Preview: Crunch Time for IMSA Teams as Championship Fight moves to Wisconsin


67 Ford GT - GTLM - Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook - Credit: Jake Galstad / LAT Photo USA
67 Ford GT - GTLM - Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook - Credit: Jake Galstad / LAT Photo USA

With just three races to go for the prototype teams and four for the GT runners, a good result at the Road America circuit in east Wisconsin will be imperative for the final push towards end of season silverware. After skipping the Lime Rock Park event in July, the Prototype category returns to lead a bumper field featuring over 40 cars.

The Venue…

As the name suggests, Road America is a forum for motor racing in the United States. Since its opening in 1955 it has hosted a plethora of high level championships including CART, IndyCar, NASCAR and the American Le Mans Series. While other North American venues such as Indianapolis, Watkins Glen and Circuit of the Americas have held the reins of international competition, Road America is widely accepted as the gold standard facility in terms of national motor racing.

The 14 turn, four mile clockwise circuit is considered a joy by the majority of drivers. Comparisons can be drawn with the classic road courses of Europe, with the fast sweepers and shrouded woodland reminiscent of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza.

“There’s no other circuit I look forward to more than Road America,” says Porsche works driver Joerg Bergmeister. “It’s a classic racetrack that has everything a driver could wish for – it’s very fast, very hilly and very challenging. It’s no wonder that sports car fans travel from far and wide to witness this race.”

Road America is a firm favourite with spectators (Credit: IMSA)

Last Time Out…

Round eight of the ISMA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship saw the Prototype Challenge, GTLM and GTD teams vie for class honours at the tiny Lime Rock Park circuit in Connecticut. Although Starworks Motorsport won the race overall, the plaudits belonged to Corvette Racing which claimed its eagerly awaited 100th victory in GT competition.

Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner benefited when the Giancarlo Fisichella/Toni Vilander Ferrari started to run low on grip, moving into the lead and staying there for the final 30 minutes. The win was backed up by a second place finish for Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen in the sister Corvette, sending the American team into a frenzy of celebration.

The championship’s last visit to Road America exactly 12 months ago was dominated by Action Express Racing. Dane Cameron and Eric Curran beat Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi by a margin of 14 seconds, claiming their second and final victory of 2015. The race was marked by attrition, as the leading Prototypes – bar the Action Express entries – all ran into problems. Joey Hand’s Ford DP had boost trouble early on, while the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette had to pit for lengthy suspension repairs.

Bruno Junqueira, who returns to the IMSA WeatherTech fold this weekend, won the PC category with Chris Cumming and RSR Racing, while Porsche and Viper took the wins in GTLM and GTD.

Corvette arrives in search of win #101 (Credit: IMSA)

The Championship Situation…

It’s still tight at the top in Prototype as the two Action Express Corvette teams go head to head for the title. Dane Cameron and Eric Curran’s win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park reduced the gap between themselves and the championship leading #5 car of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi to four points. If the #31 Action Express wins again at Road America, its rivals will need to finish second (or third with a qualifying bonus point) to retain their advantage.

Third in the championship is the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette driven by Ricky and Jordan Taylor. The brothers’ recent performances have been overshadowed somewhat by the Action Express purple patch, but with just five points separating them from Barbosa and Fittipaldi there is still plenty to race for.

Prototype Challenge is a little more spaced out following Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande’s third win and sixth consecutive top two finish at Lime Rock. Their haul of 267 points won’t be under threat at Road America, especially with nearest rivals Robert Alon and Tom Kimber-Smith trailing by 17 points. Only victory will do for the PR/1 Mathiasen pair, but even a top step result may not be enough to derail the championship leaders.

GTLM and GTD are in a similar boat, with Corvette’s Gavin/Milner combination leading the Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook Ford by 10 points. That deficit translates to the manufacturers’ table as well, where Corvette has a solid grip over its rivals.

There has been a search for consistency in GTD recently with all the championship contenders having at least one bad round in the last four races. Scuderia Corsa’s Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan continue to lead the way, despite dropping points at Lime Rock, with the gap between them and the Magnus Audi pairing of Andy Lally and John Potter currently at 13 points. Two disappointing weekends for Mario Farnbacher and Alex Ribeiras in the #23 Alex Job Racing Porsche have dropped them from championship contenders to outside bets with 187 points.

Fittipaldi and Barbosa (L) trail Cameron and Curran in the championship (Credit: IMSA)

News and Notes…

There have been a few tweaks to the Balance of Performance as the teams prepare for Road America. The GT categories see the most movement, with Ferrari’s GTLM-spec 488 receiving a 10kg weight increase. Both the Ferraris and the GTLM Porsche 911s will run with a larger fuel capacity, while the Porsche has also been granted a positive air restrictor adjustment after struggling to match its rivals at Lime Rock.

In GTD, the most notable penalty has gone the way of the BMW M6 GT3. Despite finishing sixth and seventh at Lime Rock the beamers were quickest in terms of overall lap time, so a 15kg weight increase has been imposed to counteract the numbers.

One change stands out in Prototype, as Mazda’s pair of LMP2s face a 10kg weight addition and a reduction in boost after taking pole at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

Since the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park weekend the entry list has inflated to 42, which equals the largest grid of the year bar the Daytona and Sebring classics. While there are no changes to the Prototype order, Prototype Challenge features some adjustment as former World Endurance Championship driver Gustavo Yacaman makes his debut with Starworks Motorsport. The Colombian is set to partner José Gutierrez in the #7 ORECA FLM-09, with the two full-season Starworks cars also on the list.

An additional Prototype Challenge entry is also on the cards for BAR1 Motorsports, as Don Yount joins championship driver Johnny Mowlem in the #26 machine. Until now Mowlem has raced the #20 car, but at Road America that seat will be occupied by multiple PC race winner Bruno Junqueira and BAR1 familiar face Matt McMurry.

Additional entries can also be found in GTD, most notably at Alex Job Racing where David MacNeil and Gunnar Jeanette join forces in a Porsche 911 GT3-R alongside the team’s pair of regular cars. MacNeil and Jeanette’s last appearance in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship came at the Daytona 24 Hours, where they finished 13th in class with Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen and Shane van Gisbergen.

Dodge also has extended representation this weekend, as Lone Star Racing returns for its first race since Laguna Seca in May with a Viper GT3-R for Dan Knox and Mike Skeen.

2015 PC race winner Junqueira returns with a new team (Credit: IMSA)

 

Race Schedule

This weekend the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Challenge bill is shared with the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup USA and Lamborghini Super Trofeo.

Friday, August 5 – Free Practice – 12:10-13:10

Friday, August 5 – Free Practice – 16:25-17:25

Saturday, August 6 – Free Practice – 09:25-10:25

Saturday, August 6 – Qualifying (split by class) – 14:50-16:20

Sunday, August 7 – Warm Up – 09:40-10:00

Sunday, August 7 – Race – 15:05-17:45

 

All times local.