The technical, flowing undulations of Mid-Ohio host the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for the first time
North American sportscar racing hits Mid-Ohio for the first time since the American Le Mans Series days in 2012 – a race that’s still available on YouTube. Last time out, the Muscle Milk Pickett pair of Klaus Graf/Lucas Luhr took victory in their HPD ahead of the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda driven by Chris Dyson/Guy Smith. Third overall went to the now defunct Level 5 outfit led by convicted financial criminal Scott Tucker, co-driven by Christophe Bouchut. Current ESM man Ryan Dalziel took second in LMPC for CORE, one position ahead of Kyle Marcelli, who’s now in the 3GT Lexus crew.
In GT, Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won for Corvette and if they repeat that victory this time around it’ll be the team’s 100th win on US soil. Patrick Long came second in GT driving a Porsche, and is back this weekend in the Wright Motorsports GTD with double class champion Christina Nielsen. Bill Auberlen was third back in 2012 – he’s here too, now in the Turner BMW M6 GT3 looking for another class win to get closer to Scott Pruett’s American record. The last successful run for a current driver was Jeroen Bleekemolen, who won the GTC class alongside gent racer Tim Pappas – he’ll be looking to win again alongside equally capable gent Ben Keating, this time in the Riley AMG GTD.
All three classes – Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona – are back in the field this time, totalling 34 entries. A good chunk of the field have never raced their car here before, so lots of teams planned to include the track on their winter testing schedules. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas and numerous tests have been snowed, rained and fogged out before teams could get much useful learning done.
Still, 34’s not a bad entry given CJ Wilson Racing are keeping their Acura NSX GT3 at home, Spirit of Daytona are testing their Cadillac DPi before returning at Watkins Glen, the Risi Ferrari is still absent, Montaplast by Land-Motorsport bail on their full season commitent and finally, following expensive Sebring repairs, HART couldn’t scrape the budget together to run their home race.
There are additional cars too – local team Wright Motorsports have entered a second Porsche 911 in GTD for former Porsche factory racer Wolf Henzler and Michael Schein, the American previously having competed in Pirelli World Challenge and IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup. Expect that car to run in the sprint round for the remainder of the season.
Despite having to find sponsorship and commit some of the team to Indy for the 500, MSR have nonetheless managed to secure a second GTD entry for their home IMSA race. Initially confirmed for the NAEC only, the #86 Parente/Legge Acura will certainly be a strong contender for GTD victory at Mid-Ohio for the recently expanded outfit. Elsewhere in GTD, factory Mercedes-AMG star Maro Engel returns to the SunEnergy1 team to partner owner Kenny Habul, and the latest recruit to Turner BMW’s Château Crotch Belt is returnee Dillon Machavern, who partners Auberlen.
Even in the highly pro GT Le Mans, there are rookies. Earl Bamber makes his Mid-Ohio debut this weekend, and of the whole Porsche GT Team IMSA only Pilet has raced a 911 here before. It’s the same story at BMW – of their Edwards/Krohn and Sims/de Philippi, only John Edwards has any real GT mileage around the circuit. It’s the opposite story at Corvette, with a consistent lineup that knows how to race here. Ford’s crews have good experience too, albeit not in the Ford GT itself – Joey Hand got to know the track and its marshals well in 2006 when he was a passenger in a horrifying airborne crash that saw him flip a BMW end-over-end from high speed.
The Prototype field should find it easier to bed their crews in – none of the DPi or WEC-Spec P2 cars have ever raced here, but the teams know the circuit and the majority of drivers have at least one start at Mid-Ohio in a downforce car. Mazda is the mild exception – regular man Harry Tincknell is on Ford WEC duty at Spa so is replaced by Mazda loyalist and endurance driver Spencer Pigot, who takes a break from Indy 500 testing. Mazda also have to bring Oliver Jarvis up to speed on his first visit to the circuit, but someone the calibre of the ex-Audi LMP1 man and Joest regular shouldn’t have any issues come race day.
Will title sponsors Acura see their Penske or MSR teams come good? Will Mazda’s hard work finally pay off? Will the WEC-Spec P2 field be able to close the gap to the DPi teams here? Or, with AXR holding a 1-2 in the championship, will they extend their lead over the rest of the field? Qualifying starts later today – tune in on IMSA Radio, watch live online or using the new IMSA app if you’re outside the USA, or catch up with our report later.