2015 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at Road America

In 2014, a brand-new race series visited picturesque Road America for the first time… sort of. The Tudor United Sportscar Championship (TUSC) was formed as an IMSA-affiliated union of the former Rolex and ALMS series in an effort to strengthen sports car racing in North America.  Road America had been a popular stop on the ALMS calendar, and it was one of the tracks selected to cross over onto the TUSC schedule.

The sophomore running of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge saw the return of a very busy weekend of sportscar racing, with the Continental series’ production-based sports cars headlining Saturday’s action and four classes of TUSC racing on Sunday.

Weather played a role in this weekend’s races, beginning with a soggy Friday. Forecasts called for a chance of rain on Friday and again on Sunday, so Friday’s practice sessions for the Tudor cars were well-attended in anticipation of possible wet-weather setups for Sunday. Friday’s rain proved a little more persistent than expected, however, resulting in cancellation of qualification for the CTSC series; they’d line up based on points for Saturday’s race.

Friday’s rain tapered off overnight, but Saturday morning’s skies remained low and grey. The track was dry for Lites and GT3 Cup qualifying, however, followed by TUSC practice, and overcast conditions held for the rest of the day. The weekend’s race action kicked off with the IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites in their first race of the weekend — round 9 of the year. This field of 26 Mazda-powered Elan DP02 chassis was led to the flag by Kenton Koch, who picked up his seventh win of the season. A restart midway through the event gave Koch’s JDC Motorsports teammates a chance to challenge for the lead, but Koch held on to a 1.6 second margin over 2nd-place Matt McMurray. Clark Toppe completed the JDC Motorsports sweep in third.

Following the lunch break on Saturday, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge kicked off pre-race festivities with a fan grid walk, where the Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell lined up on pole in the GS class and the CJ Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5 of Steven McAlleer and Chad McCumbee headed the GS class.

Early race action saw Hugh Plumb take the overall lead in the Rum Bum Racing Porsche 911, stretching out a comfortable lead early. Racing was much tighter in ST, where the top spots remained tightly contested. A full-course caution about 30 minutes into the contest saw leaders pit, but several cars remained on-track, opting to wait until the 45-minute mark in order to make a driver change along with their first stop. This pit strategy shuffled the order for a bit, but Plumb regained the lead before long.

With just over an hour remaining in the race, local racer Nick Hammann snatched the lead in his Doran Racing Nissan 370Z, moving Plumb to 2nd. Ashley Freiberg held 3rd in her Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3. The ST race was led by Danny Bender in his Mazda MX-5, followed by Josh Bilicki’s BMW 128i and Ryan Eversley’s Honda Civic Si, but fuel strategy would shuffle the ST pack significantly before the end of the race.

Another full-course caution bunched the field and set the stage for an exciting finish, starting with a great battle for 2nd at the restart between Trent Hindman’s BMW M3 and BJ Zacharias’ Nissan 370Z. Zacharias would get by Hindman with around 13 minutes to go, and set off to catch Matt Plumb, who’d taken over the Rum Bum Porsche from his brother. In ST, Spencer Pumpelly had the point in his Porsche Cayman, followed by Eversley’s Honda and Eric Foss in another Cayman.

Plumb made his Porsche as wide as possible over the last couple laps, holding off a great push from Zaccarias that continued all the way to the final flag. Pumpelly didn’t fare as well; his Cayman’s fuel pickup sucked air on the final lap, slowing in Thunder Valley and relinquishing the win to Eversley. Owen Trinkler took second in another Honda Civic Si, and Foss came home third.

Once the victory celebrations subsided, Tudor qualified it’s four classes in a session per class. Joey Hand put the Ford EcoBoost Riley on pold for Prototypes, James French paced the Prototype Challenge (PC) class, Jorg Bergmeister’s Porsche 911 RSR headed GTLM, and Patrick Lindsey led GTD in his Porsche 911 GT.

Saturday wrapped up with Round 9 of IMSA’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, where Jesse Lazare led Angel Benitez, Jr. and Elliott Skeer to the end of the 20-lap race.

Sunday’s weather forecast called for a chance of afternoon storms, but the morning dawned sunny and warm. The Tudor cars’ morning warmup kicked off the day and the IMSA Lites and GT3 Cup each raced a second feature. In IMSA Lites, Kenton Koch swept the weekend with a Round 10 win, followed by Robert Alon and Austin Versteeg. Jesse Lazare also swept his weekend, taking the GT3 Cup’s Round 10 race. Angel Benitez Jr. repeated his runner-up showing, and Lucas Catania wrapped up the GT3 podium.

Sunday afternoon’s main event began after lunch with the Tudor series’ pit walk, featuring a pit stop demonstration by the Viper Exchange team. The field of 33 cars in four classes lined up under warm sunny skies, as the forecast storms never materialized.

In Prototypes, Joeh Hand led from the pole, followed by Michael Valiente and Ricky Taylor, but an apparent exhaust leak slowed Hand just a few laps into the event, allowing Valiente to move to the lead. The Prototype Challenge (PC) class, featuring identical open-cockpit Oreca chassis and throaty Chevy power plants, was led early on by James French, followed by Chris Cumming and and Mike Guasch.

The production-based GT’s are divided into two classes. In GTLM, Earl Bamber led the field in the #912 factory Porsche, followed by John Edwards in his BMZ Z4 and GTLM points leader Antonio Garcia in a C7R Corvette. The second Porsche factory car started at the rear of the field following an overnight engine change, but Nick Tandy started working through the field at the drop of the green flag. In GTD, Patrick Lindsey led, followed by Christina Nielsen and Ben Keating.

An incident in the kink brought out the race’s first full-course caution near the half-hour mark, which was just what Hand and the Ganassi team needed to address the issues slowing the Ford EcoBoost Riley. This caution was also a big help for John Pew in his Michael Shank Racing Ligier, having had to serve an early pass-through penalty — a result of a leaky fuel cell discovered earlier in the day.

The restart was typically action-packed, shuffling overall and class leaders in the first couple laps. With two hours left in the event, Ricky Taylor, Christian Fittipaldi, and Dane Cameron were locked in a tight battle for the Prototype lead, French and Cumming continued their PC battle, and the GTLM class saw a good contest between Bamber and Giancarla Fisichella.

Pit stops and driver changes shuffled the field through the middle of the race, including a strategy call by the Action Express team that moved Cameron into the lead with a bit over an hour to go. Cameron never relinquished that lead, but the GTLM class saw quite a bit of action near the end, with Porsches, Corvettes, Ferraris and BMWs all battling in the mix in some great racing.

Cameron brought his Corvette DP home just over 14 seconds ahead of second-place Joao Barbosa and Scott Pruett in third, but the other classes saw action right up to the checkered flag. In Prototype Challenge, Junquera and Conor Daly swapped positions in turn 5 when Daly overcooked the corner, but both drivers continued. Colin Braun would wind up finishing third behind Junquera and Daly.

The GTLM class was led to the flag by Patrick Pilet in the #911 Porsche, but Pierre Kaffer and Joerg Bergmeister had themselves a prize fight five seconds back of Pilet. Kaffer, leading in his Ferrari, put up a great battle for 2nd, but following several touches coming out of Canada, Bergmeister finally shouldered the Ferrari into the grass in Thunder Valley, moving Kaffer to third. In GTD, Jeroen Bleekemolen took the win for the Viper Exchange team, followed by Kuno Wittmer’s Aston Martin and Spencer Pumpelly in the Park Place Porsche.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *