Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Pro-Am lineup of Braun, Bennett thriving with CORE

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The summer stretch of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has been particularly kind to Prototype teams who use LMP2-spec machinery.

JDC-Miller Motorsports won the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with Chris Miller, Misha Goikhberg, and Stephen Simpson in the No. 99 Oreca 07 Gibson, while CORE autosport has back-to-back victories in the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix (at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) and last weekend’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase (from Road America).

CORE’s triumph is particularly noteworthy in that it features a genuine Pro-Am driver lineup. Jon Bennett, a businessman who founded the team in 2010, is the “Am” part – Bennett holds a bronze driver rating from the FIA – while the gold-rated Colin Braun is the team’s “Pro.”

Given the mighty lineups in other Prototype entries, particularly ones competing with DPi machinery, one might assume that they’re at a disadvantage. And with LMP2-spec cars winning only once prior to July since the current Prototype regulations came to be last year, they would even appear to be disadvantaged somewhat due to their machinery.

However, with IMSA’s BoP (Balance of Performance) dictating that the DPi cars be BoP’ed based on the top performing LMP2 car, any machinery disadvantage is minimized.

And while they are indeed a Pro-Am team behind the wheel, they’re no pushovers. Bennett has started the races at Watkins Glen, CTMP, and Road America, and while expectations for a bronze driver like him might be low, Bennett has demonstrated some genuine prowess behind the wheel.

The 53-year-old has driven solid, mistake-free stints in each event, keeping the No. 54 Oreca not only on the lead lap in the Prototype class, but within range of the leaders at all times.

And co-driver Colin Braun has been an ace of the highest regard in this summer stretch. He scored a pair of brilliant poles at Watkins Glen and CTMP, and helped convert them into a third-place effort at The Glen followed by the team’s first Prototype win at CTMP.

And Sunday’s outing at Road America again demonstrated their prowess, and the cunning of team strategist Jeff Braun, Colin’s father.

Colin Braun qualified a stout third, but the team elected to start Bennett, as it did at The Glen and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. And as in those events, Bennett drove a solid stint to keep the car in contention before yielding to Braun.

And when it became apparent that they may not have the pace to challenge for the win on merit, strategist Jeff Braun and Co. took advantage of cautions to go off strategy and gamble on fuel, keeping son Colin out in the final hour while the other contenders pitted for splashes of fuel.

And it all worked perfectly, with the young Braun conserving just enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag on top before the car ran out of fuel on the cool down lap.

Fuel strategy helped Colin Braun and Jon Bennett take CORE autosport’s second consecutive Prototype win. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Colin Braun was quick to emphasize how Sunday’s triumph was very much a “team win” in every sense.

“It’s a great result for all the CORE autosport guys. I’m super proud, it was quite a team effort,” he asserted. “Jon did a great job at the start of the stint. We have some amazing calls on the pit box as far as what our strategy was going to be. We had a great call that got me to second. I kind of faded toward the end with a bit of tire wear so we started to change our strategy to look at a fuel savings/fuel mileage race so we started down that path right away.”

Colin added, “Great call by the guys on the box to stick to that plan the whole rest of the way. They were giving me fuel numbers that I was trying to hit and sort of keep the pace. It was a fantastic day, I think at (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) we showed we had a lot of speed to win. And we showed here we had to save fuel and be smart and win in a different way.”

Bennett echoed Colin’s sentiments, further emphasizing how the team put them in position to take the win.

“It’s clearly a team sport,” he explained. “(Colin) did a great job and was magic in the car. He was fast as well as having to save fuel. We had an awesome run on our Continental tires. They performed well all weekend.”

Bennett finished, “At some times, you have to separate yourselves from the pack so we made a strategy call to come in the back door. It was interesting to watch it develop as the engineers were picking apart how much fuel left, how many laps left. It was incredible to watch. I didn’t even give myself a chance to think about it, but back to back wins with these incredible drivers in this series is amazing.”

CORE’s run of success this summer becomes all the more significant when you factor in IMSA’s recent announcement about the future of the Prototype class – DPi and LMP2 will be split into separate classes next year, with LMP2 designated as a Pro-Am class. And the BoP rules will be different as well, as the DPi cars will no longer be BoP’ed based on the best performing LMP2 car.

As such, there’s a chance that the success CORE has had this summer may not be replicated next year.

Regardless, their run of success, against powerhouses like Action Express, Acura Team Penske, and Wayne Taylor Racing, has highlighted what a Pro-Am lineup is capable of in the right circumstances, and they could easily add more wins before the 2018 season is over.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.