By Mark Robinson
Improved lighting and improved conditions late in the session helped BMW Team RLL take the top two positions in opening practice for the MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s first race on the ROVAL layout at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jesse Krohn laid down the fastest lap with two minutes remaining in the hour-long practice Friday night on the 2.32-mile, 10-turn road course that uses nearly all the 1.5-mile high-banked oval along with a twisting, tight infield section. Driving the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE, Krohn was clocked at one minute, 15.482 seconds (110.648 mph), edging the lap turned in seconds earlier by teammate Bruno Spengler in the No. 25 BMW. The gap between the cars was 0.069 seconds.
A light rain fell throughout much of the session but let up near the end. It allowed Krohn and Spengler to notch their best laps in improving conditions. Krohn was also able to run his session-leading lap without putting on a new set of Michelin tires.
"It was drizzling most of the session, so the track kept getting quicker for me, and also I built some confidence," Krohn said. "The consequences are so high here if you make a mistake, so I was slowly building up to it. Towards the end, the rain dialed down so then I was able to get a good lap in.
"Overall, a very positive session and it’s good to see that we’re P1 even without putting new tires (on) at the end."
Krohn also credited IMSA for making changes to lighting around the circuit following a test at the track in Concord, North Carolina, last month. Then, the infield portion had no lighting and the contrast with the full lighting around the oval concerned drivers. IMSA worked with Charlotte Motor Speedway officials to get lights added to the infield portion this weekend and tone down some of the oval lights to achieve a better overall balance.
"That really made a difference," Krohn said. "I think it made the session safer and more comfortable for everyone."
This weekend’s WeatherTech Championship race is only for the GT classes, and the competition remains fierce. Led by Krohn, the six cars in GT Le Mans (GTLM) were separated by just 0.359 seconds in Friday’s practice.
The No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 leads the season standings in GT Daytona (GTD), and Mario Farnbacher put the car atop the GTD time chart in Friday practice with a lap of 1:17.682 (107.514 mph). It was, however, just 0.046 seconds quicker than the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 with Jack Hawksworth at the wheel.
Farnbacher and teammate Matt McMurry lead Hawksworth’s co-driver, Aaron Telitz, by three points in the GTD standings. Hawksworth is five points out of first place.
The remaining WeatherTech Championship action at Charlotte takes place on Saturday. A final practice runs from 9:45-11 a.m. ET, with qualifying at 2 p.m. (live stream on IMSA.com) and the 100-minute race airing live at 8 p.m. on NBCSN.