IMSA News Roundup
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It's all hands on deck right now at VISIT FLORIDA Racing.
At the team's shop in Daytona Beach, Florida on Wednesday, Team Owner Troy Flis described the timeline faced by the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Multimatic/Riley crew.
"Our engineer flew in today and the guys are making good progress on the car," Flis said. "Our electrical guy will be here tomorrow to finish up a couple odds and ends but I believe by Friday, the car will be done. We'll load up Friday night and we're hoping to test on Monday to shakedown the car on the way to [Circuit of The Americas]."
The VISIT FLORIDA team has been scrambling for almost three weeks to prepare a new car for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) next week, after an incident at Long Beach in early April forced the team to withdraw from the race. Renger van der Zande was behind the wheel and had just completed his 19th lap during morning practice when the car slammed into the Turn 1 wall, causing irreparable damage to the Multimatic/Riley chassis.
"Right now, it's still under review," Flis explained. "We lost the brake pressure in our front brakes and we aren't positive about what happened there. The car came back in after the incident and there were no lines broken, no visual part failure and a lot of the time there is. We haven't found the smoking gun and that's very disheartening to us because we just don't know."
What the team does know is that it faces an uphill battle for the rest of the 2017 season. With the Prototype class championship now out of realistic reach, the VISIT FLORIDA team is now focused on learning the ins and outs of its new-for-2017 Multimatic/Riley machine. The team started off the season strong with a third-place finish at Daytona, but an issue at Sebring led to a sixth-place finish.
"Our learning curve is very steep right now and we're just trying to get the new cars to a competitive level," Flis said. "It's not like our old cars where we can just take everything off, bolt it on the other car and go again. Now it's like every part that you take off, you have to second guess it three times and say ‘What can we do to make this part a little better before we put it back on the car so we can try to get a little more speed or reliability out of it?'"
Flis also acknowledged that the team can afford to take more risks than what their previous strategy would have allowed. Instead of settling for a top-three or top-five finish for solid points, rolling the dice to win races has now climbed up a few rungs on the team's list of priorities.
But if there's any team in the paddock that can do it, Flis is confident in the VISIT FLORIDA group's ability to keep pushing. He emphasized the resiliency of his crew and the hard work the team has put in to prepare for COTA.
"Everyone on our team is professional so they all know this is part of the business and part of the industry," Flis said. "For them to get the morale back is when we go back out there and we're competitive. We have a great blend for the season with what we're looking to get out of the car and with Marc (Goossens)'s knowledge and Renger's speed. We've got to pick our heads up and on the engineering and management side, we have to give them a product they can win with."
Even with their extraordinary effort, all eyes will be on the car's performance heading into COTA, as the group is still unnerved about what caused the incident at Long Beach. Team sponsor VISIT FLORIDA was quick to relay their relief that van der Zande was unhurt in the heavy crash, and Flis and his crew have done everything in their power to prevent a repeat scenario, including collaborating with Mazda Motorsports, which runs the same brake package on its DPi car that uses the same basic chassis.
For now though, all the team can do is pack up its new car and head to the next race.
"It's going to be an interesting year for sure," Flis said. "But this team is strong and we'll keep digging and get to the next one."
THE BEST IS YET TO COME: Team Owner Bobby Oergel doesn't mince his words when talking about PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports' start to the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
"We're definitely not happy with the results, no," he said. "What we're doing is looking forward to better days to come."
Oergel's sentiment is understandable, considering his team began the year with an average finish of seventh between three races. That's not ideal for a team that racked up seven wins and 14 podiums over the preceding two seasons while participating in the WeatherTech Championship's Prototype Challenge (PC) class.
"We've obviously stepped into a bigger ocean," said Oergel, referring to PR1's move up to the Prototype ranks from PC this year. "The hardest thing for us so far has been getting some of these checklist items out of the way that have faltered otherwise good runs."
The team encountered an early issue in the Rolex 24 and suffered a late issue at Sebring, despite showing competitive speed at both events. The recent event on the streets of Long Beach, California saw PR1 earn its best finish of the year, fifth overall.
Onroak Automotive has worked closely with PR1 to develop its brand new LM P2 competitor, the Gibson V8-powered Ligier JS P217, and after the solid run at Long Beach and a winning start to the car's overseas season, everyone's eyes are focused forward.
PR1 completed a successful test day at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in early April and is eager to return to the 3.4-mile, 20-turn circuit on May 4-6 for the fourth WeatherTech Championship race of 2017.
"It's really about a fresh start," said Oergel. "As far as the rest of the races and which we're looking forward to, right now it's COTA because it's right in front of us."
There's good reason to be looking forward to COTA – if the team's current pattern of finishes (Daytona – ninth, Sebring – seventh, Long Beach – fifth) continues, PR1 will prove to be a good third place choice for the debut of the IMSA Podium Predictor powered by IHG Rewards Club and could see victory at the following race at Belle Isle.
Wherever the No. 52 Ligier finishes, it will always be the result of a hardworking team led by one of the most hands-on team owners in the WeatherTech Championship paddock, one who's always willing to jump in and get his hands dirty.
"That's the piece I truly love – the physical, hands-on portion of it," Oergel said. "Getting time to be working with my hands, working with the guys in our shop and knowing what's happening there. From my end of it, there's no way to know your program better than to be part of what's going on with it. That's what I like, that's what we do, and that's that."
While the first two races of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season had been a struggle for the two-car BMW Team RLL team, it was no surprise to see an M6 at the front of the field. After all, the BMW team earned its second consecutive Long Beach pole last year, and Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner won in 2015 driving a BMW.
However, some fans may not have expected Tomczyk to be the driver to take the lead. Some might have been asking, "Who is Martin Tomczyk?"
It's a fair question, as this is the 35-year-old German's first year competing in the WeatherTech Championship, sharing the No. 24 BMW with American co-driver John Edwards. In fact, it's his first year racing in the United States at all.
"This year in Daytona was the first time when I hit an American racetrack," Tomczyk said. "I never did it before. I've got the full program this year, so it's really great."
It's really great for anybody to race for a factory team in GTLM. But how did he do it?
Well, he won the 2011 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) championship, one of the world's most competitive touring car series featuring race cars from German manufacturers. It was the best season of a 16-year DTM career for Tomczyk, who parlayed the 2011 DTM title into a BMW factory ride in 2012. At the end of last year, he decided to try something else in 2017 and received a terrific opportunity from BMW, the same manufacturer he raced for in DTM.
"I really looked forward to go over here when I got the offer to do IMSA, especially after I retired from DTM, because I was not happy anymore in DTM," Tomczyk explains. "Everything got too technical, too political, and actually, you do not have that much here in the States. It's more pure racing, why I actually drive race cars."
For nearly 30 minutes in the 100-minute Long Beach race, Tomczyk held the overall race lead due to a pit strategy anomaly with the faster Prototypes. He still led in GTLM after the leading Prototypes restored the traditional order, and Tomczyk appeared to be headed toward a victory when a temporary electrical issue dramatically slowed the No. 24.
Tomczyk and Edwards wound up seventh. However, despite that disappointment, Tomczyk is enjoying his first season of GTLM racing.
"It's challenging to match yourself as a European driver – especially when you did 16 years of DTM – just to come here and try to follow the flow and do the best out of it," he said. "On the racetracks here, there's great drivers, great cars on the track, so the racing is not that much different. It's just the side effects, all the surrounding things are what's new for me."
Those "side effects" include the open paddock and fan-friendly environment at every WeatherTech Championship event. He's a big fan of it.
"It's quite open for the fans," Tomczyk said. "It's a big, big group and it seems like a big family. I think that's the way to go for the future of motorsport. It's changing and you have to go with the flow, and the flow says you have to be more open, more friendly, more family-like, and that is what we are doing here in the States.
"Nevertheless, the racing is something different on the track. I mean, a competitor is a competitor and you try to beat him. But off the track, it's more open and more friendly."
McLAREN'S SPEEDY FIRST IMPRESSION: After IMSA announced in August 2016 that the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge would see a transition to the GT4 technical specifications in its Grand Sport (GS) class, there was a wave of excitement throughout the racing world about what the changes would bring.
Two races into the season, GS has seen a bolstered number of cars battle on track, but there has been one newcomer in particular that has caught the eye of many- the McLaren GT4.
Three teams, C360R, Motorsports In Action and VOLT Racing, were quick to pounce on the new McLaren racecar, which until the end of last year, had only been made for the manufacturer's internal use and testing only.
"The first five cars all came to America and to run in GS, the first five cars produced," Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 C360R McLaren GT4 said. "The only car they made before that was the test car they ran in British GT last year."
Because the cars are fresh off the production line, each of the three teams have benefited from McLaren's unwavering support. The manufacturer has sent representatives to each race in order to work with the teams to gather information and improve the car's performance.
"It's been exciting because we've been able to work really closely with McLaren,' Holton said. "It's just a learning process for the entire team to get on the same page with the car, the drivers, the crew and the manufacturer and right now, I'm pretty optimistic."
For Motorsports In Action (MIA), McLaren's decision to produce a GT4 car was the primary reason Team Owner Eric Kerub chose to enter IMSA competition. Kerub was formerly the president of TAG Aeronautics, a branch of Techniques d'Avant Garde, which holds a stake in McLaren.
"It's a brand I've been familiar with since Day 1 and it's my passion," Kerub said. "The fact that Carl (Hermez, team crew chief) came to me and said that IMSA is changing their GS approach for 2018 starting in 2017 and everything's going to be homologated to GT4, we looked at the program and said it's a perfect fit for us. It all started with McLaren."
MIA currently fields two McLarens in GS, one of which is driven by a pair of Porsche GT3 Cup champions with Chris Green and Jesse Lazare. Kerub isn't surprised by the McLaren's strong showing in the Continental Tire Challenge so far, but admits there is a big change his drivers are experiencing.
"The GT4 homologation of these cars make it much more of a street car than a racecar," Kerub said. "Every racecar in the world, while you're throttling, you can still apply the brake in the corner to balance the car out. In these cars, you can't. The minute you tap on the brakes it's like a street car and it wants to stop. Then when it wants to stop, it wants to cut all the power to the right foot. It's very street-safety oriented."
But power is definitely something the McLaren doesn't lack.
"It's detuned to be able to fit in the class, so having a super series car to begin with and then working downwards gives slightly more of a benefit than what you're capable of doing than to try and bring a car up to its maximum potential."
Much like MIA, it was an easy decision for VOLT Racing to partner with McLaren for its first season in the Continental Tire Challenge.
"When I realized we had an opportunity to be an early adopter and literally get car number one off of McLaren's line, that was an exciting proposition," said Alan Brynjolfsson, VOLT Racing team owner and driver. "It's been a great two-way street in terms of how McLaren has been supportive of us and I don't think we would've gotten that personalized level from some of the other manufacturers."
Along with McLaren's support, there were many factors about the new car that appealed to Brynjolfsson, whose racing career began only 18 months ago but quick success in development series led him to make the jump into GS.
"The car is low and aerodynamic and should do great for high speed tracks like Daytona," Brynjolfsson explained. "It's low and wide, so it should have great cornering ability. It's mid-engine, so it should be balanced and it's been detuned, so it's got the power. I'm confident in myself and my co-driver Chris Hall, so if we've got the car and we've got the drivers, we've got a shot."
Technical aspects aside, Brynjolfsson circled back to one of the most fundamental points of racing when talking about his love for the new McLaren GT4.
"Why not drive a cool car, right? I mean, that's why we're doing it in the end is to have some fun and excitement. I love it, the fans love it. It's a win-win."
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