Photos courtesy IMSA

IMSA: Five takeaways from Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen

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Courtesy IMSA Wire Service

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen featured outstanding competition throughout all three classes and somewhat surprising winners in at least two of them.

No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LPM2 drivers Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller and Stephen Simpson took the first victory of the season for an LMP2 car and the first since Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens took the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Ligier to the win in the penultimate round of the 2017 season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

In the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller capped off a tremendous weekend at Watkins Glen for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. And in GT Daytona (GTD), Turner Motorsport took its first Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen win since 2014 with the driving trio of Don Yount, Markus Palttala and Dillon Machavern prevailing in the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3.

Here are five key takeaways from a hot one in upstate New York:

1. One Point Separating First from Second in All Three Classes

The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen was the sixth of 10 races for the Prototype class and the fifth of 11 for both GTLM and GTD, and the championship battles in all three classes are shaping up to be legendary. Just a single point separates first from second place in all three.

The championship race in the Prototype class actually “opened up” a tiny bit at Watkins Glen, as the pair of Action Express Racing teammates that came into the race tied now have one point between them. Leading the way is Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R by virtue of his sixth-place finish in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with co-drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Gabby Chaves.

Albuquerque leads Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran – who took seventh in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi at Watkins Glen with third driver Mike Conway – by a count of 169-168.

It’s another pair of teammates atop the GTLM standings, as Hand and Mueller parlayed their Watkins Glen victory into the WeatherTech Championship points lead in the No. 66 Ford GT by one point, 147-146, over Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, who now are second in the No. 67 Ford GT. Those two had led the GTLM championship from their season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona throughSunday’s race at Watkins Glen where they finished sixth.

And while they’re not official teammates, there are a pair of “Team ATL” members battling it out for GTD supremacy. Madison Snow and Atlanta’s Bryan Sellers continue to lead the standings – as they have since winning March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts – in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

Sitting second is another Atlanta resident, Katherine Legge, who co-drove to a second-place finish in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 with Alvaro Parente in Sunday’s race. Legge trails Sellers and Snow by a count of 155-154.

The championship battle moves north of the border this Sunday for the two-hour, 40-minute Mobil 1 Sports Car Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. It will be televised on FS1 on a delayed basis beginning at 4 p.m. ET and will be carried live by IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.

Tickets are available now on CanadianTireMotorsportPark.com.

2. LMP2s Have Great Weekend at Watkins Glen

While Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars had won every race and Motul Pole Award of the 2018 season prior to last weekend, the tables were definitely turned at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

Friday’s pair of practice sessions ended with Romain Dumas atop the time charts in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA. In Saturday qualifying, Colin Braun showed that Dumas’ Friday performance was no fluke, putting the No. 54 on pole with a Prototype class track record.

What’s more, he led a 1-2 sweep of qualifying for LMP2 cars, as Paul Di Resta put the No. 32 United Autosports Ligier second on the grid.

It was more of the same in Sunday’s race. ORECA swept the top two spots, with Simpson, Goikhberg and Miller taking the victory in the No. 99 GAINSCO machine ahead of Dumas, Braun and Jon Bennett – who ended up starting the race from the rear of the Prototype grid in a strategy call and put in yeoman’s work in his opening double stint before giving way to Braun and Dumas.

And for good measure, Di Resta and co-drivers Phil Hanson and Bruno Senna made it three LMP2s in the top four with a fourth-place run in the No. 32. In total, the Nos. 99, 54 and 32 combined to lead 64 of the 202 total laps run in the Six Hours

3. No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Squad Riding Podium Streak

One of the key storylines of the GTD championship-winning performance by Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan last year was the then-No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari squad’s impressive run of six consecutive podium finishes.

Well, don’t look now, but the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini team and co-drivers Sellers and Snow now have finished on the podium in all five races this season. They’ve actually got one more win than Nielsen and Balzan had at this point in the season last year, and four other third-place results, including the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

“What a good race,” Snow said. “In practice, we didn’t quite have the pace to win the race, but once we got into the race, we knew we could be consistent and run the whole race and get faster in the end. That’s how we’ve been able to get on the podium at all the other races this year. It was definitely hot for us to only run two drivers, but it worked out just fine. We’ve had a great season so far, and everyone has done a great job to just keep this momentum going.”

4. Montoya, Cameron Have Longest Active Prototype Podium Streak in No. 6 Acura

While they haven’t yet stood atop the victory podium, No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi co-drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron have been familiar faces around the victory podium lately.

Since finishing a season-best second in May’s Acura Sports Car Classic at Mid-Ohio behind teammates Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi, Cameron and Montoya have finished third twice – in last month’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit and on Sunday in Watkins Glen.

But while the podium run is appreciated and has helped them move into third in the Prototype championship standings, just 13 in arrears of leader Albuquerque, the No. 6 duo really wants a win. They came close on Sunday, leading a race-high 124 laps.

“The podium’s really good, it was a really good points day,” Cameron said. “It was disappointing to be third after pretty much leading the entire race, but that’s the box we have to work in right now and it kind of reared its head with a poor-timed yellow for us for what we could do on fuel.

“We were a bit of a sitting duck in a straight line horsepower-wise, so those two things kind of played out poorly for us there at the end and cost us those two spots. Acura Team Penske is doing a great job right now and three podiums in row so we’ll keep digging our way up to the front of the points here, hopefully.”

5. Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup Battles Still Alive After Three of Four Rounds

The battle for the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup is already three-quarters of the way over with the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Sunday’s race now in the rearview mirror with only the season-ending 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October still to come.

Nevertheless, the battles for 2018 Patrón Endurance Cup honors in all three classes are still alive. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi team of Curran, Nasr and Conway currently has the largest lead of any of the three classes, with six points (31-25) in hand in the Prototype standings over their teammates, Albuquerque and Fittipaldi with the four-time defending Patrón Endurance Cup No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac team.

However, the Prototype class also features the most cars still mathematically in contention. There is a total of seven still with a shot, including both the Nos. 6 and 7 Acura Team Penske entries, which have 24 points each; the No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi team of Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek and Nicolas Lapierre with 23; the No. 32 United Autosports squad with 23 points and the No. 54 CORE autosport team with 22 points.

In the GTLM class, it’s down to the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing entries and the No. 911 Porsche GT Team. Watkins Glen winners Hand and Mueller now lead the standings in the No. 66 Ford GT by four points, 33-29, over Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. The No. 67 Ford GT team of Westbrook and Briscoe is the only other one still mathematically eligible with a total of 28 points.

The GTD battle for the Patrón Endurance Cup is a four-team battle royale with the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 trio of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Luca Stolz leading the way. They have 31 points compared to second-place Legge and Parente in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Acura NSX GT3 team, which has 29 markers.

The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini squad of Sellers and Snow is still in it with 26 points, while the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 co-driven by Christopher Mies and Sheldon van der Linde also remains in contention with 24 points.

Each team can score a maximum of 15 points and a minimum of six points from the three final scoring intervals in the Motul Petit Le Mans on Saturday, Oct. 13.

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida