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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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.