#96: Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, GTD: Robby Foley, Bill Auberlen, Aidan Read

What to Watch for: Northeast Grand Prix

WeatherTech Championship GT Classes and Michelin Pilot Challenge Get Their Chance to Shine at Lime Rock Park

By David Phillips

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A unique dimension to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is its “shape-shifting” events featuring mix ‘n’ match combinations of the Daytona Prototype international (DPi), GT Le Mans (GTLM), GT Daytona (GTD) and Le Mans Prototype 2 and 3 (LMP2 and LMP3) classes. All five classes are not on the card in all 12 events on the 2021 WeatherTech Championship calendar. Thus, every class has – if not a weekend in the sun – a chance to shine when one or more of the other classes enjoys an “off” weekend.

With the prototype competitors taking a well-deserved summer vacation from this weekend’s Northeast Grand Prix, the spotlight falls on the GTLM and GTD classes at historic Lime Rock Park. It’s both a chance for the GT classes to shine and an eminently practical decision, given that when IMSA last mixed the top-level prototypes and GT cars at Lime Rock Park, the prototypes were 10 seconds quicker per lap than the GT3 cars. With the prototypes turning sub-45-second laps on the 1.474-mile circuit, it made for a “busy” race day for all concerned.

That said, here’s what to keep an eye on for what will be an exciting weekend of racing in Connecticut.

Flip a Coin

Per usual, it’s anyone’s guess which marques and teams will figure most prominently in GTD this weekend. Oddsmakers have two barometers by which to pick a favorite: Take the short view and base your pick on the 2021 season to date; or take the long view and base your pick on past GTD results at Lime Rock Park.

Based on the short view, the GTD championship-leading No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 is the nominal favorite, having won two of the past four events. On the other hand, Vasser Sullivan Racing is coming off a convincing 1-2 finish with their Lexus RC F GT3s in the IMSA WeatherTech 240 at Watkins Glen, while The Heart of Racing Team’s Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 have been fixtures on the podium throughout the season and could be due for a win.

Then there’s Porsche, which figures in both the short view, having scored a 1-2 of its own at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts this year courtesy of the Pfaff Motorsports and Wright Motorsports 911 GT3Rs, and the long view given that Porsches have won two of the past three Northeast Grands Prix. On the other hand, Lamborghini won at Lime Rock in 2018 and, for good measure, Audi won in 2016.

All of which favors a third means of setting the odds for the 2021 Northeast Grand Prix: flip a coin.

The Short and Long of GTLM

By a similar token, if you rely on the long view for GTLM, you’ll roll snake eyes given Ford ruled the Lime Rock roost in 2018 and ’19 before exiting the series. In the short view, Corvette Racing’s twin C8.Rs are prohibitive favorites given that they’ve finished 1-2 in half of the four points-paying races this season.

But, given the fact that last year’s Northeast GP was canceled owing to the pandemic, the C8.R is new to the close confines of the closest thing sports car racing has to a bull ring. What’s more, Porsche enthusiasts will be buoyed by the knowledge that Porsche finished best of the rest behind the victorious Ford GT in 2019 and third in 2018 after a dominant 1-2 finish in 2017. So, it would seem the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 may have its best chance so far of repeating its upset win at this year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

Lest We Forget

The celebration of sports cars that is the Northeast Grand Prix includes Saturday’s Lime Rock Park 120, Round 6 of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Sticking with the short view/long view perspective, the Grand Sport (GS) class figures to feature the Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4s and the No. 13 AWA McLaren 570S GT4, winners of three of five events so far. In the case of the No. 95 Turner BMW, it is the current championship leader ahead of the ultra-consistent (but so far winless) No. 3 Motorsports In Action McLaren.

Speaking of consistency, the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport has finished second in three of the last four races not to mention – in the long view – that Porsche finished on the podium in two of the most recent Lime Rock races.

As for the Touring Car (TCR) class, Honda is on a roll, given the Nos. 94 and 84 Atlanta Speedwerks Civic FK7 TCRs scored back-to-back wins at Watkins Glen. In contrast, Audi’s RS3 LMS SEQs started off strong with wins at Daytona and Sebring by Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports and Road Shagger Racing and will be looking to return to the top step of the podium at Lime Rock.

That’s all well and good, but it will be impossible to ignore the flotilla of Hyundai Veloster and Elantra Ns from Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, Michael Johnson Racing, CB Motorsports, Copeland Motorsports and van der Steur Racing at Lime Rock. Hyundai has “just” a single win (at Mid-Ohio) this season – so far. But Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler enjoy a 130-point lead in TCR thanks to a consistent run of podium finishes. And, not to forget the long view, Hyundai won the most recent Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR race at Lime Rock in 2019. Where better to return to those winning ways than at the bucolic Connecticut circuit?