Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio: Five Takeaways
Monday, May 7, 2018
Sunday’s two-hour and 40-minute Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio saw two manufacturers score breakthrough victories in their respective IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes, while providing one last tune-up for GT Le Mans (GTLM) teams heading into next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
 
Here are the five takeaways from the first IMSA weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course since 2013.
 
1. Acura, Lexus Score Big First Wins
The Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio will go down in history as the first WeatherTech Championship victories for both Acura’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) program in the Prototype class and for the Lexus RC F GT3 in GT Daytona (GTD).
 
On the Prototype side, Acura was dominant throughout the weekend, sweeping the top two spots in every on-track session and leading every lap of the two-hour, 40-minute race en route to a 1-2 sweep for Acura Team Penske’s pair of ARX-05 DPi cars. However, the team was challenged by the pair of Mazda Team Joest entries, particularly through the first half of the race.
 
“It’s competition,” said Helio Castroneves, who won the race alongside co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No.7 Acura DPi. “We showed that before in other races. We can qualify well, show a lot of speed, and sometimes those guys – not sure if they’re hiding or not – show up.
 
“We’re showing everything we’ve got. Today, we finally prevailed. We were pushing not only in qualifying, but also in the race. Great job, not only the (No.) 7 car, but also the (No.) 6, because we work as a team. This win is well deserved, not only from the 7, but also for the 6.”
 
In GTD, meanwhile, the pair of Lexus RC F GT3s fielded by 3GT Racing flexed their muscles in qualifying also, sweeping the first two spots on the class grid led by Motul Pole Award winner Jack Hawksworth in the team’s No. 15 entry.
 
Not unlike Acura Team Penske’s experience, one 3GT Racing Lexus or the other would lead every lap in the GTD class. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, as Alvaro Parente very nearly gave Acura a GTD victory to go with its breakthrough Prototype win. In the end Dominik Baumann, who co-drove to the victory alongside Kyle Marcelli in the No. 14 Lexus, held on to beat Parente in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 by a scant 0.191 seconds.
 
“I felt the pressure coming 15 minutes from the end,” Baumann said. “We struggled a little bit with the used tires after half of the stint. We had to push even more in the beginning of the stint to pull a gap. I was maybe a little bit lucky with traffic.
 
“It depends how you get the Prototypes if it’s between Turns 2 and 4 or in the infield. I think one more lap and he would have passed me, for sure. I was happy when I saw the white flag I had one more lap. He closed the gap so quick and I just tried to defend with everything I’ve got.’
 
2. Parity Reigns in GTLM
In the final tune-up before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio showcased the parity that fans have come to love and expect from the GTLM class. The final race results showed one car from each of the class’ four participating manufacturers in the top four positions, led by race winners Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR from the Porsche GT Team.
 
The victory for the No. 912 teammates made Porsche the first GTLM manufacturer to score two victories this season, as the No. 911 squad of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki won March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
 
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing opened the year with a victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona by No. 67 Ford GT co-drivers Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, while the No. 4 Corvette Racing team of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won last month’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.
 
And not to be outdone, the BMW M8 GTE race car that made its competition debut in the Rolex 24, picked up the GTLM pole position at Mid-Ohio, which John Edwards achieved Saturday in the No. 24 BMW. It was a fitting location, too, as BMW Team RLL’s headquarters were a short drive down the road from Mid-Ohio in Hilliard, Ohio.
 
The GTLM class will sit out the next WeatherTech Championship round, the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park on June 2, as many of those competitors instead will be participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16-17.
 
3. Championship Pictures Take Shape
With a fourth-place showing in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio, No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R co-drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa managed to retain their lead in the WeatherTech Championship Prototype standings. They now lead their Action Express Racing teammates in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R, Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr, by 10 points, 119-109.
 
However, the Prototype championship battle is still anybody’s race with more than half the season still to go. Defending Prototype champion Jordan Taylor and co-driver Renger van der Zande are third in points in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, just five behind the No. 31 team. And a gaggle of teams, led by Mid-Ohio winners Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, are within 24 points of the lead.
 
Not unlike Albuquerque and Barbosa, GTLM points leaders Westbrook and Briscoe have led the points since their victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but it’s an even closer battle for them. On the strength of their Mid-Ohio win, Bamber and Vanthoor are now just seven points behind the leading No. 67 Ford GT duo, 121-114. And 13 points separate the top seven GTLM teams.
 
Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow continue to lead the GTD standings, as they have since winning at Sebring in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3. But with their runner-up result at Mid-Ohio, No. 86 Acura teammates Katherine Legge and Parente are now just seven points out of the lead, 95-87.
 
That creates an interesting scenario for Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank as the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit looms in just a few weeks.
 
“The ironic part of this is that car is scheduled for just the long races this year,” said Shank in a pre-race interview last week. “It’s budgeted for just the long races, but we were able to piece together this weekend through lots of different folks being generous, essentially, and got it done.
 
“If, for some reason, the car comes out of Mid-Ohio in the points lead or second or something like that, then we’ve got a real problem on our hands, and I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to address that.”
 
4. Mazda Returns to Podium
One of the major storylines coming into the 2018 season was how Acura Team Penske and Mazda Team Joest would perform in the first WeatherTech Championship year for each of the storied programs. 
 
At Mid-Ohio, the teams went head-to-head with each other, and realistically, any one of them could have gone on to win the race under different circumstances. As it was, the No. 77 Mazda DPi co-driven by Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez came home in third place for the team’s first podium in the series, and Mazda’s first WeatherTech Championship podium since a third-place run at Watkins Glen last summer.
 
“It was an incredible race,” Jarvis said. “I enjoyed myself so much – Mazda Team Joest gave us a fantastic car to go racing. I really enjoyed the fight that we had today with four cars battling for the lead of the race. 
 
“In a way I’m disappointed with some of the lapped traffic wanting to have such a big impact on the race. But the progress we’ve made so far this season is incredible and a big thanks to the team. Now we are going to get back out there in Detroit and try to get that elusive win.”
 
5. Marcelli Doubles Up at Mid-Ohio
In addition to scoring the big GTD victory for 3GT Racing and Lexus, it was a banner weekend all around for Kyle Marcelli at Mid-Ohio, as the Canadian took his second consecutive IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge victory alongside No. 60 Roush Performance/KoHR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 co-driver Nate Stacy in Saturday afternoon’s two-hour race.
 
“It’s an absolute dream come true weekend,” Marcelli said. “I said to my wife (Amy) a couple of days ago, ‘How cool would it be to win both series in the same weekend?’ And, after we got the win yesterday which I had to work real hard for, got in the car sixth and it was a never give up attitude yesterday and pushed every lap. I took the lead with two laps to go and there was some drama at the end where we had a mechanical issue, but it was enough to still win the Continental race. 
 
“Then, today the roles were reversed. I had the easier job of starting the race, but my goal was just to build a gap and keep the car clean and then my teammate Dominik (Baumann), he had a lot more pressure at the end to deliver the result. He held up his end of the bargain and brought Lexus and 3GT the win. Just a great weekend all around.”

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