FCP Euro Goes Big with Michelin Pilot Challenge Program, Lime Rock Partnership
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The past couple months have been historic for European auto parts online retailer FCP Euro.
The race team’s maiden outing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge saw Michael Hurczyn and Nate Vincent steer the No. 11 Mercedes-AMG GT4 to a 10th-place finish in the Grand Sport (GS) class at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 15. No sooner had the 2019 SRO America TCR champions celebrated their encouraging IMSA debut than FCP Euro joined Lime Rock Park in announcing an ambitious partnership that will see the Milford, Connecticut-based firm become the historic venue’s Official Auto Parts Supplier and support two new facilities on the track’s 400-acre campus.
Lime Rock hosts the next event on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Michelin Pilot Challenge schedules, on July 16-17.
The Mid-Ohio 120 in May marked the latest step in FCP Euro’s progression up the motorsports ladder, one that began in the 2016 American Endurance Racing series and moved to SRO America. Although success was not immediate, that move ultimately saw FCP Euro capture the team and manufacturer titles, even as Hurczyn edged Vincent for the drivers’ crown.
Subsequently, the team set sights on the Michelin Pilot Challenge this season. In keeping with its measured approach, FCP Euro skipped the first two events at Daytona and Sebring to focus on the meat of the schedule beginning at Mid-Ohio.
“Back in September/October when we committed to the cars and the season, COVID cases were on the rise,” recalls Hurczyn, the team’s brand director who, like every member of the team, has a “day job” at FCP Euro. “So, by starting the season at Mid-Ohio in May, that gave us seven or eight months of preparation. We weren’t kidding ourselves that we could come into the first season and win the championship, so this is really just a learning year for us; collect the data, give the team time to gel, understand the car.”
If Mid-Ohio was any indication, the team is on schedule when it comes to learning the Mercedes-AMG GT4.
“From our perspective it was a win,” says Nathan Brown, FCP Euro event director. “We met all the goals we had established, which were to make sure that we used every possible minute of track time. We went through both practices and qualifying with nothing but a few minor technical issues.
“Then, to complete the race, clean, with no penalties and to make sure we brought the car home in one piece and drive it on the trailer … that was really the goal. To achieve all that and to be as competitive as we were, everybody was pretty pumped with the weekend. Everybody’s still learning the car and the series, but we feel like we have a bright future ahead of us.”
One where the team expects to show steady improvement.
“We came into Mid-Ohio pretty conservative,” says Hurczyn, “just wanting to feel out where we’d fall as a new team in a new series with a new car. We had some hunches … (and) we kind of expected to fall in where we did. The nice thing is, because we were pretty conservative, we know what steps to take to be a little faster, a little sharper. That’s one of our strengths as a company and it’s going to be one of our strengths as a team: combing through the data, going through the feedback from all the team members and sharpening the ax for future rounds.”
The results weren’t quite as promising in back-to-back weekends at Watkins Glen International. Vincent and Hurczyn finished 11th in GS in the four-hour race at The Glen on June 27 and followed it with a 17th in the two-hour race on July 2.
“We’re getting our feet wet in the series,” Vincent says. “Just as when we came into (SRO America), we were able to keep up with the pack and get some respectable finishes, but we weren’t hunting for the wins. Then we went back to the drawing board, figured out what we wanted to do and then won the championship in 2019. We’re going to take that same approach in Michelin Pilot. We want to make sure we have the bricks laid in the foundation so we can really build something very strong on top of it.”
While they will continue managing expectations that eventually include running a second car, FCP Euro is surely sharpening that ax with an eye toward the Lime Rock Park 120 on July 17. If ever a team had a home race, this is it given that FCP Euro is headquartered little more than an hour south of the venerable circuit.
What’s more, FCP Euro’s new partnership with Lime Rock Park will see an expanded and repaved autocross and skid pad facility (called the FCP Euro Proving Grounds), with a new, 5,000-sqaure-foot FCP Euro hospitality event center overlooking the track’s Left-Hander and No-Name Straight set to open in 2022.
Noting that FCP Euro and Lime Rock are “two strong brands that have deep roots in the state of Connecticut,” Scott Drozd, CEO of FCP Euro, says the partnership will “help facilitate the growth over the next decade while enhancing and further developing the automotive communities surrounding both organizations.”
It’s a theme Brown expands upon when discussing FCP Euro’s overarching goals of not only achieving success on the track but becoming a positive force in the IMSA paddock at all venues.
“We’re going to show up at Lime Rock with bells on,” Brown says. “We’ll have the entire company there along with 500-plus guests and fans.
“At the end of the day, this is a marketing exercise in making people aware of who we are and what we do,” he continues. “And the team is really an extension of that. We’re a team that’s going to be a good participant and a good addition to the paddock in terms of our vibe and how we interact with our fellow competitors and the fans. FCP Euro is committed long term to motorsports and the program we’re building now.
“Yes, we won a championship before but we want to come into this humbly; but also, we are here to stay. We’re not just showing up to see how it works.”