Canadians Rise to the Top in 2019 IMSA Campaign

October 29, 2019

Canadians Rise to the Top in 2019 IMSA Campaign

October 29, 2019

Earlier this year, Michelin highlighted the Canadians racing in IMSA as a “Canadian invasion” occurred in the run up to the race weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

It turns out this year’s Canadians in IMSA were quite successful, results-wise.

A pair of Canadian drivers won class championships, five others won at least one race, and four Canadian teams made an IMSA podium this year.

Canadian drivers competed in both classes of the IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge (GS and TCR), two of the four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes (LMP2 and GT Daytona), and the single IMSA Prototype Challenge class (LMP3).

HYUNDAI’S WILKINS FLIES THE FLAG IN MICHELIN PILOT CHALLENGE

Together with co-driver Michael Lewis, Mulmur, Ontario’s Wilkins anchored the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Veloster N TCR to control the season in IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge’s highly competitive TCR class.

The pair of drivers had a class-leading three wins, with Lewis also delivering a class-leading three Motul pole positions. Continuing the class-leading accolades, Wilkins and Lewis combined to lead the most laps in TCR this season with 258 of 734 total laps. No other car led more than 84 this year in that class.

With seven top-four finishes in 10 races, the pairing also had great consistency. Wilkins, in his typically modest manner, thanked Herta, Hyundai and Lewis first.

Bryan built a great team for us. It’s just up to us to do our thing,” Wilkins said. “We had to lean on it every single lap. This is a big one. Massive thank you to everyone at Hyundai USA and Hyundai Germany. We were just shy on the manufacturer’s championship, but we’ll come back and get them.”

ROBICHON CAPTURES WEATHERTECH SPRINT CUP TITLE

Ottawa, Ontario’s Zacharie Robichon had a dynamic season within the seven-round WeatherTech Sprint Cup, a new-for-2019 component of the overall IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This Sprint Cup highlighted results in the seven GT Daytona class sprint races, which included six “standard length” two-hour, 40-minute races and single one-hour, 40-minute race at Detroit.

After a tough first sprint race co-driving with Scott Hargrove (Tsawwassen, B.C.) in the PFAFF Motorsports “Plaid Porsche” at Mid-Ohio, Robichon received a late call to drive the Park Place Motorsports Porsche next race in Detroit. Robichon won the pole, and then together with Porsche factory ace Patrick Long finished second on the streets of Detroit to kick-start his season.

Back with PFAFF from CTMP onwards, the results started to flow with a variety of co-drivers. Driving with either Hargrove or Porsche Young Professionals Dennis Olsen and Matt Campbell, Robichon finished in the top-five in all remaining races. Robichon won back-to-back races with Olsen and Campbell as they rotated into the No. 9 car at Lime Rock Park and Road America. A fourth place at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca secured Robichon the title.

“I mean, Scott, Dennis, Matt, Lars (Kern, not in the Sprint Cup), Pat Long as well. I might even be forgetting one, but it’s been really cool to learn from all the guys,” Robichon reflected. “I think being able to lean on them and their expertise. They have a lot more experience and I think that is what helped me get to this position.

“The beauty about endurance racing is you have your teammate and you work together. Looking at the field in GTD, you see some pretty unbelievable talents. To have the opportunity to be here and be amongst them. I think we set out at the beginning of the year at PFAFF, our goal was to be in the top five and I think we proved that we belong. So I think we’re going to keep learning and keep getting better.”

FIVE MORE CANADIAN RACE WINNERS IN IMSA 2019

Three other Canadians won a round in MICHELIN Pilot Challenge and two more won a round in the WeatherTech Championship.

Kuno Wittmer (Montreal) got things kicked off with a win at Daytona for Canadian team Compass Racing, run by Karl Thomson. He and young rising star Paul Holton shared the No. 75 McLaren 570S GT4. An unlucky 13th in the GS standings embodied the luckless rest of the season from there, where it seemed the black-and-orange McLaren often had a target on the car.

Two more Canadians broke through at VIRginia International Raceway, after a highly chaotic final lap. Kyle Marcelli (Toronto) emerged victorious in GS when the leaders collided and the winner on the road was issued a post-race time penalty. Marcelli and co-driver Nate Stacy finished fifth in the GS points this year in their No. 60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.

Also at VIR, James Vance (Toronto) similarly survived a last-lap scrap in TCR to ensure he and Nick Galante claimed a popular win in their No. 23 FAST MD Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR. They finished sixth in points.

#52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2, LMP2: Matthew McMurry, Gabriel Aubry, #38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA LMP2, LMP2: Kyle Masson, Cameron Cassels, podium

Both Canadians that raced in the WeatherTech Championship LMP2 class scored wins this year. Cameron Cassels (Coldstream, B.C.) was most successful, as the 50-year-old won at Sebring, took home the class Michelin Endurance Cup title, and captured the Jim Trueman Award as top gentlemen driver in the prototype ranks. He along with his Performance Tech Motorsports team are in the process of laying the groundwork for a 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 debut in 2020.

Road to Indy veteran Dalton Kellett (Stouffville, Ontario), a Queens University engineering graduate, entered sports car racing for the first time in 2019 and made a solid impression with three wins in as many starts with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.

FOUR CANADIAN TEAMS, FOUR REGULAR PODIUM VISITS

In addition to PFAFF and Compass, two more Canadian teams also made their mark in 2019.

Motorsports In Action (Saint-Eustache, Quebec, and also known as MIA Racing) was desperately unlucky on final laps this season, losing potential wins at both Road America and VIR in successive race events. Nonetheless the consistency and outright performance from Fergus and Jesse Lazare (Montreal) ensured the No. 69 McLaren 570S GT4 finished second in Pilot Challenge GS points with four podiums.

This car was one of only two cars in all of Pilot Challenge (No. 21 BHA Hyundai TCR) that finished in the top-10 in all 10 races. The GS field averaged 24.4 cars per race this year, which made this a particularly impressive achievement.

AIM Vasser Sullivan branded itself as a Canadian American team, with initial operations set close to Charlotte but with a planned shift to AIM Autosport’s Woodbridge, Ontario base as the season progressed. The Lexus RC F GT3 scored two wins with Jack Hawksworth and Richard Heistand back-to-back at Mid-Ohio and Detroit and secured a handful of other podium finishes.

AND MORE CANADIANS
Hargrove had a roller coaster 2019, but ended on a high note.

While these were the highlight achievers this season among Canadian drivers, they weren’t the only ones who competed at most events this year.

Porsche Selected Driver Hargrove began the year with two full-time opportunities although he missed a few races later in the year. He aided PFAFF outside the cockpit for two summer races, which they both won. Upon returning to the car later in the year, his perseverance with a podium at Motul Petit Le Mans to end the season.

Hargrove also drove a partial season with AWA in its Porsche 718 Cayman Clubsport in MICHELIN Pilot Challenge. The team later switched to a McLaren, and Hargrove’s countryman and a McLaren veteran driver, Chris Green (Montreal) took over alongside Orey Fidani (Toronto). Fidani and Green scored their best finish of 2019 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, with fifth place in GS.

Bowmanville, Ontario’s Dean Baker had a solid season in Prototype Challenge with Performance Tech. Driving most frequently with Kyle Masson and occasionally with brother Brad Baker, Dean Baker’s best result was third at VIR en route to ninth place in the standings.

Rolex 24 at Daytona, IMSA, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach FL, January 2019. (Photo by Brian Cleary/BCPix.com)

In limited WeatherTech Championship starts, both Daniel Morad (Markham, Ontario) and Roman de Angelis (Belle River, Ontario) scored podium finishes in Audi GTD cars. De Angelis’ main success occurred in IMSA’s single-make Porsche Cup series, where he won both the U.S. and Canadian titles.

Other Canadians such as veterans Scott Maxwell and Kenny Wilden, and younger talents such as Stefan Rzadzinski and Remo Ruscitti, also made periodic appearances. This demonstrated the breadth and depth of the Canadian forces.

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