IMSA Preview: Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix featuring America’s Tire 250

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Only two events remain in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship: this weekend’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix featuring America’s Tire 250, and October’s Petit Le Mans.

With both events featuring all three classes – Prototype, GT Le Mans (GTLM), and GT Daytona (GTD) – the final two events will have everything to play for in terms of championship implications.

None of the championships are wrapped up in any of the three classes. In fact, none of them are even close to being wrapped up, meaning all three will likely go to the season-ending Petit Le Mans.

The title prospects in all three all three classes are a little mouth-watering. There are powerhouses – ones that “should” be title contenders every year –  and plucky underdogs – those who may lack the clout and/or resources of their counterparts, but have found ways to manufacturer strong results, or even wins, to put themselves in contention.

There’s a lot to look forward to as the IMSA season nears its conclusion, and it all begins this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

A look ahead at all three classes is below.



Erric Curran and Felipe Nasr have Action Express atop the Prototype championship, but only 12 points separate the top four. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The top four in the Prototype class are surprisingly close as the series heads to its final two races.

Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr lead the way in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, seven points ahead of Filipe Albuquerque in the sister No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac.

The Action Express team has been 1-2 for much of the year, with each car having a win. However, since the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, they’ve appeared very vulnerable – Curran and Nasr have finishes of seventh, third, and third in the three races since then, while Albuquerque has finishes of sixth, fourth and seventh.

As such, the door was left open for challengers to close in, and the CORE autosport duo of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett have stormed into contention. With a second-place and two wins in their last three races – the two wins have also been back-to-back – Bennett and Braun are within 10 points of the lead and have all the momentum on their side.

Colin Braun and Jon Bennett have on a role this summer, winning back-to-back races. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The Oreca 07 Gibson they pilot sees a BoP adjustment in that 10 kilograms of weight were added, and the fuel capacity reduced from 75 liters down to 72. However, they still may be poised to make a genuine run at the Prototype crown in the final two races, despite the BoP changes and despite being a genuine underdog – in addition to running an LMP2 chassis, not a manufacturer-backed DPi platform, they’re a true Pro-Am lineup (Braun is the “Pro,” with Bennett the “Am”).

Yet, they remain a prominent force in the Prototype ranks, and with two races left, they could well take home a Prototype championship.

Not to be forgotten, though, is Wayne Taylor Racing. Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande sit fourth, only 12 points out of the lead despite not having a win in 2018. But, their three podium finishes show that they have contended for wins at various points this year, so a win could beckon at any time.

Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande sit 12 points out of the lead despite being winless so far in 2018. Photo courtesy of IMSA

They’ll need at least one win to defend the driver’s championship – they won the 2017 title with Jordan and Ricky Taylor – but they’re not out of it by any means.

Acura Team Penske is perfectly positioned to play the role of spoiler. Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya rank sixth (in the No. 6 Acura ARX-05), with Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor in seventh (in the No. 7 machine). At 25 and 32 points out of the lead, their title chances are all but gone, but the ARX-05 has plenty of speed for them to be factors in the final two races.

And, if you’re looking for another underdog in the fight, Misha Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson sit fifth, 22 points out of the lead. That’s far enough back that they’ll need some help to get in the hunt, but they are race winners this year – at Watkins Glen – and they could also play a pivotal role in things over the final two races.

The Prototype class has a seemingly endless amount of angles in play, and they all may factor into things, beginning at Laguna Seca.



The No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Jan Magnussen and Antonio leads the way in GTLM, but does not yet have a win in 2018. (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

As close as the Prototype class is, it pales in comparison to the GTLM class. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia lead the standings, despite not having a win in 2018, in their No. 3 Corvette C7.R for Corvette Racing, but they are a scant four points ahead of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

The sister No. 66 Ford of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller ranks third, nine points out of the lead.

The two Fords have been the fastest of the GTLM cars this year, yet the Corvette remains the battle-tested “old reliable” that just won’t go away, and the two brands are surprisingly equal as IMSA enters the final two races of the year.

Ford Chip Ganassi has had the speed to dominate the GTLM class, but trails Corvette Racing in the driver’s championship with two races left. Photo courtesy of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

The sister No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner sits fourth, but at 17 points back, they’re better positioned to act in a support role for the the No. 3 entry.

Playing the role of spoiler are Porsche GT Team and BMW Team RLL. Both teams have won this year – RLL won the last race at Virginia International Raceway while Porsche won the 12 Hours of Sebring with Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki.

Tandy and Pilet, in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, and Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor, in the sister No. 912, have more than enough clout to battle for the win at Laguna Seca.

The BMWs of Jesse Krohn and John Edwards (No. 24 BMW M8 GTE) and Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi (No. 25) are the underdogs of the GTLM class. However, Sims and De Phillippi stole a win at VIR in August, and another upset would royally shake up the GTLM apple cart.


Paul Miller Racing’s Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers have a somewhat health GTD championship lead entering Laguna Seca. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The GTD title picture is far simpler. Paul Miller Racing continues to lead with Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers in the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3. And at 13 points up on second-place Katherine Legge, in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 for Meyer Shank Racing, their lead is comparatively healthy in comparison to the Prototype and GTLM leaders.

The 13-point lead isn’t exactly big, and Legge – and co-driver Alvaro Parente – could put a dent in the lead with a win, but they’re in a must-win scenario to have a realistic chance at the GTD crown.

However, there are multiple race winners behind the top two who, while not in the title picture, could rock the boat. Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating, in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for AMG Team Riley Motorsports – winners at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – and Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen, in the Wright Motorsports No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3, might be the most prominent names who could factor in.

However, 3GT Racing could also be a major player – Kyle Marcelli and Dominik Baumann have won twice this year, including last time out at VIR, so their Lexus RCF GT3 easily has the pace to run up front at Laguna Seca.

Rest assured, even though only Paul Miller Racing and Meyer Shank Racing are in the title hunt, there are plenty of others who could battle for the win this weekend.

Qualifying begins Saturday at 3:35 p.m. ET, with Sunday’s race rolling off at 5:00 p.m. ET.

An entry list for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix featuring America’s Tire 250 can be viewed here, and a weekend schedule here.


Roger Penske vows new downtown Detroit GP will be bigger than the Super Bowl for city


DETROIT – He helped spearhead bringing the town a Super Bowl 17 years ago, but Roger Penske believes the reimagined Chevrolet Detroit GP is his greatest gift to the Motor City.

“It’s bigger than the Super Bowl from an impact within the city,” Penske told NBC Sports. “Maybe not with the sponsors and TV, but for the city of Detroit, it’s bigger than the Super Bowl.

“We’ve got to give back individually and collectively, and I think we as a company in Michigan and in Detroit, it’s something we know how to do. It shows we’re committed. Someone needs to take that flag and run it down through town. And that’s what we’re trying to do as a company. We’re trying to give back to the city.”

After 30 years of being run on Belle Isle, the race course has been moved to a new nine-turn, 1.7-mile downtown layout that will be the centerpiece of an event weekend that is designed to promote a festival and community atmosphere.

There will be concerts in the adjacent Hart Plaza. Local businesses from Detroit’s seven districts have been invited to hawk their wares to new clientele. Boys and Girls Clubs from the city have designed murals that will line the track’s walls with images of diversity, inclusion and what Detroit means through the eyes of youth.

And in the biggest show of altruism, more than half the circuit will be open for free admission. The track is building 4-foot viewing platforms that can hold 150 people for watching the long Jefferson Avenue straightaway and other sections of the track.

Detroit GP chairman Bud Denker, a longtime key lieutenant across Penske’s various companies, has overseen more than $20 million invested in infrastructure.

The race is essentially Penske’s love letter to the city where he made much of his fame as one of Detroit’s most famous automotive icons, both as a captain of industry with a global dealership network and as a racing magnate (who just won his record 19th Indy 500 with Josef Newgarden breaking through for his first victory on the Brickyard oval).

(Detroit Grand Prix)

During six decades in racing, Penske, 86, also has run many racetracks (most notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also speedways in Michigan, California and Pennsylvania), and much of that expertise has been applied in Detroit.

“And then the ability for us to reach out to our sponsor base, and then the business community, which Bud is tied in with the key executives in the city of Detroit, bringing them all together,” Penske said. “It makes a big difference.

“The Super Bowl is really about the people that fly in for the Super Bowl. It’s a big corporate event, and the tickets are expensive. And the TV is obviously the best in the world. What we’ve done is taken that same playbook but made it important to everyone in Detroit. Anyone that wants to can come to the race for free, can stand on a platform or they can buy a ticket and sit in the grandstands or be in a suite. It’s really multiple choice, but it is giving it to the city of Detroit. I think it’s important when you think of these big cities across the country today that are having a lot of these issues.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Michigan’s Demonie Johnson, 13, of Detroit climbs over a Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix wall adorned with his mural design for the race (Ryan Garza/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).
Detroit Grand Prix chairman Bud Denker (Ryan Garza/USA Today Sports Images Network).

Denker said the Detroit Grand Prix is hoping for “an amazingly attended event” but is unsure of crowd estimates with much of the track offering free viewing.

The race easily could handle a crowd of at least 50,000 daily (which is what the Movement Music Festival draws in Hart Plaza) and probably tens of thousands more in a sprawling track footprint along the city’s riverwalk.

Penske is hoping for a larger crowd than Belle Isle, which was limited to about 30,000 fans daily because of off-site parking and restricted fan access at a track that was located in a public park.

The downtown course will have some unique features, including a “split” pit lane on an all-new concrete (part of $15 million spent on resurfaced roads, new barriers and catchfencing … as well as 252 manhole covers that were welded down).

The 80,000-square-foot hospitality chalet area that faces the split pit lane in which teams will pit on opposing sides (Detroit Grand Prix).

A $5 million, 80,000-square-foot hospitality chalet will be located adjacent to the paddock and pit area. The two-story structure, which was imported from the 16th hole of the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, will offer 70 chalets (up from 23 suites at Belle Isle last year). It was built by InProduction, the same company that installed the popular HyVee-branded grandstands and suites at Iowa Speedway last year.

Penske said the state, city, county and General Motors each owned parts of the track, and their cooperation was needed to move streetlights and in changing apexes of corners. Denker has spent the past 18 months meeting with city council members who represent Detroit’s seven districts, along with Mayor Mike Duggan. Penske said the local support could include an appearance by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer.

Denker and Detroit GP  president Michael Montri were inspired to move the Detroit course downtown after attending the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee.

Detroit Grand Prix chairman Bud Denker with Detroit citcy council president Mary Sheffield, police chief James White and mayor Mike Duggan at a news conference for the race (Dana Afana / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We saw what an impact it made on that city in August of 2021 and we came back from there and said boy could it ever work to bring it downtown in Detroit again,” Denker said.

“We’ve really involved the whole community of Detroit, and the idea of bringing our city together is what the mayor and city council and our governor are so excited about. The dream we have is now coming to fruition.

“When you see the infrastructure downtown and the bridges over the roads we’ve built and the graphics, and everything is centered around the Renaissance Center as your backdrop, it’s just amazing.”

The Detroit Grand Prix track (David Rodriguez Munoz/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).