IMSA Watkins Glen Friday Notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Courtesy: IMSA Wire Service

Dumas Leads Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen Practice in CORE Autosport LMP2 Car

For the first time since the morning warm up for the 2017 Motul Petit Le Mans, an LMP2 car topped the time charts at the end of the first day of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

Romain Dumas did the honors in the No. 54 CORE Autosport ORECA 07 Gibson machine, clocking a best lap of one minute, 33.481 seconds (130.935 mph) around the 3.4-mile Watkins Glen International circuit. Even more impressively, it was Dumas’ first time at Watkins Glen in 10 years.

“First of all, for sure the car is very good,” said Dumas, who is sharing the No. 54 with co-drivers Colin Braun and Jon Bennett. “The balance is right. I didn’t drive for 10 years here, so I just had to do some laps and improve myself more than the car. It’s a good sign for the race. It’s nice to be back here in this championship and in this car. So far, all looks great, so we have to continue.”

It’s been a good week for Dumas. Last Sunday, the Frenchman shattered the track record at the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, navigating the 12.42-mile course in seven minutes, 57.148 seconds in an electric Volkswagen race car.

Dane Cameron posted the day’s second-fastest time, which led the morning practice session at 1:33.562 (130.822 mph) in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi machine he shares with co-driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Coinicidentally, it was Montoya who last led a WeatherTech Championship practice in an LMP2 machine, when he paced the morning warm-up session prior to the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season finale at Road Atlanta.

Richard Westbrook, a winner at Watkins Glen in 2014, 2015 and 2016, led both GT Le Mans (GTLM) sessions on Friday, with his best time of 1:42.886 (118.966 mph) coming in the afternoon session aboard the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT he shares with Ryan Briscoe.

Sheldon van der Linde was quickest on the day in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3. His best time, which also came in the afternoon session, was a 1:45.142 (116.413 mph). Van der Linde, co-driver Christopher Mies, and the Land team are competing in their first WeatherTech Championship race since the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

WeatherTech Basking in Afterglow of Strong 24 Hours of Le Mans Performances

WeatherTech has a strong presence at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Photo courtesy of IMSA

WeatherTech was well represented in the GTE Am class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a pair of Ferraris carrying the familiar logo.

The No. 84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE shared by Cooper MacNeil, Jeff Segal, and Liam Griffin sported a white WeatherTech livery similar to what the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari team uses in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class. In addition, the red No. 85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari shared by Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Luca Stolz also carried the logo.

WeatherTech got considerable screen time during the race telecast, as both cars ran among the leaders through much of the race. In the end, the No. 85 team finished on the podium in third, with the No. 84 fifth.

“Having two Ferrari 488s at Le Mans with the WeatherTech livery was very cool,” said MacNeil. “I think WeatherTech had the most presence/identity of any two cars in the race. The combination of bringing our brand to Europe as well as supporting IMSA with our [WeatherTech Championship-branded] coaster giveaway at the parade to get both logos in front of the enthusiastic Le Mans fans.

“Both cars were well received and to have one on the podium and the other finish in the top five made for a very successful week in France.”

A year after MacNeil stood on the Le Mans podium for the first time, Keating got the same experience this year with his third-place performance.

“This was my fourth Le Mans ever, and my first podium,” Keating said. “This year and last year, I have been with WeatherTech. We were stablemates with WeatherTech in IMSA last year, and that fostered a great relationship with those guys. They’ve been a great partner for being able to go over there and pull off a run at Le Mans.

“It was just a really special experience. It was the first time in that race where I really felt like, ‘We’ve got a shot’ and that’s a nice feeling to have when you’re making the huge investment of time and money, and just blood, sweat and tears to make it over there for that race.”

CJ Wilson Racing Returns to WeatherTech Championship Competition at Watkins Glen

CJ Wilson returns to IMSA competition this weekend. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The No. 36 CJ Wilson Acura NSX GT3 is back in action at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with co-drivers Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer. It is the team’s second WeatherTech Championship race ever and its first since the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.

“We’re just trying to shake off the cobwebs a little bit,” said team owner C.J. Wilson, the former Major League Baseball pitcher. “I think a lot of the other teams have had a chance to get to know their cars a little bit better and we’re still maybe a step behind. We made good progress today.

“We got to the point where we introduced different things by trying to push the setup and Till and Marc both had a lot of really good laps. We got a lot of time in, so now we just have to kind of dial in the car a little bit.”

Wilson and Bechtolsheimer also were at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb last weekend driving Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport race cars up the mountain, though not quite as quickly as Dumas. Nevertheless, Wilson thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“I had a chance to run Pikes Peak with Porsche and it was really super sketchy hilarious,” Wilson said. “I was thinking how great it would be if I was racing here (at Watkins Glen), because there’s no cliffs to fall off. People say, ‘Man, the guardrails are really close at Watkins Glen,’ but they’re there. They’re there to catch you if you push a little too far.

“It was a little bit uncomfortable, because on the actual race day, it snowed, it sleeted, it was windy, it was foggy, it was a little bit of everything that you wouldn’t want to necessarily drive in, but it just sort of adds to the adventure. I’d love to go back and do it again if possible.”

A final practice session for the WeatherTech championship rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET, with qualifying set to begin at 11:35 a.m.

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”