IMSA: CORE scores breakthrough win at CTMP; Ford, Mercedes score GT class wins

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Courtesy IMSA Newswire

BOWMANVILLE, Ontario, Canada – Canadian Tire Motorsport Park has been a strong venue for co-drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun dating back to their days racing in the American Le Mans Series Prototype Challenge (PC) class.

Coming into the weekend, they’d won three PC races at the ultra-quick, 2.54-mile circuit, the most recent coming in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship PC class in 2016. In Sunday’s two-hour and 40-minute Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix, the longtime teammates took it to another level.

Driving the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA 07 Gibson LMP2 entry, Braun took the lead from Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with eight laps remaining in what would be a 116-lap race. It capped a last-to-first run for the No. 54, as for the second consecutive week, the team elected to have Bennett start the race after Braun had captured the Motul Pole Award in qualifying.

The penalty for changing starting drivers is to start from the rear of the class field, but Bennett turned in a solid opening stint before handing the controls to Braun. He went on to win by 3.431 seconds over Taylor to take the first WeatherTech Championship Prototype class victory for himself, Bennett and the whole team.

“Since we unloaded, it’s been a Cinderella weekend for us,” Bennett said. “It’s nice to see our program and the Porsche program at the top of the charts in all the session and pole positions. Our team was working well all weekend. Colin was amazing all weekend, walk-on-water amazing.

“I don’t have to tell you what kind of momentum that gave us. Qualifying is qualifying, and racing is racing, so it carried over to the race. My job and our strategy has always been: return a square, damage-free car to Colin and go and that’s what we did. A lot of great strategy from his dad (engineer) Jeff Braun, and holy cow, here we are.”

It was Bennett’s 15th career IMSA victory (nine WeatherTech Championship, six ALMS) and was Braun’s 16th IMSA win (nine WeatherTech, five ALMS, two GRAND-AM). This is the team’s first year in the Prototype class. The longtime PC class competitors raced a Porsche in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class last year before moving to the Prototype ranks.

It was their second straight podium result in a week after taking the runner-up spot in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen last Sunday and was the third podium run of the season for the No. 54 team, which finished third in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.

“It’s so cool to get the first win for CORE at this level,” Braun said. “It’s been a pleasure driving with Jon all these years. We’ve had a lot of firsts together and done a lot of cool things and this is another one of those things in a long line.

“Hats off to the CORE guys. We had great strategy all day. We saved fuel when we needed to, we saved tires when we needed to and we just played our cards the right way and got it done when it mattered. It was important in this race to not get too excited at the beginning. We just sort of laid in the weeds all day and slowly worked our way up and we were there when it mattered at the end.”

Taylor and co-driver Renger van der Zande combined to lead a race-high 71 laps en route to second place in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. It also was their third podium result of the season and first since a third-place outing in April’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.

Finishing third were Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R for Action Express. It was the fourth consecutive Canadian Tire Motorsport Park podium for Curran, who also finished second in 2015 and won the race in each of the past two years with then-co-driver Dane Cameron.

It was Curran and Nasr’s fourth podium result in seven races and enabled them to take over the WeatherTech Championship Prototype class points lead by one marker, 198-197, over their Action Express teammate, Filipe Albuquerque, in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi.

Albuquerque and co-driver Christian Fittipaldi finished fourth with Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor rounding out the top five in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi race car.

The WeatherTech Championship Prototype class returns to action next month in the two-hour, 40-minute Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America on Aug. 3-5.

Perfectly-Timed Pit Stop Sends No. 67 Ford GT of Briscoe, Westbrook to Victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe scored their second win of the IMSA season on Sunday. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Some IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races are won on the track and some are won in the pits.

During Sunday’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), it was a case of the latter for the winning No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.

After starting second – one week after collecting the pole position at Watkins Glen International – the No. 67 paced itself throughout the first half of the race, as each of the four manufacturers in the class took their turns atop the leaderboard.

With less than an hour remaining, Westbrook took the reins from starting co-driver Briscoe and ran second behind the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia. Garcia then ducked into the pits as the class was set to cycle through another round of stops and Westbrook cycled into the lead.

Drama quickly began to unfold as the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi of Juan Pablo Montoya lost a tire on track, bringing out a full-course caution. Aware of the situation, the No. 67 Ford dove into the pits immediately before the caution was called and completed its stop as the safety car exited pit lane.

“You never stop believing,” said Westbrook. “We really improved the car after first practice. It was a real handful. And at period of times during the race, it was still a handful. We see stuff from the pickup. But when the guys gave me some clear track, I managed to clean up the tires and the pace wasn’t too bad.

“They just did a great call, so this goes to the team and my fantastic teammate giving us a fantastic chance putting it on the front row, which was definitely over-achieving. It just gives us great confidence knowing we can win in this way. It’s just great to be part of.”

The win at CTMP is the second of the year for Westbrook and Briscoe, who also delivered Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s 200th team win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.

And for the first time this season, the team entered the race weekend not in the GTLM championship lead, but in second place behind teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT, who won last Sunday at at Watkins Glen. However, with their victory and a fifth-place finish for the No. 66 at CTMP, Westbrook and Briscoe reclaimed their position at the top.

“Unreal,” said Briscoe of getting the championship lead back. “This result today, as Rick said, played the strategy perfectly, play the traffic, and Rick just drove unbelievably. I mean the car was not easy to drive today. He was just masterful. What a result. We’ll definitely take that.”

A pair of Corvettes rounded out the remaining steps on the GTLM podium, with the No. 3 of Garcia and co-driver Jan Magnussen holding on to second place and the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in third. With the runner-up result, the No. 3 moves into second place in the point standings, six points out of first, 181-175.

Keating, Bleekemolen Drive Mercedes-AMG to Victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports took their first win of the year on Sunday. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Mercedes-AMG returned to victory lane Sunday in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen co-driving to the win in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Bleekemolen capitalized on a late-race restart to get around the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Kyle Marcelli for the win. The pass came with 14 minutes remaining, one lap after the restart, with Bleekemolen leading the final 13 laps en route to winning the race by 2.919 seconds.

It was the first win of the season for Keating and Bleekemolen and the No. 33 Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3, and the team’s first since Circuit of The Americas in May, 2017.

“I’m excited to be back in victory lane,” said Keating. “It’s been over a year since we’ve had a win, so it’s nice to be back. We had a really good car today. We came out of the truck with this setup. We really hit it well.”

“The Lexus was struggling a little more than I was,” added Bleekemolen. “We were fighting and I got a little bit of a gap, and then we tried to keep it and just bring it home. (Marcelli) had a little slide going through Turn 9. I tried for Turn 10, I got inside of him there. He gave me the space, so I took it.”

The win also keeps Keating and Bleekemolen alive in the GTD championship hunt. The duo entered the weekend 21 points behind the points-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers – who finished fourth – and 20 points behind Katherine Legge in the No. 86 SiriusXM Acura NSX GT3 for Meyer Shank Racing, who finished fifth co-driving with Alvaro Parente.

Sellers and Snow now lead Legge by three points, 183-180, while Keating and Bleekemolen are 14 points out of the lead.

The runner-up finish for Marcelli and co-driver Dominik Baumann was the duo’s second podium of the season. It also caps off a special weekend for Barrie, Ontario native Marcelli, who won Saturday’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race.

“Of course, we’re competitors and we want to win and it’s a good thing when you’re upset with second,” said Marcelli. “We had a fast car, but we really struggled at the end of the stint with our rear tire and we knew that, so we did not need the yellows. I needed it to stay green.”

A hard-charging Andy Lally rounded out the podium, moving from fifth to third in the final 15 minutes in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 co-driven by John Potter. Lally just missed a second-place finish, falling 0.095 seconds short of Marcelli at the stripe.

Five races remain in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season for the GTD class. Up next is the GT-only Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park on July 21.

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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).