IMSA 2016: The turning point
IMSA 2016: The turning point
If history is a fair indicator, there comes a key moment in every season, championship, or race where a situation or result builds or breaks a team’s momentum, and a driver’s confidence rises or falls in the final races in the title fight.
For many teams and drivers in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship that point may well arrive here at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the mid–point of the 11 race season.
The momentum see-saw
Last year, it was the CORE autosport Porsche North America factory GT Le Mans team with drivers Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy that saw its fortunes turn around with a victory here at CTMP.
Seemingly snake bit in the first half of the 2015 season with just a single podium in the first five races, Pilet and Tandy started their Porsche on a roll here that saw them win four of the final five races and claim the series GTLM manufacturer, team, and driver championships.
Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, who dominated the first half of the 2015 season, taking wins at Daytona and Sebring, were on the other end of that momentum see-saw.
A stone caught in the throttle linkage during qualifying at Le Mans put Magnussen heavily into the wall. They arrived at the next stop in a backup car and a third place here at CTMP was their last podium of the 2015 season.
Riding the Big Mo
“Momentum is a funny thing,” said Chris Baker, director of motorsports, Michelin North America.
“Sometimes you can get away with a little problem or a mistake. Maybe the caution flag comes out at just the right time, or a competitor has a problem, and other times you run well, but just can’t buy a break.
“You think that you can do nothing right and suddenly you can do nothing wrong.”
In 2014, Magnussen and Garcia, the 2013 series champions, took the GTLM class victory here at CTMP, but went hatless the rest of the year after a mid-season balance of performance adjustment and Magnussen was injured at VIR.
Canada’s Kuno Wittmer, the runner-up here at CTMP with co-driver Jonathan Bomarito, took the 2014 GTLM class driver’s title for Viper with six podiums, including a pair of victories, in the final seven races.
Finding an Edge
Here at CTMP, the circuit presents a series of challenges that typically reward those with the best handling cars and a full measure of confidence on a very fast, challenging circuit.
During a race, veteran team managers sometimes refer to “the point of control.” Asking that they not be identified, they suggest that it often appears during the second stint of the race.
“If you can run a strong second stint, then you can help control the pace of the race and either lead or be in an attack position,” said one manager.
Gaining and maintaining any advantage in the fiercely competitive WeatherTech Championship GTLM class is exceptionally difficult.
Three of the CTMP GTLM entries here swept the GTE-Pro (GTLM equivalent) podium recently at Le Mans.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Joey Hand and Dirk MÃ¼ller took the win at Le Mans with Sebastien Bourdais. Risi Competizione Ferrari’s Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander with Matteo Malucelli scored a hard fought second and Ford’s Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, joined by Scott Dixon, finished third.
In the first four WeatherTech Championship GTLM class races of 2016, the Corvette Racing squad of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner has victories at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and a second place finish at Long Beach.
Pilet and Tandy took the controversial win at Long Beach after their Porsche teammates knocked Milner’s Corvette aside at the hairpin on the penultimate lap.
Briscoe and Westbrook delivered the first win for Ford at Monterey. BMW Team RLL has poles at Sebring and Long Beach.
And, here at CTMP, someone will look to discover the key moment that will lead to a championship run. But, in the most competitive class on the international scene, they are going to expect a very big fight.