There Was More than Just an Exciting Finish to the Mid-Ohio Weekend
By David Phillips
LEXINGTON, Ohio – It took a while (55 days since Round 2), but Round 3 of the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship – aka the Acura Sports Car Challenge Presented by the TLX Type S at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – was worth the wait. And not for just what turned out to be a nail-biter (ask Wayne Taylor) of a Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race Sunday afternoon.
Let’s look at some key takeaways from the weekend.
Michelin Pilot Challenge Provides Plenty of Fireworks
Saturday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge event was as good a race as you’ll see – in person or on NBC Sports Gold TrackPass. After a timely full-course yellow just past the midpoint of the event, the race for Grand Sport (GS) honors evolved into a four-way battle between Chevrolet, McLaren, Porsche and Aston Martin.
First, Kuno Wittmer in the No. 13 AWA McLaren 570S GT4 forged his way past Matt Plumb’s leading No. 46 Team TGM Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R for the lead. Then, as Plumb slipped down the order, Jan Heylen in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport took up the chase for the lead, having spent more than a dozen laps fending off Trent Hindman before the American’s overtaking bid went awry and sent the No. 7 VOLT Racing with Archangel Aston Martin Vantage GT4 into retirement.
Freed from Hindman’s attention, Heylen uncorked a series of fastest laps to home in on Wittmer. Were the race a lap or two longer, Heylen might well have come out on top.
Not to be outdone, the Touring Car (TCR) class saw the top six run nose to tail through the middle stages of the race; and this was not “just” follow-the-leader stuff as there were lots of position changes throughout the order before a pair of Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundais emerged on top.
But that’s just the tip of the TCR diversity iceberg, as the winning pair of Parker Chase and Ryan Norman were at the wheel of the No. 98 BHA Hyundai Elantra N TCR while the second-place duo of Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis were in the No. 77 BHA Hyundai Veloster N TCR. Third through sixth? That would be the No. 94 Atlanta Speedwerks Honda Civic FK7, the No. 27 Copeland Motorsports Hyundai Veloster N, the No. 33 BHA Hyundai Elantra N and the No. 61 Road Shagger Racing Audi RS3 LMS SEQ. Capping the cornucopia of marques and models, the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR came home P7.
Value of LMP3 Class Coming to Fruition
It’s apparent that the addition of the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class to the 2021 WeatherTech Championship has been a win-win-win move. The six-car entry at Mid-Ohio was professional from top to bottom and surely enhanced the “product” with the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 battling the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports, No. 91 Riley Motorsports and No. 54 CORE autosport Ligiers throughout, with all four finishing on the same lap.
Although in the run-up to the 2021 season, some expressed understandable concerns about the LMP3 cars becoming mobile chicanes, given their speed relative to the DPi cars, that has not been the case to date. And while the LMP3 class offers good, competitive, professional racing in its own right, it also offers an “entry-level” option to emerging drivers like Rasmus Lindh and Dylan Murry where they can learn from experienced drivers like Oliver Askew, Colin Braun and Joao Barbosa. What’s more, in addition to being a relatively cost-effective means for new and/or smaller teams to compete in the “big” series, LMP3 affords them extra bang for their bucks by enabling them to compete in the IMSA Prototype Challenge series on the same weekend should they choose.
Wayne Taylor Racing Rises above DPi Competitors … for Now
It’s just three races into the season but Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-5 looks like the car to beat in DPi. Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque (with help from Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi) won the Rolex 24 At Daytona and finished a close fourth in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. On Sunday, they earned WTR’s first win at Mid-Ohio.
On the other hand, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi V.R finally got the monkey off its back with a strong run to second place, while the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports DPi showed abundant speed both in qualifying and the early stages of the race.
And what of the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac? It’s the DPi that woulda/shoulda/coulda won at Daytona and Sebring. Despite starting off on the wrong foot Sunday when Kevin Magnussen was slapped with a penalty for changing lanes before the start line, the No. 01 showed ample speed en route to a fifth-place finish.
Let’s see what changes – and it likely will – when the DPi cars take on the ultimate sprint race in the 100-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at the Detroit Grand Prix on the rough Belle Isle circuit.