The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen: Sportscar Racing at Its Best
As far as race tracks go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as storied in the world of auto racing as upstate New York’s Watkins Glen International. Since 1953 it’s hosted races by the SCCA, IndyCar, defunct World Sportscar Championship (WSC), Trans-Am and Can-Am series, even NASCAR (yes, those cars do occasionally do more than turn left). From 1961 to 1980 it was the home of Formula 1 in the U.S., and is today known as “The Mecca of North American road racing.” And as of a re-surfacing just two years ago, The Glen is arguably as good as it’s ever been.
A HISTORY OF EXCELLENCE
Dating back even further is the race the track is best known for: The Six Hours of The Glen, which began in 1948 as the Watkins Glen Grand Prix when it was held on about 6 miles of public roadway surrounding the village of Watkins Glen, New York. Created by the SCCA, the race was eventually moved to the newly minted racetrack after an accident left 12 spectators injured and one dead in 1952.
Since then, it’s been run on behalf of the SCCA, U.S. Road Racing Championship, WSC, IMSA Camel GT series, Grand-Am Road Racing, and once again today by IMSA as part of the United Sportscar Championship (today called the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, for its title sponsor).
Marking the halfway point of the season, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen is run by all four classes of the series, and joining them throughout the week are two races each for the IMSA Prototype Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, Lamborghini Super Trofeo and a 120-minute enduro for the GS and ST classes of the Sportscar Challenge. That’s a lot of racing, and if any of it thus far has left you a bit confused, please see our primer on how to enjoy (and understand) sportscar racing in the U.S.
Here’s what you need to know as of the close of the 2017 Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen:
IMSA PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE
For 12 years the IMSA Lites series has existed as a feeder to professional prototype-class racing in the U.S. Today it serves the same purpose but has been renamed the IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda, and is open to teams fielding any of two approved competition machines: open-cockpit MPC-class Elan DP02s, powered by 2.0L four-cylinder Mazda MZR engines and a variety of chassis makes adhering to international LMP3 class specifications, powered by 5.0L V8 Nissan VK50VE engines.
A shortened racing format and season allow competitors to participate without as much financial backing as in the professional leagues, but the competition — and speeds — are nearly as intense. This weekend was only the third event of the year for the series, and leading the championship points chase coming into the competition was Andres Gutierrez in the No. 12 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3, with 2015 season champ Kenton Koch in the No. 8 P1 Motorsports Ligier hot on his wing. But Gutierrez and Koch were both usurped by Colin Thompson in the No. 14 Ignite/Mattoni Water car, who qualified First and won the first race of the week with Koch and Gutierrez claiming Second and Third, respectively.
Race No. 2 was where things got tough, however, when rain began to fall — and fall hard — right as the green flag dropped. Koch started the race on slicks and limped around the drenched track until he could pit and change to wets, rejoining in 21st place and finishing 18th overall, after wrecks and caution flags limited his passing opportunities. Thompson also suffered position in the chaos (finishing Sixth overall but now still leading the points chase), but Gutierrez took the win he’d been eyeing all week.
LAMBORGHINI SUPER TROFEO
Another series affiliated with, but independent of, IMSA WeatherTech competition and also racing twice throughout the week was the U.S. division of Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Driver Richard Antinucci dominated the season coming into the week, having won every event thus far, and here he qualified First and took the win in the first race of the week from behind the wheel of the No. 16 Change Racing/Lamborghini Carolinas machine.
But when he encountered problems during race No. 2 and finished in only 16th place, Riccardo Agostini and Trent Hindman, switching off at the wheel in the No. 1 car of Prestige Performance/Lamborghini Paramus, came through for the win.
PORSCHE GT3 CUP
Intertwined with those races, as well as practice and Qualifying sessions, was the second one-make series present: the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge. And with it came a genuinely scary moment, when in Race No. 1 two competitors collided with each other and the outside wall between the exit of The Glen’s uphill “esses” and Turn 4, coming to rest in a blind area of the track and setting off a chain-reaction crash with no fewer than 10 approaching competitors. Nine drivers required medical attention, with hospitalization deemed necessary for four of them.
Fortunately, the cars’ safety equipment did its job and the IMSA/Watkins Glen ground crews and medical staffs reacted perfectly to the situation. Most importantly no one was severely injured, but the race was called and driving ended early Friday on a somber note to an otherwise great first day of racing.
Saturday’s second race went off without as much of a hitch among the 30 remaining cars, with Canadian driver Scott Hargrove (this race pitted drivers of the Canadian Cup series in competition with those of the USA Cup) starting from the pole in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports/Castrol machine and maintaining the lead for much of the race after battling to keep it from nearly the start.
But 30 cars are still a big field, and when Hargrove and Canadian rival Zacharie Robichon (No. 98, Mark Motors Racing car) eventually caught up to the back of the field, Robichon was able to make a move for the lead, in the process incurring contact from Hargrove for which Hargrove was given a drive-through penalty, allowing Robichon to collect his first win of the season.
The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen also hosted the Continental Tire 120, a two-hour endurance race for the door-slammers of GS and ST-class competition. Leading championship points heading into the competition were two Porsche teams: the No. 12 Bodymotion Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 of Trent Hindeman and Cameron Cassels in GS, and Spencer Pumpelly and Nick Galante in the No. 17 RS1 Porsche Cayman in ST.
Gaining steam in the background of GS since their win at COTA had been the no. 76 C360R McLaren GT4 team of Paul Horton and Matt Plumb, who qualified First with a record-breaking time and held the lead at The Glen for much of the race. But an error in competition during the race dropped them to Third in the running, behind the No. 59 KohR Ford Mustang team of Jack Roush Jr. and Dean Martin.
If that upset wasn’t enough when the No. 59 team incurred a bump from the then-leading team of Al Carter and Steven Phillips in the No. 99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, which resulted in a spin for the Aston, the once-third-place No. 59 Mustang team would go on to collect the win.
ST-class competition boiled down to a battle of brothers, as driver Mat Pombo (co-driver: Derek Jones) in the No. 73 JCW Team Mini fended off his brother and teammate Mark Pombo (co-driver: Jared Salinsky) in the No. 52 JCW Team Mini to take the win, with the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman team of Jeff Mosing (who was involved in Friday’s Porsche Cup crash) and Eric Foss taking Third.
WEATHERTECH SPORTSCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
Filling the top echelon of IMSA competition, in terms of speed and glory, are the cars and teams of the Prototype class. The cars' low, wide stance and plentiful aerodynamics and powerful engines make them the quickest around a track nearly always, save for on certain tracks in pounding rain, when the GTs can occasionally steal their thunder (Google the 2015 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta for more). While Prototypes did battle occasional wet conditions this time around, mainly in practice sessions, they never relinquished their dominance.
The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R team of brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor had won every race ahead of the Six Hour, but had an uncharacteristically bleak week beginning in practice and solidified in Qualifying, when Brazilian driver Pipo Derani in the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi clocked the fastest lap and earned the pole start.
Things got worse for both teams when they were passed for the lead by the team of Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson and Chris Miller in the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports car, and then the unexpected happened when that team was passed by the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi of Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque, who took the win. One winning streak remained at the end of it all: Cadillac’s dominance of the Manufacturer Championship chase.
Not to be confused with the aforementioned IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series, the Prototype Challenge here is a class within IMSA WeatherTech competition, at least for the remainder of the year, after which it will be scrapped. But until then, there’s plenty of excitement ahead for the series’s second fastest class...
...that is, if the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports team with drivers Kyle Masson, James French and Patricio O’Ward decide to give their two remaining competitors a chance. They’ve won every single race thus far, including the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, for which they also qualified First.
The GT classes are really where OEMs do battle and fan the flames of their rivalries, chiefly the one between championship points leaders Chevrolet and their No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R team of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, and challengers Ford and their No. 66 Ford/Chip Ganassi Racing team of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller, which has been catching up in points and qualified First for competition this time around.
If there ever was a place for a Ford/Chevy rivalry to take center stage, Watkins Glen on Independence Day weekend was it. But the win quickly proved to be literally anyone’s for the taking, as seven of the eight class competitors switched off for the lead during the six hours. When the excitement finally reached its climax it was the Germans standing tallest, though, with the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M6 of Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims taking the win.
OK, so maybe GTD is technically the slowest class of WeatherTech competition, but it’s also arguably the most popular, fielding more cars than any other class (by nearly twice), and with all the OEM grudges in tow.
Leading championship points ahead of the race was the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes AMG team of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, but gaining ground — especially after their first win in Detroit — was the team of Andy Lally and Katherine Legge in the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3.
Just like the Ford challengers in GTLM, the Acura team ran fastest in Qualifying. In contrast, though, Acura was able to hold their lead throughout the six hours, winning the class and claiming their second-straight victory. But their margin of victory was a scant 0.592 seconds (after six hours of racing!) ahead of a team to which few had given much thought: the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 team of Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielson and Matteo Cressoni. Halfway through the season it’s become clear that there are no safe bets in this class.
If you’ve made it this far in our coverage of the Sahlen’s Six Hours at The Glen, you no doubt realize just how much racing is packed into an IMSA event stop. What wasn’t explored in much detail this time around was the fan experience, which consisted of four straight days of camping, grilling, tailgating, playing with the kids/pets/friends/family, enjoying live music and a fireworks show, and possibly even partaking in the Sahlen’s hot dog eating contest. Oh, and enjoying the racing, up close and personal.
If you haven’t made a tradition of catching at least one of these events while they're near your backyard, maybe you should.
For season schedules and locations, broadcast info, and to download the IMSA mobile app, head over to www.IMSA.com, and stay with Driving Line for more throughout the season.