2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship preview: Prototype

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IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Heading into the Motul Petit Le Mans – the season finale for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – this is the second in a series in which the primary championship contenders in each of the three classes are compared.

Wednesday, we previewed the GTLM class. Today is the Prototype class. Friday, we will look at the GTD class and Saturday we’ll have an all-encompassing look at next week’s overall event.

Here’s how the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) vs. LMP2 battle shapes up for the Prototype championship:

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing

Cadillac DPi-V.R

Eric Curran/Felipe Nasr

Engine: 5.5-liter normally aspirated V8

Points: 254 – 1st

2018 Victories: 1

2018 Podiums: 5

How The No. 31 Can Clinch the Title: The No. 31 team will eliminate all others except for the No. 54 CORE autosport team of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett by starting the race. It can clinch the title outright with a finish of second or better. It would be the team’s second WeatherTech Championship Prototype title in three years.

2018 Performance: The No. 31 team has five podiums and six top-five finishes from the season’s nine races, which are equal to the No. 54 team’s stats. The difference in the championship can be traced to Rounds 3 through 5 where Curran and Nasr took results of seventh at Long Beach, eighth at Mid-Ohio and a win at Detroit, which moved them into a tie for the points lead. They’ve either led or been within one point of the lead since then.

Noteworthy: Action Express Racing, the team that fields both the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac DPi and the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi, won the first three consecutive WeatherTech Championship Prototype titles. If it wins this year, it would be the team’s fourth in five seasons. Action Express also has won every Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup to date with the No. 5 team and leads this year’s standings with the No. 31.

What They’re Saying:

ERIC CURRAN – ““We’d love to win the race, but first we’ve got to make sure we do what we have to do for the championship. That will come down to executing as a team and not putting ourselves at risk. You have to be there at the end, and Road Atlanta is not a very forgiving place. It is a real driver’s track with how much speed you carry into the corners, but it is also a really challenging race. It is 10 hours, and anything can happen in a race like Motul Petit Le Mans. If we can execute on everything, hopefully we will be in a position to take the IMSA championship and the Tequila Patrón Cup, which we’ve never done with the Whelen car. To go out with a win—what a way that would be to close out 2018!”

FELIPE NASR – “It’s the final race of the year already? How quickly the season goes by. I’m heading to the Motul Petit Le Mans fully prepared. We had the opportunity to test at the circuit a few weeks ago with Action Express and we were able to get ourselves ready for the final race. It’s a real fun track, fast, flowing corners, but also very tricky for clearing traffic. So, we have all the ingredients to make it an exciting 10-hour race. As a team, we are going to have Gabby Chaves onboard the 31 Whelen Cadillac who had previously driven at Watkins and together with Eric our goal remains the same. Expect to win. I know we have the best team behind us in the paddock when it comes to endurance racing, Petit is very demanding and for us drivers behind the wheel also physically challenging.”

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No. 54 CORE autosport

ORECA LMP2

Jon Bennett/Colin Braun

Engine: 4.2-liter normally aspirated V8

Points: 250 – 2nd

2018 Victories: 2

2018 Podiums: 5

How The No. 54 Can Clinch the Title: Among several other possibilities, the No. 54 team would take the championship with a Motul Petit Le Mans victory AND a result of third or worse by the No. 31 team. Any ties would go to the No. 54 team with its two victories compared to one by the No. 31 team.

2018 Performance: There has been no hotter team in the Prototype class over the second half of the season than the No. 54 squad. Braun and Bennett scored back-to-back wins at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America and comes into Motul Petit Le Mans riding a streak of five consecutive podium finishes. Braun also has two Motul Pole Awards – taking back-to-back poles at Watkins Glen and CTMP.

Noteworthy: This would be Braun and Bennett’s third WeatherTech Championship title and first in the Prototype class. They took back-to-back Prototype Challenge (PC) class championships in 2014 and 2015. Last year, they competed in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in a Porsche before stepping up to WeatherTech Championship Prototypes for the first time this season.

What They’re Saying:

JON BENNETT – “All of us at CORE autosport are excited and prepared to compete for the championship at the Motul Petit Le Mans. Competing at the highest level possible has been my personal lifetime goal, and I could not be prouder of my teammates at CORE autosport and Hugues de Chaunac’s talented group at ORECA. I look forward to joining my world class co-drivers Colin Braun and Romain Dumas as we continue to focus on perfecting the elements we can control.”

COLIN BRAUN – “Going into the weekend, it isn’t a big deal for us. We’ve been in quite a few championship battles over the years. For us, we keep our heads down and do what we’ve been doing all year and throughout the year and previous championship battles; constantly find ways to improve and get better. Whether we win or lose at Petit, we’re going in with the goal of trying to improve. We had a nice test at Road Atlanta and focused on things we’re trying to work on as a team and that’s all we can do is keep trying to get better. We haven’t raced a single race any different from the start of the year to when we started winning. We just got into a rhythm and that’s what happens when you work hard. For us, these championship battles are easy to deal with – we don’t have any manufacturer battle to worry about – we’ll just keep our heads down and have some fun.”

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Others in mathematical contention for the Prototype title:

* No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R (Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande)

* No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 (Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya)

* No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2 (Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson)

* No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R (Filipe Albuquerque)

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2