IMSA Preview – Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The lone back-to-back races of the season for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship come in early July. Last week’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen kicked off the back-to-back weekends, and IMSA goes north of the border to complete the two race stretch with this weekend’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix from Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Prototype, GT Le Mans, and GT Daytona are again in action at CTMP, making this arguably the toughest stretch of the season.

It also marks start of the second half of the season. And with very close championships in all three classes, the back half of the year it set up to be nothing short of dramatic.

Previews of all three classes are below.

Prototype

  • Felipe Albuquerque holds a one point lead over Action Express teammates Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr. Surprisingly, neither entry was a factor at Watkins Glen – Albuquerque, and co-drivers Gabby Chaves and Christian Fittipaldi, finished a quiet sixth in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, while Curran, Nasr, and Mike Conway ended up seventh in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac. It’s the first time all year that neither entry proved to be a factor, but don’t expect that to continue this weekend at CTMP. The No. 31 entry won last year, with Curran and Dane Cameron, and both Action Express Cadillacs should be back at the sharp end of the Prototype field this weekend.
  • The Oreca platform dominated at Watkins Glen. CORE autosport took pole in an Oreca 07 Gibson, Acura Team Penske led most of the race between their Oreca-based Nos. 6 and 7 Acura ARX-05s. And JDC-Miller Motorsports scored an upset victory in their Oreca. It was hardly a surprise to see Penske in contention – they have two poles and a victory already this year – but the strength of the non-DPi Oreca teams took many by surprise. JDC-Miller was also very strong at CTMP last year, so another strong showing could be in the cards for them. Regardless, if the Oreca platform, and the other LMP2 chassis, again show their prowess this weekend, it could prove to be a big disruption to the championship picture.
  • Speaking of the title picture, Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske No. 6 Acura) and Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande (Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Cadillac) sit 13 points behind Albuquerque. Montoya and Cameron appear to be picking up steam with every race – they battled for the win at Watkins Glen before finishing third – and Taylor and Van Der Zande continue to hang around despite going winless so far in 2018. Both entries could use a victory, which be the first of the year for either one, and doing so would put them squarely into the title picture.
  • Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves showed a lot of speed at The Glen, leading much of the early portion, before mechanical gremlins dropped them several laps off the lead. Mechanical issues have been their achilles heel this year, but if those gremlins don’t surface, this is an entry that could easily end up in the winner’s circle…and it already has once this year (at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course).
  • Tequila Patron ESM looks to rebound after a miserable outing at The Glen. The No. 2 Nissan Onroak DPi was collected in an opening lap crash, and retired after eight laps of running due to engine overheating as a result of damage sustained in that crash. The sister No. 22 Nissan then fell out after 32 laps, also due to mechanical issues. They have everything they need to contend for wins, but need Lady Luck to smile on them if they are to do so at CTMP.
  • Of note: Joao Barbosa is slated to return to Action Express’ No. 5 machine after missing Watkins Glen due to a wrist injury sustained in a cycling accident.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

  • Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand, GTLM victors at Watkins Glen, now lead the GTLM standings ahead of teammates Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, but only by one point. Both entries now have wins this year, and the Ford GT appears to be the strongest GTLM machine this year. Expect both the Nos. 66 and 67 to again be favored this weekend.
  • While Ford leads the way, Corvette Racing isn’t to be forgotten. Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen are third in the championship, only four points out of the lead. Like the Wayne Taylor squad in the Prototype ranks, Garcia and Magnussen, (in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R) are hanging around despite not having a win – teammates Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner have Corvette’s only win so far in 2018 (they sit sixth in the championship at the moment). Ford may appear to have a pace advantage, and the Corvette is certainly the oldest of the current GTLM marques, but one should overlook the Corvette squad at their own risk.
  • Porsche GT Team is also still in the mix, with Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber sitting fourth, five points out of the lead, in their No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR – teammates Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet sit sixth in the No. 911. Both entries have wins this year, and the Porsche does seem to get better with each race. They could easily factor in the battle for the win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
  • BMW Team RLL continues to grow with their brand new BMW M8 GTEs. They sit seventh (Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi in the No. 24) and eighth (Jesse Krohn and John Edwards in the No. 25) in the GTLM standings. It may be a little too much to expect them to contend for a win, but Sims and De Phillippi do have two podiums in 2018 and Sims is the defending GTLM winner, with BMW, so they could produce a surprise this weekend.

GT Daytona (GTD)

  • GTD presents maybe the most intriguing championship battle in IMSA at the moment, as one point separates title combatants Paul Miller Racing and Meyer Shank Racing. Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers have the Paul Miller No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 one point ahead of Katherine Legge, who co-drivers the No. 86 MSR Acura NSX GT3 with Alvaro Parente. The No. 86 MSR Acura will be in action at CTMP, but is still not confirmed for the rest of 2018. There are no guarantees but Legge leaving CTMP as the GTD championship leader would make it even more difficult than it is now to sideline the entry for the rest of the year. Regardless, these two have battled at the front in each of the last two races (they finished first and third in Detroit, with the No. 86 winning out, and second and third at The Glen), so they’ll undoubtedly do battle again in Canada.
  • Behind them, the battle for third pits Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen (No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3), Cooper MacNeil (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, co-driving with Jeff Segal this weekend), and Jack Hawksworth and David Heinemeier Hansson (No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3) against each other. The three entries are separated by 11 points entering CTMP.
  • Five different teams have won in GTD this year, making it the most unpredictable class in the WeatherTech Championship. With teams like Wright Motorsports, Scuderia Corsa, and Magnus Racing still looking for their first wins of the season, that number could easily grow to six this weekend.

A full entry list can be seen here, and the weekend schedule can be viewed here.

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