After a Podium Debut Last Month, Optimism Runs High Heading to This Week’s Michelin Pilot Challenge Race at Watkins Glen International
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Everyone loves that new car feeling. Even professional racers who are paid to drive for a living.
Honda Performance Development factory driver Ryan Eversley got to experience twice the pleasure, as an active participant in the launch of the latest FL5 generation Honda Civic Type R for both the street and the racetrack.
Eversley, who shares the No. 37 LA Honda World Racing entry in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Mat Pombo, led a large contingent of journalists on the first media drive of the roadgoing FL5 at Sonoma Raceway and through the nearby wine country in late 2022. Fast forward to April 2023, and the 39-year-old Georgia native was the first driver to slide behind the wheel of the new FL5-based Touring Car (TCR) class racer in North America.
Eversley put the new machine, developed for production by Honda’s longtime partner JAS Motorsports of Italy, through its paces over two strenuous test days at Sebring International Raceway.
“The directive I had from HPD was ‘go find a weakness,’ and I did not take it easy,” Eversley recalled. “I drove as hard as I would have in a race. I was mostly concerned for reliability because the tracks in Europe are very different to what we have in the United States. We have a lot rougher surfaces and bumpier places that we go, and Sebring is obviously notorious for that and a great place to test a car. We had engineers from JAS Motorsports who built the cars there with us, and they were just as curious about it as we were.”
Eversley related that the only problem that the LA Honda World team experienced in the initial shakedown of the FL5 was when a tire separated from a wheel after he hammered a curb.
“That shows you how hard I was trying, looking for any kind of weakness in the suspension, anything that might fail,” he said. “Fortunately, in two days of running we had no problems. And after that test, I hoped I’d be able to race this car for a couple years because it’s really well done.”
Just a couple months after Eversley turned those first laps at Sebring, Pombo qualified the new FL5 on the TCR class pole for the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 at the track by the same name. He and Eversley then guided the car to a third-place finish on its debut.
“We’ve had fast cars all year but just haven’t had a weekend go our way,” Pombo stated. “Thankfully, it happened here! The new Honda Civic FL5 is fantastic. JAS did a great job building this car, LA Honda World with the testing, and HPD has been a great partner with this project. We’re just pumped to get a podium in the first race on American soil with it.”
Eversley is convinced there is plenty more potential to be extracted from the FL5. The car’s next outing is the Sahlen’s 120 at The Glen, later this week at Watkins Glen International.
“You can see how the development of the previous car has gone into this one,” he said. “A lot of things we didn’t like about the old car have been fixed, a lot of things they’ve learned from years of racing all over the planet have been applied. The car has been racing in Europe very successfully, and now we have a podium under our belts as well.
“Right off the bat leaving the pit lane at Sebring, I thought, ‘This thing is pretty good’ – just the ergonomics of the cockpit, the amount of attention to detail,” he continued. “When you walk up, you see that the fit and finish is very nice, the cockpit is laid out exactly how you’d expect it to be. … You very quickly realize they knew what they were doing.”
Eversley and Pombo’s teammates at LA Honda World, William Tally and Mike LaMarra, get their first chance to race the new Civic FL5 TCR this week as well. They raced the previous version Civic FK7 TCR in the first three events of the season that included a second-place finish in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
Tally and LaMarra sit third in the TCR standings, trailing a pair of Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR duos, Mark Wilkins and Mason Filippi (No. 98 Hyundai) and Robert Wickens and Harry Gottsacker (No. 33). Thirteen TCR cars are entered for Saturday’s race at Watkins Glen.
The Grand Sport (GS) class features 22 entries for the two-hour race. Kenny Murillo and Christian Szymczak, co-drivers of the No. 72 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4, hold a 100-point advantage atop the standings over Eric Filgueiras and Stevan McAleer in the No. 28 RS1 Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport. Both Michelin Pilot Challenge classes have yet to see a repeat winner this season.
Track action begins with practice on Thursday ahead of qualifying Friday afternoon. The Sahlen’s 120 streams live at 3:40 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock in the U.S. and on IMSA.com/TVLive outside the U.S.