IMSA: PREVIEW - Acura Sports Car Challenge
After starting the year with its two longest races, the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, and then visiting one of its shortest races, the BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship sees its first “normal” sprint race of the year this weekend in the Acura Sports Car Challenge from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
At 2 hours and 40 minutes in length, it is one of six races at that exact length in the final nine events. This weekend also sees all three classes in action, with GT Daytona (GTD) joining GT Le Mans (GTLM) and Prototype - GTD was not a part of the Long Beach weekend.
As the series shifts its focus toward the run for the championship, all three classes are engaged in close battles at the top of the standings, as series stalwarts, newcomers, and even an underdog or two find themselves near the front of the championship picture in all three classes.
Major talking points in all three classes are below.
- Action Express holds down a 1-2 in the standings, with the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R of Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa - winners at Daytona and Long Beach - leading the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr by five points. Both entries are former champions, so it comes as no surprise that they lead the way after three races, and Barbosa was also victorious the last time the series raced at Mid-Ohio - under the old Grandam Rolex Sports Car Series banner. The No. 5 entry is likely slightly more of a favorite than the No. 31, having won two of the first three races, but the whole Action Express group heads into the weekend as the team to beat.
- Acura Team Penske will have something akin to a “home race” at Mid-Ohio, given that Acura is the title sponsor of the event. The Nos. 6 and 7 ARX-05s have been fast, but needling reliability issues bit them at Daytona and Sebring, and strategy didn’t work out in their favor at Long Beach. But, Juan Montoya did give them their first pole at Long Beach, so there is speed aplenty in both cars. Montoya and Dane Cameron (No. 6) and Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor (No. 7) should be forces throughout the weekend.
- It’s hard to believe that Wayne Taylor Racing hasn’t won a race in nearly a full calendar year - their last win came at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix last June - but that’s the exact reality the team has faced. Rest assured, it isn’t for a lack of pace, as Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande have been fast all year, with Van Der Zande getting the pole at Daytona on his debut with the team. But, the little bit of luck that’s needed to get to Victory Lane hasn’t gone their way in the last eight events, dating back to last year. This team will be very hungry to end that drought this weekend.
- Tequila Patron ESM is the other Prototype team to have a win under their belts in 2018, with Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek winning Sebring, with Nico Lapierre also sharing driving duties with them. Derani and van Overbeek have not had much luck in the other two races, though, with finishes of 18th at Daytona and 12th at Long Beach in their No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi. Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel have also had a tough start in the No. 2 Nissan, with finishes of 19th and 16th at Daytona and Sebring, though they rebounded nicely with a second at Long Beach. They’ll look to continue that upward trend this weekend.
- Mazda Team Joest continues to improve the RT-24P, and Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez finished fourth, just off the podium, at Long Beach in the No. 77 entry. In the No. 55, Spencer Pigot joins Jonathan Bomarito, as regular driver Harry Tincknell is at Spa-Francochamps this weekend for the 6 Hours of Spa, which kicks off the FIA World Endurance Championship “super season.” Mazda Team Joest gets better with every race, and they could certainly end up on the podium at Mid-Ohio.
- Don’t sleep on CORE Autosport’s No. 54 Oreca 07 Gibson. They still sit third in the championship with Jon Bennett and Colin Braun. The Prototype class is very deep, but this group is more than capable of a surprise or two.
- JDC-Miller Motorsports and Performance Tech Motosports round out the Prototype grid with their Oreca 07 Gibsons (Nos. 85 and 99 for JDC-Miller, and No. 38 for Performance Tech), and both are looking for their first podiums of 2018.
- The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac is absent once more this weekend as the team continues to recover from a devastating crash at Sebring, in which Tristan Vautier clouted the Turn 17 wall.
GT Le Mans
- On the strength of their Daytona triumph, and finishes of fourth and second at Sebring and Long Beach, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lead the GTLM championship for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing heading into Mid-Ohio. The Ford/Ganassi combo has not yet won an IMSA title since forming in 2016, but 2018 may well be their year. Briscoe and Westbrook will lead the GTLM field in their No. 67 Ford GT, while teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller sit third in the championship in the No. 66.
- Corvette Racing won at Long Beach, with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the No. 4 C7.R, and that duo sits seven points back of Briscoe and Westbrook. For as much development the GTLM class has seen in recent years, the old faithful that is the Corvette has a habit of hanging tough, and Mid-Ohio shouldn’t be any different. Gavin and Milner, along with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the sister No. 3, should be threats all weekend.
- Porsche GT Team has emerged as a strong contender this year, with Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet winning Sebring with Frederic Makowiecki in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. Long Beach was tougher on them - Tandy and Pilet finished sixth while teammates Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor finished seventh in the No. 912. Both will look to bounce back this weekend.
- BMW Team RLL will look for more improvements out of their BMW M8 GTEs, with Jesse Krohn and John Edwards in the No. 24 and Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi in the No. 25. De Phillippi and Sims finished second at Sebring, the team’s best result of the year, and they’ll be looking for more of the same from both entries this weekend.
- Paul Miller Racing leads the way in GTD, with Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow atop the standings in their No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 on the heels of a Sebring victory, with Corey Lewis also helping them to the victory. The Paul Miller squad has perhaps been the strongest entry of the GTD field, and the Lamborghini Huracan may also be the best car of the GTD entries. All indications are that this team should be strong again at Mid-Ohio.
- Seven points behind Paul Miller Racing sits Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, with Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen second in the standings in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3. With finishes of fourth and third to start 2018, this squad finds itself in prime position to make a title run, if the car holds up. The Mercedes GT3 platform has been somewhat unloved in the past, but the Riley group is proving it can be a contender.
- Meyer Shank Racing has their No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 third in the standings, with Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente. However, this entry is not yet slated for the full season - it was even a somewhat late add to the Mid-Ohio entry list. Given that this event is a home race for the Meyer Shank squad, it makes sense that the No. 86 joins the No. 93 entry, which is shared by Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach and ranks seventh in the standings. They contended for a win at Sebring - particularly impressive for the No. 93 team after a hard crash in practice forced them to thrash to simply make the grid - and can certainly contend again this weekend.
- Wright Motorsports stumbled out of the gates at Daytona, with their No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R crashing before the race even started. The team rebounded to finish sixth at Sebring, and Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen will hope to further that upward trend at Mid-Ohio. The team also rolls out a second entry, the No. 16 Porsche with Michael Schein and Wolf Henzler, which will make appearances at the remaining sprint races.
- 3GT Racing and Scuderia Corsa are among the heavy hitters looking to make noise after quiet starts to 2018. 3Gt’s No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 has the team’s best finish so far, fifth at Sebring, while Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 finished tenth at Daytona, but rebounded to finish second at Sebring.
- Also of note: Bill Auberlen is back in the driver’s seat this weekend, partnering with Dillon Machavern in the No. 93 BMW M6 GT3 for Turner Motorsport.
A full entry list can be seen here. Qualifying is set for Saturday at 11:55 a.m. ET, with the race rolling off on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET.