By John Oreovicz
There’s not much better in life than a comfortable autumn weekend packed with sports car racing at a picturesque natural terrain road course.
IMSA, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Mother Nature combined to provide that experience for an enthusiastic (and appropriately socially distanced) crowd at the Acura Sports Car Challenge. The sunny skies and early fall foliage only enhanced the stout on-track show that took place at one of America’s most traditional road racing venues.
Here are three takeaways from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship weekend at Mid-Ohio:
Helio Has Plenty of Fuel Left in the Tank
Helio Castroneves couldn’t remember the last time he won three races in a row. "I believe it might have been 2000 or 2001, including the Indianapolis 500," he responded when asked.
Castroneves didn’t actually win three in a row in 2001, but he did win three Indy car races in a six-race span, sandwiching the first of his three Indy 500 triumphs with victories in CART-sanctioned events at Long Beach and Detroit over a 12-week span.
Castroneves’ overall and Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class win Sunday in the Acura Sports Car Challenge officially ticked the hat-trick box. He and Acura Team Penske teammate Ricky Taylor added to consecutive victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in the No. 7 Acura ARX-05. But the career achievement is bittersweet, because it was recently announced that the Team Penske/Acura partnership will disband at the end of the 2020 season, leaving the team’s four drivers including Castroneves looking for work.
That would normally be a difficult task for a 45-year-old racer. But Helio Castroneves is no ordinary driver. He’s as spry, fit and passionate as he was when he was a 22-year-old who could barely speak English at the start of his American career.
Famous in the mainstream for his dance floor moves, Helio will no doubt land on his feet. He’s a mature and experienced professional with the speed and desire of a much younger driver.
"No question, every time we are winning races in the spotlight, it helps the conversation get creative," he said. "Like I said at Road America, I’m open for business!"
Corvette Racing Is on a Roll
Rumors of a mid-engine Corvette raged almost as long as the advantages of a front- versus rear-engine layout have been debated among sports car enthusiasts.
Chevrolet finally turned the rumors into reality in 2020, and the new C8 generation of the legendary American sports car has been punching above its weight in comparison tests against much more expensive rivals.
The Corvette C8.R that competes in IMSA’s GT Le Mans (GTLM) class has been making headlines, too. Jordan Taylor put together a magnificent qualifying lap at Mid-Ohio, and he and teammate Antonio Garcia were the class of the GTLM field in the race. It was the fourth win of the 2020 season for Taylor and Garcia, and the fifth in seven races for Corvette Racing.
Garcia, who has been a member of the Corvette team since 2014, raved about the drivability of the Corvette C8.R compared to its front-engine predecessor.
"The C8.R worked perfectly again today," he reported. "Everything we did to the car seemed to work in the right direction. The new car is definitely better – not only on a quick lap, but consistently through the stint. It has consistency, and (is) easier to drive, for sure. This is definitely a step forward."
Going to a Race is Still Fun
This has been a difficult year for everyone. The Acura Sports Car Challenge was delayed by nearly five months, and the size of the Mid-Ohio crowd was limited by state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions.
Because spectators are often naturally spread out, over a large amount of ground, road racing has been able to adapt to the times without as much disruption to the fan experience. Sure, it’s occasionally uncomfortable to wear a mask. But it’s a small price to pay to be able to stand on a hillside watching high-performance cars being driven in anger – even if your friends are standing 10 feet away.
Prior to the Mid-Ohio weekend, I hadn’t been to a racetrack since attending the Rolex 24 At Daytona International Speedway in January. Other than a smaller crowd than is customary and fewer food and merchandise vendors at Mid-Ohio, not much else was different.
It was great to be back.
In short, if you enjoy road racing, don’t be hesitant about attending an event at your favorite track if the situation permits it.