Healed and Ready, Milner Wants to Repeat Road America Success
The sheer thought of Road America brings a smile to Tommy Milner’s face. The fact that he gets to race at the track this weekend after missing the last two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events in 2019 forces the smile even wider.
Milner sat out the GT Le Mans (GTLM) races at Canadian Motorsport Tire Park and Lime Rock Park after injuring his left hand in a first-lap incident at Watkins Glen International in late June. He was scheduled to log his first seat time in the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R since the incident in Friday’s second practice at the IMSA Road Race Showcase.
"Excited to be back in the car, first of all," said Milner, who used Friday’s first practice to test his bandaged hand on driver changes. "It’s one of those things that you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone a little bit. Not that you take for granted the opportunities you have here, but being away for two races makes you want to get in that much more.
"I came to both races that I missed just to stay integrated with what was happening, so I know what the troubles have been the past couple races and know what the team is working towards. I feel like I’m not getting caught up to speed at all; I’m just jumping back into the same groove and routine again."
Milner would like nothing better than to lead a return to form this weekend for the No. 4, which has one podium finish in 2019 (Long Beach in April). It would make Road America even more special for Milner, following the miraculous run in 2016 when he raged from fifth place in the closing minutes to win.
"That one will never happen again," Milner admitted. "That’s one of those rare moments in your life where everything goes your way. I just watched the race back again the other day. I think there were six and a half minutes to go in the race when the green flag fell (for the final restart) and I went from fifth to first. It was crazy.
"There hasn’t been another race with the level of exuberance I felt at the end.
Milner and teammate Oliver Gavin finished second in class last year at Road America, with the sister No. 3 Corvette CR.7 taking third. The recent strong Road America finishes elicit good feelings heading into this year’s race.
"I’ve always had good memories of tracks that I’ve had success at, and I’ve always had good memories here," Milner said. "It’s just a great racetrack for sports car racing, for IMSA. It just lends itself to really good racing."
CORE autosport Looks to Add Nissan to DPi Winners’ List
CORE autosport returns this weekend to the site of its last WeatherTech Championship victory with hopes of repeating as the overall winner. If it happens, it would come in a different machine this time.
Jon Bennett and Colin Braun are driving the No. 54 Nissan Daytona Prototype International entry (DPi) this year, after the duo employed a successful fuel strategy in 2018 to collect the overall win in an ORECA LMP2. The drivers believe the ingredients are there for Nissan to complete the list of DPi manufacturers in Victory Lane on Sunday, following Acura, Cadillac and Mazda to this juncture of the 2019 campaign.
"The Nissan should do well at Road America," Bennett said. "Our Nissan is slightly disadvantaged at tight, twisty street courses. Road America is the complete opposite and I like our chances for success."
Braun carries extra motivation at the Wisconsin circuit. His family hails from Milwaukee and his father, Jeff, is a graduate of the Milwaukee School of Engineering. They’d like nothing better than a repeat performance.
"Last year was a really interesting race," Colin Braun said. "I felt like we had good speed in the race, and then towards the three-quarter mark we realized it was going to be a fuel-mileage race. I think we were one of the first cars to switch into that mode and it ended up winning us the race.
"Who knows what this year will bring as far as a race based on pure pace or fuel strategy. Either way, we’re in a good position to have a strong race."
Figueiredo Slides Back into No. 57 Acura while Learning New Track
Bia Figueiredo returns behind the wheel of the No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura in the GT Daytona (GTD) class after sitting out the race two weeks ago at Lime Rock Park. Not only did she need to shake off any rust in Friday’s first practice, she needed to learn at a demanding high-speed circuit on which she hasn’t raced before.
"The challenge this weekend is I don’t know the track," Figueiredo admitted. "You have not too much time and you share the car with another driver. You need to be on it."
Figueiredo, paired with Katherine Legge this weekend, prepared for the weekend with time in the racing simulator and by watching replays of past races. She found room for optimism despite the No. 57 bringing up the rear on the opening practice time sheet.
"It was good," Figueiredo said of her session. "I did the Silver session so the track was pretty clear for us, which is good because we have so many high-speed corners here. Really focused on getting better and better."
Dungey Mulling Move from Two Wheels to Four
Ryan Dungey, the seven-time AMA supercross and motocross champion, was an interested spectator Friday in the IMSA paddock. The 29-year-old Minnesotan was a guest of Park Place Motorsports driver Patrick Long, who gave Dungey a hot lap ride around the 4.048-mile circuit in a Porsche Panamera.
"Patrick gave us a nice view of the track and showed us the hot line," Dungey said. "It was good, he got into it pretty good with the Panamera. It was fun. I’ve never been here to Road America, so to kind of get out there on the track and see it firsthand was kind of nice. It is a great track, beautiful facility."
Dungey, who retired from two-wheel competition in 2017, admitted to interest in becoming an IMSA racer. He recently had a track day experience at VIRginia International Raceway and used Friday at Road America as an exploratory experience.
"It has opened my mind up to the excitement of it and the challenge, maybe seeking it out and see what’s there and having some fun," he said. "Of course, it’s a big learning curve, kind of understanding the classes and the structure and everything."
"What these guys do, you can really appreciate it. It’s definitely a nice progression from motorcycle racing. Ultimately, yeah, I’d love to get in the car."
For an "apples-to-apples" comparison, Dungey also reached out to Chad Reed, the multiple motocross champ in Australia and America who made his Lamborghini Blancpan Super Trofeo debut in June at Watkins Glen International. Reed is back in the series again this weekend at Road America.
"We ran into Chad a few times and he kind of debriefed us from his experience at Watkins Glen," Dungey said. "It’s cool to hear it from motorcycle to motorcycle (rider) what his experience was. We can maybe relate a little bit better but Patrick’s also been really good about putting it into detail for us."
No. 6 Acura Team Penske Leads Both Friday Practices
No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi co-drivers Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya took turns setting the fast lap in each of the two WeatherTech Championship practice sessions Friday at Road America.
Cameron was fastest in the opening session at 1 minute, 50.007 seconds on the 4.048-mile permanent road course. Montoya took top honors in the afternoon at 1:50.256, as the championship-leading duo in the Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class made an early weekend statement.
Colin Braun turned a morning session lap of 1:50.030 in the No. 54 CORE autosport Nissan to hold second for the day, ahead of Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske at 1:50.107.
The No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 was fastest in LMP2, with a lap of 1:52.792 turned by Matt McMurry. In GT Le Mans (GTLM), Nick Tandy logged a lap of 2:02.147 in the No. 911 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR to lead the eight-car field in the class. Jack Hawksworth put the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 atop the GT Daytona (GTD) time sheet at 2:05.162.
The WeatherTech Championship holds a third practice starting at 9:55 a.m. ET Saturday. Qualifying streams live beginning at 1:25 p.m. Saturday. Live coverage of Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute race is available on IMSA.tv (2:25 p.m.) and NBCSports.com (2:30 p.m.). A same-day telecast airs at 6 p.m. on NBCSN.