NTE Sport, Vasser Sullivan, Performance Tech Add to Rolex 24 Lineups
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The theory is simple, yet sound. Adding an IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge program at Wright Motorsports will only make the team’s existing IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship effort stronger.
That’s what will happen in 2021, with the team announcing that Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen will drive the No. 16 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport for the full Pilot Challenge season, with the same sponsors as in its WeatherTech Championship program – 1st Phorm, Mountain Motorsports and Una Vida Tequila – supporting the entry.
Hardwick and Patrick Long came within a whisper of winning the GT Daytona (GTD) title last season in the WeatherTech Championship, falling two points shy of first place. With Heylen as the endurance-race driver, they finished 2020 with a bang – winning the GTD class at the season finale, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Hardwick saw the benefits other GTD drivers derived from the extra track time they received by also racing in the Pilot Challenge, so he pitched the idea to team owner John Wright and they took it to Porsche Motorsport North America.
"We met with Porsche and came to the decision that it would be beneficial to everyone to have the manufacturer represented by a great customer racing team like Wright Motorsports," said Wright. "Jan will be able to continue his strong driving record in the series, and Ryan will be able to gain more experience to continue to improve his progression in GTD. We know they’ll be a strong pairing and we’ll take full advantage of the extra time on track."
Hardwick, 40, won the Bob Akin Award from IMSA for being the highest Bronze or Silver driver in the GTD standings last season. It could lead to a ride this year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But since this will be just his third WeatherTech Championship season – the first cut short by injury – he knows the experience gained in a Pilot Challenge season will make him that much better, that much quicker.
"I have yet to race in the Michelin Pilot Challenge, and I’m really looking forward to racing in a new series," Hardwick said. "… This opportunity will really be a blessing for me in gaining more track time. Jan and I can be competitive for podiums and wins, but I think this will also help us greatly in GTD as well."
Heylen, also 40, drove a BGB Motorsports Porsche in the Pilot Challenge last year, in addition to his WeatherTech Championship endurance-race stints with Wright Motorsports. He’s excited to keep both efforts within one team this season.
"It’s great to see Wright Motorsports making their debut in GT4, as well as Ryan making the step to gain more experience and gain track time on the GTD weekends," Heylen said. "There’s nothing like GT4 racing, with lots of action and close racing. It’s everything we love. With the continued support from Porsche Motorsport North America and Wright Motorsport, I know we’ll be at Daytona with a strong car."
The Pilot Challenge season opens with the BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, Jan. 29. The four-hour race will stream live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold beginning at 1:35 p.m. ET.
NTE Sport Names Lineup for GTD Debut at Rolex 24
NTE Sport has assembled a talented and varied group of drivers for its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Alan Metni, Andrew Davis, JR Hildebrand and Don Yount will drive the No. 42 Audi R8 LMS GT3 in GT Daytona (GTD) competition.
NTE entered the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge for the first time in 2020. Team owner Paul Mata is using that experience as a springboard to the Rolex 24 entry this year.
"It’s great to be able to build on our first year in the Michelin Pilot Challenge to be able to run in the GTD class this year at such an iconic event," said Mata. "The field looks incredibly stout, and this year’s race looks like it will be highly competitive."
Metni comes on board after winning the Gold Cup championship in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama last season, securing eight class and one overall race wins. Veteran racer Davis has also served as Metni’s driving coach.
"This will be my 19th start in the grueling twice-around-the-clock race and my fifth time behind the wheel of the Audi R8 GT3 LMS," Davis said. "I’m very happy to be continuing my strong relationship with Audi Sport customer racing, and I look forward to helping the team maximize performance both on and off the track.
"Adding to the excitement for me personally is the chance to share the experience with my long-time coaching client and friend, Alan Metni. It will be his first attempt at the race, so I’m eager to help him navigate through all the unique challenges associated with this particular race."
While known primarily as an IndyCar racer, Hildebrand is a throwback who’s also taken on challenges including the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and rallycross racing. The 2011 Indy 500 rookie of the year drove in three American Le Mans Series races in 2010, all in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class.
"I can’t wait to join the guys down in Daytona and am looking forward to my first Rolex 24," Hildebrand said. "It’s such a great way to kick off the year and I’m excited for the challenges it presents. Over the last few years, I’ve ventured outside of IndyCar more often and every time it reminds me why I love getting behind the wheel even more."
Yount has driven in the WeatherTech Championship since 2015, finishing second in the 2017 PC standings and most recently finishing third in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) at November’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
"Paul Mata at NTE Sport has done a great job getting this program together, and I think we have a strong lineup heading into the Roar and Rolex," Yount said. "The competition will be tough, but we’ve been working hard to make sure we execute well and have a chance to fight for that win."
Vasser Sullivan Adds Megennis for IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup Races
Vasser Sullivan Racing has dipped into the pool of young open-wheel racing talent again in selecting Robert Megennis as a co-driver for the No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3 in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule. Megennis will team with Frankie Montecalvo and Zach Veach in the four endurance races, with veteran Townsend Bell joining the group for the Rolex 24 At Daytona that opens the season Jan. 30-31.
Megennis, a 20-year-old from New York City, came up through the IndyCar stepladder ranks, finishing fifth in the 2019 Indy Lights championship. When that series’ schedule was canceled last year due to the global pandemic, he gained sports car experience in a pair of European Le Mans Series races and the Indy 8 Hour Intercontinental GT Challenge.
"I’m very excited to join the Vasser Sullivan Lexus program for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup," said Megennis, who joins Veach and No. 14 Lexus drivers Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz as former open-wheelers on the team. "After my first endurance racing experiences in 2020, I can’t wait to show what I can do in IMSA and in some of the biggest and most competitive endurance races in the world.
"There will be a lot to learn, but I’m confident I’ll have the right people around me to go and win some races. I’m grateful to all the Vasser Sullivan team for giving me this opportunity."
Performance Tech Completes Rolex 24 LMP2 Lineup
Performance Tech Motorsports announced the remainder of its Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) lineup to race alongside Mateo Llarena in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Joining the Guatemalan teenager behind the wheel of the No. 38 Ligier JS P320 will be Cameron Cassels, Rasmus Lindh and Ayrton Ori.
Cassels returns for his third season with the team. The Canadian finished second in the 2019 LMP2 standings with a win at Sebring. Lindh, the 19-year-old Swede, will make his WeatherTech Championship debut and is also slated to drive Performance Tech’s IMSA Prototype Challenge entry this season. Ori, a 16-year-old from Orlando, will make his closed-cockpit race debut in the Rolex 24 after gaining his first experience in the junior ranks of open-wheel racing.
"This isn’t the first time we’ve had this many new faces and regulations, and it won’t be the last," team principal Brent O’Neill said. "One of the things that really set my crew apart is their adaptability. I would even go so far as to say that they excel under these conditions.
"I know all of the drivers are quick and are good teammates, so there won’t be an issue there. What it really comes down to is getting to the track and treating each session like it is the race, so by the time the green flag flies we are the most prepared guys on track. That’s how you win an endurance race."