Don’t Expect a Repeat of Sunday’s Six-Hour Race, for Many Reasons
By David Phillips
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The IMSA WeatherTech 240 figures to be, at once, déjà vu all over again and yet something completely different.
Déjà vu? It was just a few days ago that the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship staged a real humdinger of a Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. Something completely different? Not only is the IMSA WeatherTech 240 a sprint race just under half the length of last weekend’s event, but the green flag is slated to wave at 6:10 p.m. ET, making for the first “evening” race in the history of Watkins Glen International’s fabled 3.4-mile road course.
We should probably make that the first “scheduled” evening race in the history of the venerable track, as at least one race in the six decades since Cameron Argetsinger and company constructed a permanent circuit on the hill overlooking Seneca Lake has almost certainly started in the evening owing to unforeseen circumstances.
While the easy way out would be to predict a repeat of Sunday’s potboiler, Friday’s race could well bear little resemblance to its immediate predecessor. For openers, Friday’s entry features some notable changes from the Sahlen’s Six Hours. Absent from the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) field is the No. 48 Ally Cadillac DPi-V.R. With the upcoming race not counting toward the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup, the GT Le Mans (GTLM) field will be a three-horse race between Sunday’s winning No. 3 Corvette C8.R, its No. 4 sister ‘Vette and the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 – the latter looking to rebound from a fraught Six Hours in which it smote The Glen’s signature baby blue Armco barrier before retiring in the wake of a pit lane fire.
Elsewhere, the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) ranks will also feature three entries, including the No. 11 WIN Autosport that captured its first WeatherTech Championship victory last week. The six-car Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) entry list includes the top three finishers from Sunday’s race, namely the Nos. 74 and 91 Riley Motorsports and No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier JS P320s.
On the other hand, but for a return to a pair of co-drivers up and down pit lane (in contrast to the threesomes employed by several teams last weekend), the GT Daytona (GTD) class is more or less status quo with a baker’s dozen of cars (and eight marques) prepared for a(nother) smack-down at The Glen.
Finally, consider the conditions. Rather than Sunday’s blazing sun and temperatures in the mid-90s, Friday’s race will be run in the gloaming of a rural New York midsummer’s eve, with temperatures slowly falling from the 70s in fading light to actual sunset right about the time of the checkered flag. And did someone mention rain? At last check, the forecast called for an even chance of rain and dry.
Also, there’s but one practice session slated for Thursday in the middle of the afternoon, with qualifying set to run from 5:40-7:10 p.m. With four of the five classes each getting their individual 15-minute session and GTD getting two (one for the Motul Pole Award and starting position, the second for qualifying points), teams will have a tantalizing taste of evening race conditions but no more. Thus, chassis and aerodynamic setups, along with tire choices and pressures, will be based as much on educated guesses as real-world experience. So, the cars that set the pace in that first hour of the race may labor to match it once the sun fades … and vice-versa.
So, while at first glance the IMSA WeatherTech 240 would appear to promise a half-sized version of the Sahlen’s Six Hours, looks can be deceiving. Different lineups, different conditions and different race distance all figure to make for a different outcome, not to mention a unique vibe, at Watkins Glen International on Friday evening.