BRASELTON, Georgia—The second season of the IMSA Tudor United Sports Car Championship is wrapping up with a four-way fight for class titles this Saturday at the Road Atlanta race track in Braselton.
The title in all four classes: Prototype, GT Le Mans, GT Daytona, and Prototype Challenge, will all be resolved in Saturday’s ten-hour endurance contest.
In the prototype class, Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook, drivers of the #90 VisitFlorida.com Coyote-Corvette with 279 points lead the Action Express teams of Eric Curran and Dane Cameron in the #31 Coyote-Corvette, and defending champions Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the similar #5 car by only six points.
Only five points further back, Joey Hand and multiple series winner Scott Pruett are pushing the #01 Ganassi Riley-Ford EcoBoost towards yet another title.
Another five points back, Ricky and Jordan Taylor could end in the top three again—the pair finished second in 2014—but they will need the competition to make some errors.
GT Le Mans is equally tight—13 points separate the top four teams with the #911 Porsche North America car with 279 leading the #25 BMW Team RLL Z4 by three points, with the #3 Corvette C7.R ten points out of first, and the #61 Risi Competizione Ferrari still in the hunt with 266 points.
In GTD Christina Nielsen, driver of the #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage leads by a single point over the #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi, with the # 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari only four points out of first. The #93 Riley Motorsports Viper is only 11 points out of first.
If Nielsen wins she would become the first woman to win a major international sports car championship, but this is the closest race in the series, and ten hours is a long time to defend a one-point lead.
Prototype Challenge is nearly a walkover by comparison with the otherr three classes. The #54 Core Autosport Oreca-Chevrolet of defending champions Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead the #52 PR1-Mathiesen Motorsports Oreca of Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith by twelve points. If the Core crew can keep the car running for ten hours and the drivers can keep it rubber side down, they will repeat as champions. if anything goes wrong, the #52 team is waiting to pounce.
A scant two points behind the PR1-Mathiesen squad are Chris Cumming and Bruno Junqueira in the #11 RSR machine. This pair will not accept ending up on the bottom step of the podium if there is anything they can do to climb higher.Chris Cumming and Bruno Junqueira in the #11 RSR Oreca will be fighting hard to finish higher than third for the season.
Rain Raises the Stakes
Rain had threatened all week, and finally came down Thursday afternoon during the second Tudor practice session. The weather claimed its first casualty almost immediately, as Conor Daly wrecked the #38 Performance Tech PC Oreca. Daly was taken to the hospital with back pains; the car was too badly damaged to be repaired.
Night practice saw another rain-inspired wreck as John Pew lost control of the #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda while storming down the front straight at near maximum speed. He might have hit a puddle which lifted the car off its wheels; in any case, he suddenly hooked hard into the wall. He got out apparently uninjured, and the car looked repairable.
The real toll the rain is taking is in track time. Teams have not had time to set up their cars for dry conditions, and the temperature on race day is forecast to be a few degrees cooler that today, which means even the little learned in the first practice session won’t be applicable.
Dry Weather Expected for Race Day
Rain is forecast for Friday, which will make qualifying extremely interesting, but race day is forecast to be dry. This means teams will have to guess at a good dry set-up for the opening stint, and make adjustments on the fly throughout the race.
Dry weather means two things for fans. First and foremost, it means fans will be able to relax and enjoy their time at the track. Barbeque grills will light easily, tents and awnings will be optional, and visitors will be able to enjoy the day as well as the racing.
Dry weather also means the fans will get to see teams and drivers working at their maximum. Petit Le Mans is never an easy race; no ten-hour endurance event ever is. But Saturday’s race will be made more exciting because knowledge and strategy will play a huge part in determining the winner. The teams which make the best plans—and the best guesses—will come out ahead, and they won’t necessarily be the favorites.
On the other hand, with conditions changing throughout the day, even the teams who get it right first might not get it right for the next stint. Tire pressure, pit strategy, and chassis adjustments could gain or lose a lead for any team. Of course, drivers and crew must perform as near to flawlessly as possible to maximize any advantages gained by set-up or strategy—which means the effect of every tiny error will be magnified.
Saturday’s race is shaping up to be a pressure cooker, and with four teams fighting for titles in each of four classes, there will not be many moments for fans or teams to stop and take a breath.
Tickets at the Gate, or Follow the Broadcast on TV and the Web
Tickets for the event are available through Road Atlanta‘s website, or at the gate. For the unlucky fans who cannot attend in person, the race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and IMSA.com. Here is the broadcast schedule:
10/03/2015 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM ET (Live) Fox Sports 2
10/03/2015 12:00 PM – 02:30 PM ET (Live) IMSA.com
10/03/2015 02:30 PM – 07:00 PM ET (Live) FOX Sports 2
10/03/2015 07:00 PM – 08:30 PM ET (Live) IMSA.com
10/03/2015 08:30 PM – 9:30 PM ET (Live) FOX Sports 2
Plus a three-hour race review on Sunday, Oct. 4 on Fox Sports 1.
01:30 PM – 04:30 PM ET
FOX Sports 1
IMSA.com will offer live timing and scoring and commentary by John Hindhaugh and friends, as always.