Drivers Face Challenges Racing Different Cars from Le Mans
By Mark Robinson and John Oreovicz
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Cooper MacNeil and Antonio Garcia came into the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen prepared for very different situations from the last time they were in race cars.
Both drove two weeks ago at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with varying degrees of success. MacNeil was among the driving trio in the No. 79 WeatherTech Porsche 911 RSR-19 that finished second in the GTE Am class. Fresh off his third Le Mans podium finish, MacNeil is in a completely different car this weekend, the team’s No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3, for the six-hour IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Watkins Glen International.
Garcia and co-drivers Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg ran at the front of the GTE Pro class in their Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R until mechanical issues forced a rare early Le Mans retirement. This weekend, Garcia and Taylor are back in the GTD version of the No. 3 Corvette to race in the GTD PRO class.
“Obviously, we wanted to win the race but anytime you’re on the podium at Le Mans is quite special,” said MacNeil, who’s teamed with Mercedes factory drivers Maro Engel and Mikael Grenier this weekend in the seven-car GTD PRO field that features seven different manufacturers. Engel posted the fifth-fastest lap in the class during Friday’s opening practice at 1 minute, 46.872 seconds (115.085 mph).
“It’s some good momentum for the team (and) myself going into Watkins Glen,” MacNeil added, “but it’s a completely different mindset, different race, different race car. Nothing much translates over from Le Mans to Watkins Glen other than some positivity.”
Garcia is looking to regain some positivity after the disappointing Le Mans finish. The Corvette he’ll drive with Taylor at The Glen differs from the Le Mans entry in three primary areas: added weight, restricted power and customer Michelin tires as opposed to tires specifically designed for the C8.R at Le Mans.
The Corvette in action this weekend did not travel to Le Mans, so the crew has had nearly eight weeks since the last GTD PRO race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to prep it for races at The Glen this week and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park the following week.
“So, in that part we are set,” Garcia said. “Now we need to get back our mindset of IMSA racing, knowing the rules, pit-lane sequence and how everything works back in America.
“As we showed, we were very prepared to run Le Mans. Now it’s time to get back to our normal season. Corvette has always been pretty good prepared for that. We’re all looking forward to these two races and racing at two of my favorite racetracks back-to-back – The Glen and (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park). Let’s see if the Corvette is fast enough to be up front and if we can go for the win.”
There’s work to be done following Friday’s practice. Garcia brought up the rear of the GTD PRO field in practice with a 1:47.104 lap (114.281 mph), though all seven cars were within three-quarters of a second of each other.
A second practice takes place Saturday morning ahead of qualifying at 1:20 p.m. ET (livestream on IMSA.com/TVLive). Sunday’s race starts at 10:40 a.m. Flag-to-flag coverage airs on Peacock and IMSA Radio. Live television coverage begins at 2 p.m. on USA Network.
Keating is King
You can understand why Ben Keating might appear high on life this weekend at Watkins Glen International.
The 51-year-old businessman/racer recently returned from Le Mans as a GTE Am class winner – and this time got to keep the title and the trophy. He shared the winning No. 33 Aston Martin Vantage AMR with Henrique Chaves and Aston factory driver Marco Sorensen.
While the agony of Keating’s 2019 Le Mans disqualification due to a fueling rule infraction lingers, the thrill of what he accomplished this year left him feeling like he’s walking on air.
“It’s still kind of surreal that we did it again (won Le Mans), and this one has stuck,” Keating said. “I’ve still been riding a high all week long.”
Keating will have a completely different view from behind the wheel this weekend when he returns to IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. He’s co-driving the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsport ORECA Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) with Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker, as they attempt to defend their LMP2 crown in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
The PR1 Mathiasen trio holds a one-point lead over Dylan Murray, Frits von Eerd and Giedo van der Garde (No. 29 Racing Team Nederland ORECA) in the endurance standings, and Keating wants to stretch that advantage. The No. 52 team won the second of two WeatherTech Championship races staged at Watkins Glen in 2021.
“I am thrilled to get back into the LMP2 at Watkins Glen,” he said. “We feel like it took us a couple weekends there to get the car dialed in last year and get it figured out. Every track changes as you go along, but we definitely feel we are better prepared this year than we were last year.
“Our goal is to extend that lead enough that we don’t have to chase the Endurance Cup as much as we want to chase a race win at Petit Le Mans (in October),” he added. “In order to do that, we want to get first place at the three-hour and six-hour points of this weekend’s race.”
Jensen put the No. 52 atop the LMP2 chart in Friday practice, with a top lap of 1:32.629 (132.140 mph).
Robinson Ready to Rebound in LMP3
Gar Robinson opened defense of his 2021 WeatherTech Championship Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) championship by claiming the class pole position for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts in March. But he and No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 co-driver Felipe Fraga have struggled to regain that form.
Contact with a competitor from another class at Sebring led to mechanical complications and a seventh-place finish, while some simple bad luck with the timing of a full-course caution at Mid-Ohio relegated Robinson and Fraga to fourth place at the flag.
As a result, they lie sixth in the LMP3 standings, 103 points behind class leaders Ari Balogh and Garrett Grist (No. 30 Jr III Racing Ligier). Their gap is much smaller in the Michelin Endurance Cup, where they rank second, just two points behind Joao Barbosa and Lance Willsey (No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier).
“I think we got most of our bad luck out of the way at Sebring and Mid-Ohio, and hopefully we’ve got it over with,” Robinson remarked. “I think you’d always prefer to have your bad luck in the beginning.
“We tested at Watkins Glen a few weeks ago, the car feels great, and I think we’re going to do really well,” he added. “We look pretty good. We’re all pretty hungry to be up on the podium again because it’s been a while.”
The No. 74 was seventh among the 11 LMP3 competitors in practice, at 1:41.610 (120.460 mph).