IMSA

2018 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship preview — GTD

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IMSA Wire Service

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

Wednesday, we previewed the GTLM class. Thursday, we looked at the Prototype class. Today, 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 Lamborghini vs. Acura battle for the GT Daytona (GTD) title shapes up:

No. 48 Paul Miller Racing

Lamborghini Huracán GT3

Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow

Engine: 5.2-liter, normally aspirated V10 (mid-engine)

Points: 303 – 1st

2018 Victories: 2

2018 Podiums: 7

How The No. 48 Can Clinch the Title: The No. 48 will eliminate the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG from the championship by starting the race. It will win the title outright if it finishes on the podium, regardless of the No. 86 Acura’s performance. There are several other scenarios that also could bring the No. 48 the championship depending on the finishing position for the No. 86.

2018 Performance: The No. 48 team has led the standings since March, when it won its first race of the season in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. It opened the year with five consecutive podium results and has been on the podium seven times in 10 races thus far – including a second win at Lime Rock Park in July.

Noteworthy: Paul Miller Racing has finished inside the top three in the GTD standings three times in the past four seasons, but this would the first championship for the team, as well as Sellers and Snow.

What They’re Saying:

BRYAN SELLERS – “The battle this season has been intense, the championship is coming down to the final race and it is a testament to how strong the season has been. We have had great results, great team performances, and we are hoping to finish it off the right way. The (No.) 86 team has done a fantastic job all season, and I expect nothing less than a stellar performance for 10 hours. With that said we need to deliver the same.”

MADISON SNOW – “We are currently leading the championship and have no plans on that status changing before the season is over. It is a close battle between us and the Acura. Our Lamborghini doesn’t have anywhere near the BoP of the Acura, but I believe that we will be able to keep the points lead at the end of the race.”

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No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing

Acura NSX GT3

Katherine Legge

Engine: 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V6 (mid-engine)

Points: 297 – 2nd

2018 Victories: 2

2018 Podiums: 6

How The No. 86 Can Clinch the Title: Among several other possibilities, the No. 86 team would clinch the title with a victory at Motul Petit Le Mans AND a finish of fourth or lower by the No. 48. The No. 86 team holds the tiebreaker, as both it and the No. 48 have two victories, but the No. 86 has more second-place finishes (three to one).

2018 Performance: The No. 86 team is heating up at the right time, with a victory in the most-recent race, the America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, for full-season driver Legge and co-driver Alvaro Parente following a third-place run at Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway in August. The key to the team’s season could have been Rounds 3 through 5, as its victory at the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit by Legge and Mario Farnbacher, was sandwiched by second place results in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. Those results were key drivers in the team’s decision to expand from an originally planned Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup program to the full WeatherTech Championship season.

Noteworthy: The championship would be a first for both Legge and the Meyer Shank Racing organization. Legge would continue the streak of female GTD champions following Christina Nielsen’s back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.

What She’s Saying:

KATHERINE LEGGE – “I think that preparation and being smart is the key to Petit. It’s a long race and there are so many factors that are out of your control, all you can do is try to put yourself in the best possible position for the end, without taking risks. Then in the last hour you go for it.”

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Others in mathematical contention for the GTD title:

* No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen).

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.