10 Most Exciting Moments From IMSA Road America
Don't look now, but IMSA is fast becoming the most exciting professional racing series in the U.S.
With the OEM involvement and world-class performance of its SportsCar Championship prototype and GT-class race machines; to the relatability and relevance of the race-tuned, production-bodied cars of the SportsCar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup, Lamborghini Super Trofeo and Ferrari Challenge; to the insanely close level of competition among cars and drivers in all classes; IMSA delivers on all fronts.
There has been more participation and viewership than ever in 2018, big plans have just been announced for the future, and things look bright for one of the world’s strongest and fastest-growing racing series. We caught up with the action during IMSA's most recent stop at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and got a good dose of the best prototype, GT and door-slammer racing around. Here are the ten things that impressed us most.
1. Just Barely Missing the Win
Road America is a long, harsh racetrack, and quite often winning strategies involve running on the ragged edge in terms of balancing speed, fuel economy and tire degradation. Mazda Team Joest had been doing a very good job of managing all that throughout the event’s main two-hour, 40-minute race of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and gradually climbed into third with its no. 55 2.0L Mazda DPi prototype, driven by Jonathan Bomarito.
When the two lead cars pitted for a splash of fuel with only about three minutes of racing left, Mazda was left leading the pack with very little fuel of their own and a difficult decision: pit now and hope to rejoin in fourth or fifth place, or push on and hope for a full-course caution (where drivers must slow and maintain position). With nothing to lose, they opted for the latter, but the yellow flag never came. They nearly ran out of fuel, pitted for a splash and finished in eighth place. It was a great gamble that, sadly, didn’t pay off.
2. Running out of Gas After the Finish Line
When Mazda made its pit for fuel, the no. 54 CORE Autosport Oreca LMP2 car gained the lead. Colin Braun collected the team’s second-straight victory of the season and then ran out of fuel on the cool-down lap. If that doesn’t convey just how closely these drivers toe the line, we’ve got one more for you...
3. Running out of Gas Before the Finish Line
After running very fast throughout practice and eventually gaining a hard-fought lead in the GTLM class of the WeatherTech race, the no. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 of drivers Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi also ran dry with just minutes remaining, no doubt also gambling on a yellow flag that never came. It would’ve been the team’s first win of the season, but resulted in a sixth-place finish when the car couldn’t make it back to the pits for more juice.
4. Returning to the Winner’s Circle
Christina Nielsen was on a warpath in 2016 and 2017, winning the GTD class championship behind the wheel of the no. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, with multiple wins and podium finishes. She teamed up with Porsche factory driver and Luftgekühlt co-creater Patrick Long for the 2018 season, helming the no. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, but hadn’t found victory until the Road America round.
As the only team to pit twice for driver changes, Nielsen brought the car in just ahead of a full-course caution, where Long jumped in and re-joined in second. Once out on the track, he made a clean pass for the lead and brought ‘er home for the team’s first win. We suspect there will be many more to come.
5. Swapping an Entire Chassis
Per IMSA rules, teams are not allowed to substitute spare cars for their race cars when one becomes damaged beyond repair. That said, a team can completely strip a car down to the metal and rebuild it around an all-new chassis, since that’s arguably only one component.
After a gnarly crash during the first practice session Friday morning, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley called in a new chassis, swapped existing and replacement parts over from their totaled no. 33 machine, qualified to start the race in fifth position and finished fifth, despite some further contact and a drive-through penalty.
6. Crash, Rebuild and Nearly Win
With three wins this season, the no. 60 Roush Performance/KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 team of Kyle Marcelli and Nate Stacy had a good season and comfortable GS class championship points lead coming into Road America. That is, until Friday’s practice session forced them into the pits, too, thrashing to get their car back together for Saturday’s qualifying session and race.
Despite qualifying and starting the race a distant 16th in class (the car no doubt not in optimal shape), their perseverance paid off as the team climbed into second position. However, they were forced to pits for tires and fuel in the final ten minutes of the race. They would finish 13th, relinquishing their grasp on the championship. At least, for now.
7. Crashing in the Final Minutes
If you think that’s painful, you should have a chat with the no. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4 team of drivers Matt Plumb and Paul Holton. They set the pace during the first practice session, qualified on the pole and led the race by a healthy margin for most of its final hour.
However, in the final few minutes, just when it seemed like a win was in the bag, Plumb and his McLaren went into the barrier at the track’s infamous Canada Corner, leaving him unable to continue. This cleared the way for Trent Hindman and the no. 7 Volt Racing Ford Mustang GT4 to claim their first victory.
8. Porsche GT3 Cup Dominance
In spec racing, where all cars are mechanically identical or very similar, wins often boil down to which driver feels most comfortable at a track and/or qualifies on the pole. Two races of the Porsche GT3 Cup Championship were fought along the 14 turns and 4.048 miles of Road America’s rough asphalt, and Zach Robichon qualified first, led each lap and collected the win from within his no. 19 Moorespeed 991 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in both of them.
Anthony Imperato, in the no. 91 Wright Motorsports 991 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, gave Robichon the closest run for his money by finishing second in the first race by a scant 0.955 seconds, but just couldn’t catch this weekend’s maestro.
9. A Charging Herd of Lambos
Sure, you might call Porsches more mature or practical, and Ferrari might have a longer and more storied racing lineage, but Lamborghinis always turn heads on the street. Now they’re making some serious waves in the racing world with Squadra Corse and Super Trofeo.
The Lamborghini Super Trofeo series for North America races at select IMSA events, and its Huracán Super Trofeo EVOs are every bit as potent and reliable as any other machine taking the grid on a race weekend. They run lap after lap, session after session at a world-class pace without a hiccup—save for those fiery ones that love to pop out in the braking zones. We could watch, hear, and feel their 90-degree V10s thundering through Road America’s lush greenery all day, any day.
10. Street Tuner Class to Exit, Prototypes to Split Up for 2019
IMSA took some time during one evening of the event to host a “State of the Series” address and announce some developments for 2019. Chief among them was that after 2018, SportsCar Challenge competition will only include the Grand Sport and TCR classes, and that the Street Tuner class will not return. With the rising popularity and OEM support of the FWD, 2.0L turbo TCR class (and its increased performance over ST), it seems that the ST class has run its course.
It was also announced that prototype racing will split into two separate classes, Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and Le Mans Prototype (LMP2), with the latter becoming a true pro-am series. 2019 will also be the start of a six-year partnership with NBC to televise races across NBC, NBCSN and CNBC.
Whether you're into imports, Euros, domestics, full-on race machines or modified road cars—or just the drama and raw emotion of some of the world’s closest wheel-to-wheel competition—IMSA has you covered.