IMSA Preview – Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Round 6 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the halfway point of the season, sees IMSA’s third endurance event of the year in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

But, as its shortest enduro, several teams that opted for three-driver lineups for the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring are going with two drivers in Sunday’s six-hour event.

It also marks the third round of the 2018 Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, which is comprised of IMSA’s four endurance races. Action Express leads the way in that championship with Mike Conway, Eric Curran, and Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand lead the TPNAEC standings in GT Le Mans in their No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Sebastien Bourdais is also atop those standings with them, but is not on the entry list for Watkins Glen.

In GT Daytona, Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Luca Stolz lead the TPNAEC standings in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports.

As such, Sunday’s event possesses championship implications in multiple areas, and all three classes are enveloped in close championship fights, both in the TPNAEC and in the overall standings.

Previews for all three classes are below.

Prototype

  • Action Express continues to show the way in Prototype, though there is a small shakeup in their No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, with Gabby Chaves filling in for the injured Joao Barbosa. Chaves partners Felipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi, with Mike Conway joining Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac. Though losing Barbosa for this race is a blow, the team still looks mighty strong – the two entries are tied at the top of the championship, and it’s well within reason to think they’re again the team to beat heading into Watkins Glen.
  • Behind Action Express sits another tie, between Acura Team Penske’s No. 7 ARX-05 of Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor and the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande. The two entries have experienced different fortunes of sorts in 2018 – Taylor and Castroneves gave Acura and Penske their first win together at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and finished second at Detroit, both signs that the Penske/Acura package is getting stronger. The Wayne Taylor squad, meanwhile, sees its winless streak pass the one-year mark, and while Taylor and Van Der Zande have looked strong this year, they just haven’t yet found the magic to break into victory lane.
  • Dane Cameron and Juan Montoya hold down fifth in the championship, and are coming off back-to-back podiums at Mid-Ohio and Detroit. They gave Penske and Acura their first pole in Long Beach, and a win for them appears to be beckoning.
  • Tequila Patron ESM continues to show lots of speed – Pipo Derani scored a brilliant pole in Detroit – but outside of Sebring (which Derani, Johannes van Overbeek, and Nicolas Lapierre won in the No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi), they haven’t been able to put the race results together. The same can be said of the sister No. 2 entry, which finished second at Long Beach and fourth at Detroit in the hands of Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel, but finishes of 19th at Daytona and 16th at Sebring blight their season. Olivier Pla joins the No. 2 entry again at Watkins Glen, which sat on the pole last year, while Lapierre returns to the No. 22, and both entries will look to turn their speed into strong race results this weekend.
  • Mazda Team Joest had a hiccup in Detroit, finishing ninth and 14th with the Nos. 55 and 77 RT24-P entries, though the No. 77, in the hands of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez, had been flying the flag nicely in previous rounds, and did score a podium at Mid-Ohio behind the Penske Acuras. The car has pace to contend, they just need a clean weekend. Rene Rast joins Jarvis and Nunez in the No. 77, while Spencer Pigot joins regulars Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell in the No. 55.
  • Spirit of Daytona Racing continues to try and rebound from missing Long Beach and Mid-Ohio after their nasty Sebring crash, with Tristan Vautier and Matt McMurry looking to turn the car’s strong pace into a noteworthy result that the team greatly needs.
  • Performance Tech Motorsports, JDC-Miller Motorsports, AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, and CORE Autosport again fill out the Prototype grid, with Performance Tech returning after missing Detroit. All four teams compete with global LMP2 platforms (Oreca 07 Gibsons for Performance Tech, JDC-Miller, and CORE, and a Ligier JS P217 Gibson for AFS/PR1 Mathiasen). As such, they’re the underdogs of the Prototype class. But, this event did see the legend of the JDC-Miller “Banana Boat” begin last year, as Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg challenged Barbosa, Fittipaldi, and Albuquerque for the win. Anything can happen in the six-hour Watkins Glen enduro, so don’t be surprised if one of these teams emerges as a threat.
  • United Autosports also returns to IMSA competition at The Glen, with Phil Hanson, Bruno Senna, and Paul Di Resta piloting the No. 32 Ligier.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

  • Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook continue to show the way in GTLM, leading the class championship by seven points in their No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. Though they haven’t won since the Rolex 24, they have not stumbled, with a worst finish of fifth since then – they also finished second at Long Beach. GTLM is sure to be its usual all-out grudge match, but expect Briscoe and Westbrook to be at the forefront.
  • Porsche GT Team’s Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor sit second in the championship (in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR), and Vanthoor has a lot of momentum on his side as he comes off of a 24 Hours of Le Mans triumph in GTE-Pro. They also won the last time GTLM raced, at Mid-Ohio, so they could also go back-to-back at Watkins Glen. Their teammates Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy sit seventh in the championship, and look to right the ship after struggling since their Sebring win.
  • The No. 66 Ford GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller sits third in the championship, followed by the Corvette Racing entries of Oliver Gavin and Timmy Milner (No. 4 C7.R) and Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen (in the No. 3). Hand and Mueller are looking for their first win of 2018, as are Garcia and Magnussen, while Gavin and Milner look for their second 2018 triumph. And all three entries could use a win to make up ground in the championship.
  • BMW Team RLL had its best outing at Mid-Ohio, with Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi finishing second in the No. 25 BMW M8 GTE. They sit sixth in the GTLM standings, while teammates Jesse Krohn and John Edwards sit eighth. Of note: Bill Auberlen joins the No. 24 lineup for Watkins Glen, while Krohn and Edwards stay a two-man effort in their entry.

GT Daytona (GTD)

  • Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow continue to lead the GTD standings for Paul Miller Racing in their No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, but Meyer Shank Racing has Katherine Legge right behind them – Legge, in the MSR No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 sits only three points behind them. Legge is coming off a victory in Detroit and sees Alvaro Parente rejoin her as a co-driver – Parente was competing in a Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup event at the Circuit Paul Ricard during the Detroit weekend. The No. 86 entry is still not confirmed for the whole year, but as a genuine title threat, it’s hard to imagine they won’t continue if they keep pushing the No. 48 Paul Miller Lambo. Meyer Shank had the upperhand in Detroit, but the Paul Miller squad has plenty of fight and has been on the podium at every GTD event this year. Expect both entries to lock horns again.
  • Not to be forgotten, the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports entry sits third in the GTD standings with Ben Keating and¬†Jeroen Bleekemolen. They sit 17 points out of the lead in their No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3, and they could sneak into the battle for the win as well. Luca Stolz joins Keating and Bleekemolen to fill out the lineup at Watkins Glen.
  • Meyer Shank’s No. 93 NSX, with Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach, sits fourth in GTD, and is coming off a season’s best second place finish in Detroit – they completed a Meyer Shank 1-2 that day. They’ll have their sights set on their first win of 2018 at The Glen.
  • Scuderia Corsa has Cooper MacNeil sitting fifth in the championship at the moment – MacNeil is joined by Gunnar Jeannette and Jeff Segal in the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 this weekend – and the team will look to move closer to the front of the GTD field. NBCSN’s Townsend Bell also joins the sister No. 64 effort at Watkins Glen, partnering Bill Sweedler and Frank Montecalvo.
  • Wright Motorsports consolidates back down to one entry for the Glen, with Robert Renauer joining Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen. They sit outside the top 10 in GTD right now in what’s been a disappointing 2018 to this point, but they remain potent enough to challenge for wins if they can avoid trouble.
  • HART returns at Watkins Glen, with Ryan Eversley, Chad Gilsinger, and Tom Dyer filling out the driver lineup. This group remains a genuine underdog – the team is an all-volunteer effort that is comprised of Honda employees – but with a strong driver lineup complementing a strong machine underneath, this group could be in for a surprise or two.

A full entry list can be viewed here and a full weekend schedule can be viewed here.

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