The Big Switch

April 13, 2013

The Big Switch

April 13, 2013

ESM-2Scott Sharp’s Extreme Speed Motorsports seemed well positioned for a run at the 2013 GT class championship, with a 2012 podium finish at Long Beach, followed by a breakout season that featured the team’s first GT class win at Mosport, three class poles at Mid-Ohio, VIR and Road Atlanta plus a big GT win at the prestigious Petit Le Mans.

At least it did, right up until February and “the big switch.”

In a class filled with factory teams from Corvette, BMW and SRT Viper, the ESM squad was a standout independent. “If the GT class is a strong factory-supported class and you are not a full manufacturer entry, everything falls on the shoulders of the team,” said Sharp.

In an aggressive change, ESM stunned the paddock and fans by shifting to a pair of HPD Honda P2 class prototypes for the 2013 season, after three years racing Ferrari 458 Italias, in preparation for the newly merged United Sports Car Racing series that will combine the ALMS and GRAND-AM beginning at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January, 2014.

“Moving to P2 is a new chapter for us and a homecoming for Tequila Patrón,” said Sharp. “We feel we have a terrific opportunity to develop the P2 car this year and that will put us in an ideal position going into the merged season of 2014.”

Now in its fourth season, the Florida-based team finds itself in a new class, with different cars, engines and competitors.

The switch also requires a realignment of the team’s driver combinations to meet the P2 split driver rating requirements. Johannes van Overbeek, who co-drove with Sharp to victories at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Petit Le Mans in 2012, will now partner with Patrón Spirits CEO Ed Brown, aboard the #02 car.

Guy Cosmo, who partnered and coached Brown, now co-drives the #01 car with former Trans-Am, Indy Car and ALMS champion, Sharp.

The switch from the production-based GT cars to open-cockpit prototypes also means adjustments for the drivers.

Sharp won the 2009 ALMS P1 championship with Highcroft and co-driver David Brabham. Cosmo, a former ALMS Rookie of the Year, has some ALMS P2 experience, while the Prototypes represent new territory for Brown and van Overbeek.

“Sebring was my first race in P2, I gained a ton of experience.” said van Overbeek. “One of the surprising things I noticed was that the P2 prototype was physically easy to drive compared to what I’m used to. It doesn’t wear you out like the GT car does. The g-forces are higher, but as long as you are fit for that, you are fine. Plus the P2 doesn’t get as hot as the GT car does.”

The cars also present different characteristics in braking and downforce and a change in how drivers work traffic.  “Long Beach will be a whole different animal compared with Sebring,” notes co-driver Ed Brown.

The Patrón ESM switch to P2 was enough to encourage the Wisconsin-based Level 5 team of defending class champion Scott Tucker to return to the class for 2013. To get a sense of the level of competition, consider that the Level 5 driver line-up at the season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring race included Tucker, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marino Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud.

Fans can look forward to a season-long-battle of two well-organized, highly skilled teams.

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