Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix will feature two races on Saturday, opening with the Michelin Pilot Challenge (11:00 AM start, TRACKPASS + IMSA Radio live coverage).
This two-hour sprint is basically two different races taking place at the same time and on the same track, as both the GS and TCR classes take to the 1.474-mile circuit for round six of the 2021 IMSA championship season.
1/ What Kind of Cars Are Racing?
The GS class features a roster of GT4-specification dream cars (Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Audi R8 GT4, BMW M4 GT4, Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, Ford Mustang GT4, Mercedes-AMG GT GT4, Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport, Toyota Supra GT4) with two drivers sharing the driving duties, with both required to do at least 40 minutes of “work” to be scored.
TCR is an internationally-recognized formula that features machines like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce, Audi RS3 LMS, Honda Civic FK7, Hyundai Veloster N TCR, as well as the Hyundai Elantra N TCR. These cars don’t have the power that the GS class machines do, but they have a strong aerodynamic profile that helps the cars have high cornering speeds, keeping the traffic battles with the GS machines a game of cat and mouse on occasion.
2/ Big Crowd for FCP Euro IMSA Debut:
When you are racing at home, you want to make the most of it and have the loudest cheering section you can. With a lot of passionate automotive enthusiasts working for the Milford, Connecticut-based company, it is no surprise that FCP Euro has quickly developed a championship-winning legacy in racing and has continued to build its in-house program to step up in the sport.
FCP Euro Motorsports will look to capitalize on a home-track advantage this weekend when the No. 11 Liqui Moly/TRW Ultra/Corteco/Zimmermann/Nissens/Sparco Mercedes-AMG GT4 takes to the track for the two-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
At the wheel will be a pair of resident Connecticut drivers, Nate Vincent of Old Lyme and Michael Hurczyn of Granby. Both of the team’s drivers are FCP Euro employees, with extensive experience driving at Lime Rock. The IMSA rookie pairing will be urged on by hundreds of guests on the hillside as FCP Euro is set to have a big presence this weekend.
3/ Passing is a Make or Brake Game at Lime Rock Park
At a rapid 1.474 miles and with just 7 corners, a fast lap of Lime Rock Park is all about momentum. But that can make things tricky when it comes time to make a pass, as getting around the next car can get tight.
But there is one really critical spot for passing to happen—the entry to “Big Bend,” the two-corner complex that immediately follows the Sam Posey Straight. Look for drivers to be pulling out the hero card on entry into this corner, and all the tire smoke that often comes with it.
Unlike having all the space in the world to throw a blanket down on the hill to watch the race, at just under 1.5 miles, there just isn’t a lot of room for cars to spread out at Lime Rock Park.
The Michelin Pilot Challenge will run on the “traditional” 1.478-mile circuit, which includes the sound of cars nearly catching air at the top of the uphill. How fast? The GS class cars average just under 100 mph (53.963 seconds was pole in 2019, good for 98.6 mph lap average) for the lap, with the TCR class machines just a couple miles an hour slower.
“Big Bend is a unique corner, because it’s long and it’s a double apex,” Foley said. “I said double apex; a lot of people try to do a late single apex. For me, I’m braking as late as I can. Hard, initially, and then immediately trailing off the brake to try to carry as much speed as possible into the corner as you can. If you don’t carry that speed, you’re going to lose time from the point you turn in through the center of Big Bend. I’m always trying to carry in as much speed as I can, and slow the car down to the point where I can rotate the car for the second apex.”
4/ Close finish a long tradition at Lime Rock Park
Racing is of course unpredictable—that’s why we watch! But one thing you can pretty much count on is a close finish at Lime Rock Park in Michelin Pilot Challenge.
After two hours of racing in the 2018 edition, Owen Trinkler and Hugh Plumb won by just over one second, and in 2019 they won again—but by all of .377-seconds over Jeff Westpahl as the top three finishers crossed the finish line just .521 seconds behind Plumb. With margins that slim, the two hour sprint is just that—a sprint.
5/ Local Yellow:
Having first formed at Lime Rock Park, Boston-based Turner Motorsport brings a lot of success and a lot of fans to the track every year. And heading into the 2021 edition of the Northeast Grand Prix, Team Taco comes into the event with a ton of momentum.
Turner Motorsport is on a hot streak in both IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and WeatherTech competition, with Bill Auberlen breaking the 65 win barrier the last time out at Watkins Glen International. Auberlen and his Vermont-based co-driver Dillon Machavern lead the championship, with Sheena Monk and Spencer Pigot close behind.
Who is in third? The OTHER yellow Turner Motorsport entry of Robby Foley and his rapidly improving co-driver Vincent Barletta. So keep an eye out for the blue and yellow BMW’s as they look to bolster their championship positions with big results this weekend.