Potential GT Daytona scramble set for Mid-Ohio

April 24, 2019

Potential GT Daytona scramble set for Mid-Ohio

April 24, 2019

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona results in 2019 have not mirrored how the races evolved.

And with the car that swept the “36 Hours of Florida” not entered at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it presents a race that is highly likely to see a very jumbled pecking order and points table from start to finish.

GRT GRASSER LAMBORGHINI’S STUNNING DOUBLE
GRT Grasser Lamborghini has gone two-for-two to start 2019. Photo: Michelin North America (Galstad)

GRT Grasser Lamborghini benefited from a number of cars hydroplaning off the road in the waning stages of the Rolex 24 At Daytona to capture its second straight win in the January endurance classic.

Then at Sebring, it pounced again in the late stages when the dominant cars fell by the wayside. Grasser’s entry led a Lamborghini 1-2 finish. It also ensured the Italian brand had completed a rare back-to-back Florida sweep two years running.

These results leave its trio of Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers and Rolf Ineichen with the biggest points lead in any of the four WeatherTech Championship classes after Sebring, 16 points ahead of second place (70-54).

However, from second place back to 10th place, the same 16-point spread covers the next nine full-season driver pairings (54-38). That means Mid-Ohio should see some significant jockeying in the GTD ranks.

NINE PAIRS SEPARATED BY 16 POINTS
Second in points, the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus is the de facto GTD points leader heading into Mid-Ohio. Photo: Michelin North America (Hardy)

Each of the next nine pairings have had a roller-coaster start to the year. This leaves them all close together but none with two fully clean races.

  • Second, No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo. They have 54 points on account of third on the road in Daytona together with Aaron Telitz and Jeff Segal (promoted to second following a drive-time issue for No. 29 Land Audi), but then ninth in Sebring after being hit by their teammates. Segal’s stints in the rain at Daytona fueled their podium run.
  • Third, No. 44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, Andy Lally, John Potter. They have 53 points after 10th in Daytona, then a hard charge by Lally, Potter and Spencer Pumpelly to second at Sebring.
  • Fourth, No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo, Trent Hindman, Mario Farnbacher. They have 52 points with fourth in Daytona and seventh in Sebring, the latter affected by a penalty. Hindman won the pole in Sebring.
  • Fifth, No. 33 Riley Mercedes-AMG GT3, Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen. They have 51 points with sixth in Daytona and fifth in Sebring. Dominated at Daytona, but unlucky with rain, reds and yellows to fall back.
  • Sixth, No. 73 Park Place Porsche 911 GT3 R, Patrick Long, Patrick Lindsey. They have 49 points with seventh in Daytona and sixth in Sebring. Two solid runs, but Lindsey will miss Mid-Ohio due to his FIA World Endurance Championship commitments in Spa, where he leads the GTE-Am points with Long’s longtime co-driver Joerg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti for Project 1 Porsche.
  • Seventh, No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, Jack Hawksworth, Richard Heistand. They have 42 points with fifth in Daytona and 15th in Sebring. Third driver Phillip Frommenwiler hit their sister car in Sebring which set this car back.
  • Eighth, No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo, Katherine Legge, Bia Figueiredo, Christina Nielsen. They have 42 points with 12th in Daytona and eighth in Sebring. The Caterpillar-backed all-women entry has had a lot of media coverage but not a lot of luck through two races, although Legge has had success in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY Series with RLL, where she’s won and been a regular podium finisher.
  • Ninth, No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley. They have 40 points with ninth in Daytona and 13th in Sebring.
  • Tenth, No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, Toni Vilander, Cooper MacNeil. They have 40 points with 23rd in Daytona (drive-time violation) and third in Sebring, the team’s fifth straight Sebring podium.
HARD LUCK DOMINANT CARS
No. 33 Riley Mercedes-AMG GT3 pit stop in Sebring. Photo: Michelin North America (Blakely)

If on-track dominance during the race was the single deciding factor in GTD, Riley’s No. 33 Mercedes (Daytona) and PFAFF’s No. 9 Porsche (Sebring) had those races by rights.

The Riley Mercedes led at the six and 12-hour marks at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. It also seemed destined to lead at the 18-hour mark before the first red flag. In total, this car led a class-high 141 of 561 laps.

That was the only car in class to lead more than 100 laps. This was a race where 16 of the 23 cars entered in class led at least one lap.

No. 9 PFAFF Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Photo: Michelin North America (LAT/Levitt)

PFAFF, meanwhile, has endured more hard luck in two races than should be feasible for a team to endure in a season. Its first chassis was written off in a crash in Daytona. With a new chassis at Sebring, the team then had to make a last-minute nose assembly change after an incident in morning warm-up.

But an ABS failure with less than four hours remaining took the “Plaid Porsche” out of contention after leading a class-high 100 laps. Young pros Scott Hargrove, a Porsche Selected Driver, and the still-Silver-rated Zacharie Robichon are an unrepresentative 12th in GTD points with 36 through two races, 18 back of de facto leaders Bell and Montecalvo.

GTD PARITY IS PARAMOUNT

The GTD class has eight brands represented already. Seven of them are already in the top 10 in GTD points. The eighth, Audi, has seen success from the Land Motorsport team in the Michelin Endurance Cup rounds. Full-season teams Starworks Motorsport and Moorespeed have winning potential but have had tougher starts to the year.

Compass Racing is also due to debut another new GT3 car, the McLaren 720S GT3, with Paul Holton and Matt Plumb driving.

Last year, Mid-Ohio served as the launching point for GTD parity for the rest of the 2018 season.

Lamborghini won Daytona and Sebring with GRT and Paul Miller Racing. Then at Mid-Ohio, Lexus scored its first GTD win with the RC F GT3. After that, Acura, BMW, Mercedes-AMG, Lamborghini and Porsche won in succession to make it six different brands in victory lane in six races.

PMR is in desperate need of a good result after a difficult start to 2019. Last year’s championship winners haven’t bettered 15th in two races. Bryan Sellers and Ryan Hardwick share the No. 48 Lamborghini.

MORE GTD CHANGES TO WATCH AT MID-OHIO
WeatherTech with three components – one car, series and now WeatherTech Sprint Cup – at Mid-Ohio. Photo: Michelin North America (Hardy)

New regulations for the class this year should make a more profound impact at Mid-Ohio.

Each car’s Silver-rated driver has to qualify and start the race. With most teams having a gentleman driver as their Silver-rated driver, they’re generally not as fast as their pro teammates. There are a handful of exceptions, and those younger pros still classified Silver should emerge near the top of the charts.

This is also the first two-driver race of the year and first standard length two-hour, 40-minute race of the year. Most GTD teams should be able to run the race in two stops.

With the unique nature of Daytona and Sebring in the rear view mirror, this is also the first race for GTD teams with Michelin at Mid-Ohio. How teams navigate the ever evolving track conditions at the 2.258-mile road course will be key to success.

And there’s another “first” to look out for. The Michelin Endurance Cup covers the four longest IMSA races. At Mid-Ohio, the WeatherTech Sprint Cup for GTD premieres. Originally, the PFAFF and Moorespeed teams announced as Sprint Cup entries before increasing their efforts to full-season programs. Compass is the first Sprint Cup-only entry but likely not the last. This seven-race Sprint Cup gives GTD competitors another title to go for, and one where their success can also pay dividends in the full-season championship.

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