Turning Point Tuesday: New Look, New Luck? Starworks Motorsport Takes Tiebreaker PC Championship After Changing Livery Mid-Season
Tuesday, November 1, 2016

For Starworks Motorsport, the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech Championship season in Prototype Challenge featured a contrast as stark as black and white. The No. 8 ORECA FLM09, with co-drivers Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow, changed liveries midway through the year and somehow, their luck changed with it.

The Rolex 24 At Daytona marked a rocky start to the team's year when what began as a mechanical issue lead to a collision under caution. Chris Cumming, who joined van der Zande and Popow for the endurance race, stalled in the middle of a turn to bring out the yellow. Unfortunately, the DeltaWing made heavy contact with the No. 8, leading to van der Zande and Popow having to complete the remaining 19 hours of the race alone after Cumming wasn't cleared to drive. The duo managed to pull off an incredible fourth-place finish.

However, the next race at the Twelve Hours of Sebring was not without its challenges as well. Repairs to the car forced the team several laps down, but patience and persistence allowed the No. 8 to climb its way up the leaderboard and onto the podium in third place.

A pair of close runner-up finishes followed for Starworks, and while the podiums were racking up, the team longed for a win, especially one that didn’t see the drivers battling back to overcome early-race issues.

Starworks knew it had the drivers and the equipment to compete, but perhaps there was something else that could turn their luck around.

During the first four races, the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport car donned a red and black livery but changed to a white and red color scheme during the month-long break between the Laguna Seca and Belle Isle races.

“Symbolic of a reset for us was removing a “one-off” livery we had been carrying over since Daytona, and give us a fresh, winning look for Detroit,” said team owner Peter Baron. “A good weekend starts when the guys feel strong about what they unload from the trailer and perhaps fresh livery was what we needed.”

Fresh and winning it was. Towards the end of a strong performance at Belle Isle, Renger van der Zande was charging behind leader Colin Braun in the No. 54 machine. With only a few minutes remaining, Braun suddenly spun out and continued on, but not before van der Zande passed him to steal the win.

“The Detroit win was the boost we needed to get back on the winning path,” Baron explained. “This put that extra bit of pride and effort into program by the team and a reminder that we just need to be flawless on the weekends.”

The victory at Detroit kicked off a hot streak for the No. 8 team, going on to win at Watkins Glen and two races later at Lime Rock.

Despite the success for Starworks, Robert Alon and Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen machine were also recording strong performances throughout the year, including one win and three second-place finishes. They remained within striking distance of Starworks’ points lead, but had seen the lead grow to 17 points after van der Zande and Popow won the last three of four races.

The race at Road America, though, brought drama to the Prototype Challenge class when Renger van der Zande was caught up in an incident with close to ten minutes remaining. The No. 8 saw its points lead cut by over half as Alon and Kimber-Smith took the win. The points battled closed to just seven.

Another win for van der Zande and Popow at Circuit of The Americas gave the team some breathing room but Petit Le Mans wiped that away yet again. Brake issues plagued the No. 8 throughout the race and the team finished sixth while the No. 52 dominated and scored the victory, resulting in a tie atop the PC points standings.

Number of wins proved to be the deciding factor and Starworks with four victories, over PR1/Mathiasen’s three, gave the championship to Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow.

“A championship is a championship,” said a relieved Popow after Road Atlanta. “It’s amazing for what we’ve done all year. We’ve fought a lot up until now.”

That they had, but the team overcame issues from early in the season and perhaps changing the livery really did impact the team’s mentality.

“The (new) livery received mixed reviews, but it was a massive success for us!” reflected Baron. “Sometimes you just need a slump-buster!”