IMSA: Watkins Glen Friday Notebook
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – On a day when weather conditions were expected to create havoc at Watkins Glen International, the stormy weather stayed away and only a few sprinkles were felt at times throughout the day on Friday.
As a result, all IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams got in two productive practice sessions, and a few early favorites for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen have emerged. In the Prototype class, those favorites are the pair of Nissan DPi entries from Tequila Patron ESM, which swept the top two spots on Friday’s combined time chart.
Leading the way was Brazilian driver Pipo Derani in the No. 2 Tequila Patron entry he is sharing this weekend with Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel. Derani logged a best time of 1 minute, 34.696 seconds (129.2 mph) in the day’s second practice session.
“The second half of the season starts now,” said Derani. “This program started late and it was normal for us to have a few problems at the beginning of the year. Now with so much hard work put in by the team it’s time for us to get better and better.
“Hopefully the reliability problems we had at the beginning of the year are gone. It’s still a very young program, but with that behind us we can start working more on performance, which with this weekend seems good so far.”
Second quickest was Derani’s teammate, Bruno Senna in the No. 22 Nissan DPi with a best time of 1:35.293 (128.4 mph). Senna will co-drive the No. 22 entry with Johannes van Overbeek.
In the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, Dirk Mueller was quickest of the day in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, turning in a best lap of 1:43.078 (118.7 mph) in the morning practice session. Teammate Joey Hand was quickest in the afternoon session at 1:43.115 (118.6 mph), also in the No. 66 machine.
“I like the track, Dirk likes the track,” Hand said. “(Mueller) was quickest in the morning session. It’s one of those places where you drive through the tunnel here and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I get to drive this place again.’ It’s one of those feelings.
“I say it all the time, but these guys have been really good at getting the car to come out of the trailer quick, from homework, from all of the stuff they do at the shop, from last year’s information to this. They’ve just been really good at getting them out of the truck fast and that goes a long way through the weekend.”
Following the No. 66 co-drivers on the time chart was Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford GT with a time of 1:43.226 (118.5 mph). Westbrook and co-driver Ryan Briscoe won last year’s GTLM race at Watkins Glen.
In the GT Daytona (GTD) class, Katherine Legge led the way in the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 with a best lap of 1:45.528 (116.0 mph). Legge and co-driver Andy Lally are carrying the momentum of the first victory for the Acura NSX GT3 program earlier this month in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit.
“Hopefully, we’re going off of some forward momentum from Detroit,” Legge said. “The car feels really good. I don’t know where we legit end up, because that was a new tires, no traffic run. Hopefully, we have a really good race car.
“Wherever it is, I think we’re in the ballpark, which is nice and it rolled off the truck like that. We worked really hard, we went to VIR since Detroit and we’ve done more testing, so we’ll just keep pushing, keep digging and keep moving forward. I think it will be a lot closer in the race, because, of course, everybody’s on a different strategy.”
In the Prototype Challenge (PC) class, Patricio O’Ward led the way with a best lap of 1:39.347 (123.2 mph) in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09. O’Ward and co-driver James French have won all four PC races contested thus far in 2017.
Holton Goes Back-To-Back, Galante Nabs First Pole in Continental Tire Challenge – On a Friday afternoon that saw a mix of heavy rains and sunshine, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge took to the track in mixed conditions to qualify for Saturday’s Continental Tire 120 at Watkins Glen International.
In the Grand Sport (GS) class, Paul Holton in the No. 76 C360R McLaren GT4 posted the fast time of the session at one minute, 57.578 seconds, crushing the previous GS record of 2:00.514 set by Scott Maxwell one year ago.
The pole was also Holton’s second in a row after setting the fastest time at Circuit of The Americas in May. He and co-driver Matt Plumb went on to win that race to give McLaren its first GT4 win in sports car competition.
“We’ve had a lot of time to go testing and we show up to these races now very, very prepared,” said Holton. “We end up just fine tuning the car instead of making wholesale setup changes. I think Matt and I are both able to get the absolute most out of the car at the moment and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Just prior to Holton’s record lap, Nick Galante in the No. 17 RS1 Porsche Cayman set one of his own in the Street Tuner (ST) class, with a lap of 2:07.583, which was .17 seconds faster than the previous record set by Marc Miller in 2014.
Watkins Glen has treated the Greenfield, Mass. native well over the last two years as Galante recorded his first Continental Tire Challenge series win here last year and Friday’s pole was his first in the series as well.
“We went out there and the car was great,” said Galante, whose team is debuting a livery featuring the Racing to End Alzheimer’s foundation. “It was still a little slick at first, but I kept my foot down and drove the dry line and used all the curbs. I noticed a lot of the drivers were staying away from the curbs because they were still wet, but I just drove right on them and didn’t affect the car at all. To also get the pole position with the debut of our new foundation, the Racing to End Alzheimer’s, it’s awesome.”
The Continental Tire 120 goes green Saturday, July 1 at 2:25 p.m. ET. The race will be streamed live on IMSA.com with IMSA Radio commentary.
Patron ESM Team Forges on Without Brown – At the beginning of this week, the Tequila Patron ESM team announced that the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen would be the final Prototype race as a driver for Ed Brown, as the president and CEO of Tequila Patron elected to step out of the cockpit for business reasons.
On Thursday, however, the team announced that Brown would not be able to compete in this weekend’s race, as he underwent minor but unexpected back surgery. As a result, the No. 22 Tequila Patron Nissan DPi will be shared in the race – which marks the halfway point of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season – by Brown’s longtime co-driver, Johannes van Overbeek, and Bruno Senna.
“He was at least looking forward to finishing off his career here at Watkins Glen but had a bit of a back scare, which unfortunately forced him out,” said van Overbeek. “We’ll have to carry on without. It still doesn’t change our objective of trying to win the race for him. It’s Bruno and I for this six-hour race. It’ll be a lot of work, but we’re up for it and we’ll see what happens.”
Van Overbeek, along with Tequila Patron ESM team owner and No. 2 Nissan DPi driver Scott Sharp and Brazilian racer Pipo Derani visited the Watkins Glen International media center to provide an update on the team’s immediate plans for the weekend and moving forward throughout the remainder of the season. This weekend, Derani is sharing the No. 2 entry with Sharp and Ryan Dalziel.
Beginning with next week’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Derani and van Overbeek will co-drive the No. 22 machine for the remainder of the season. Derani helped the team win both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida in 2016, and had a part-time schedule including Tequila Patron Endurance Cup races in the WeatherTech Championship with the ESM team and a handful of FIA World Endurance Championship races with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing planned for this year before this week’s unexpected developments.
“It’s going to be great,” Derani said. “Johannes and I, we shared the car last year at Daytona and Sebring and in Endurance Cup races and it was a pleasure to have him in the car. He’s a guy that’s very precise with his comments, his inputs and it’s very, very nice to work with him. To be able to now finish the season, just the two of us for the shorter races, it’s going to be something very nice, which starts next week. I can’t wait to get started.”
The new Nissan DPi program has seen its ups and downs through the first half of the season, but a clear highlight was the No. 2 team’s runner-up result in the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach in April with Dalziel and Sharp sharing the ride. However, the team is encouraged by its progress as it continues to develop the car.
“We were signing our deal when Cadillac was hitting the track (last fall), so we sort of knew we were behind,” Sharp explained. “It just has hung with us a little bit longer than we’d hoped, but we’ve gotten through a lot of issues. There are flashes, definitely, of potential in the car, both the car itself and the engine. The combination, when it all comes together, will be super competitive. It’s just, we’re still finishing some development getting there.”
It looked like anything but a development program on Friday at Watkins Glen as the team went 1-2 on the time charts with Derani leading in the No. 2 and Bruno Senna second in No. 22.
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