-mile road course.

“The track is very green, but our cars behaved very well,” said Perez. “We obviously have the fastest car out there right now, so we are very happy with the results the team has provided and we are very happy that IMSA and Lamborghini have provided a really, really, really good series for us to run.”

Pro class drivers Trent Hindman and Jonathan Cecotto in the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 1 (1:23.359, 97.515 mph) and Corey Lewis and Madison Snow (1:23.722, 97.092 mph) in the Charge Racing No. 29 rounded out the morning’s top-three.

The afternoon session saw times drop as teams became more familiar with their new cars on a Mid-Ohio track that is unfamiliar to many of the competitors. Hindman and Cecotto were at the top of the chart after the second session with a fastest lap of 1:22.640 (98.363 mph).

“I like Mid-Ohio very much,” Cecotto said. “Race tracks are quite different here (in the United States) compare to European tracks. The asphalt is quite slippery. That is something you really do not find in Europe. I am enjoying it a lot though. It is a new adventure for me.”

Hindman echoed his co-driver’s enthusiasm for the weekend ahead.

“The team is doing a great job,” Hindman said. “We really haven’t had to touch the car all day. It really is very solid. Maybe a few minor adjustments. The name of the game here is to try and learn this place more quickly than anyone else.”

Perez and Spinelli backed up their first session speeds, charting second (1:22.646, 98.356 mph), with Pro class drivers Edoardo Piscopo and Taylor Proto in the US RaceTronics No. 50 (1:22.815, 98.155 mph) rounding out the afternoon’s top-three in a session that was cut four minutes short due to weather.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.