IMSA

IMSA Preview: Northeast Grand Prix

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The IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championships sees the first of two GT-only showcase events this weekend with the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park.

With the Prototype class, the usual headliner, not on the docket, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) get to headline an event and vie for overall victory honors.

Last year saw Porsche sweep both classes, with Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner leading a Porsche GT Team 1-2 in GTLM, while Patrick Lindsey and Joerg Bergmeister claimed GTD honors, and the German marque will be keen to mimic that result in 2018.

Previews for both GTLM and GTD are below.

GTLM

  • Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook continue to show the way it GTLM in their No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, but only lead the Corvette Racing duo of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia by a scant five points. Still, Briscoe and Westbrook are riding a wave of momentum after taking their second win of the 2018 season at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The Ford GT is possibly the fastest of the GTLM platforms, giving them an inherent advantage. But, a continuation of their success is far from a guarantee. They might be favored entering the weekend, but don’t be surprised if they face multiple challengers.
  • Magnussen and Garcia rank second in their No. 3 Corvette C7.R, while Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller sit third in their No. 66 Ford GT, trailing teammates Briscoe and Westbrook by eight points. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin rank fourth, 14 points out of the lead, in the No. 4 Corvette. Such a tight margin means the GTLM title is still completely up for grabs. What’s even more surprising is that Magnussen and Garcia rank second in the GTLM standings despite not having a win in 2018. They’ll be motivated to break that winless streak, while all three of these entries are poised to mount title challenges, beginning with Lime Rock.
  • Porsche sits fifth and sixth with its entries – Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor are fifth in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR, while Nick Tandy and Pilet sit sixth in the No. 911. Pilet is a defending Lime Rock winner, and he won the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring with Tandy, while Bamber and Vanthoor won at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Porsche clearly goes well at Lime Rock, so this weekend presents them with a golden opportunity to vault themselves squarely into the title picture.
  • BMW Team RLL still sit seventh and eighth with their BMW M8 GTEs – Alexander Sims and Connor de Phillippi sit seventh in the No. 25 while John Edwards and Jesse Krohn sit eighth in the No. 24. They continue to develop the new M8, and their best result is still a second place effort in Sebring with Sims, de Phillippi and Bill Auberlen. A podium is possible again this weekend as they continue to improve the M8 platform.

GTD

  • The GTD class is set for a genuine championship fight for the rest of the season after Meyer Shank Racing confirmed that their No. 86 Acura NSX GT3, with co-drivers Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente, will see out the rest of the 2018 IMSA season (details can be found on the team’s website). Legge has been hot on the heels of points leaders Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow, in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, for most of the summer and trails them by only three points entering Lime Rock. Legge finished fifth at Lime Rock last year, alongside then co-driver Andy Lally, while Sellers and Snow finished second behind Lindsey and Boergmeister. The MSR squad will need to improve on their Lime Rock outing this time around to regain the points lead, while Sellers, Snow, and the Paul Miller squad will aim for one position higher on the podium. Regardless, the two teams look destined to fight it out all the way to the end.
  • Somewhat alone in third is the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports duo of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. They sit 14 points back in third, but are coming off a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. A second consecutive win would make the GTD title chase a three-team duel, and Keating, Bleekemolen, and the Riley-Mercedes group are quite capable of doing so.
  • Given the success of Porsche last year, one might think that Wright Motorsports is a team to watch this weekend. And they certainly are in desperate need of a strong result. Christina Nielsen and Patrick Long have a best finish of sixth at Sebring in their No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3, and teammates Michael Schein and Wolf Henzler have a best finish of ninth at Detroit. It’s been a rough year for a team that expected to battle for a GTD crown, and a podium would be great medicine.
  • Magnus Racing (Andy Lally and John Potter) and Scuderia Corsa (Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal) high the GTD teams looking for their first wins of 2018 at Lime Rock.

A weekend schedule can be viewed here. Both qualifying and the 2 hour 40 minute race will be held on Saturday July 21.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
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It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

Follow @JerryBonkowski