Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix will feature two races on Saturday, opening with the Michelin Pilot Challenge and then featuring the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (3:10 PM start, TRACKPASS + IMSA Radio live coverage).
This two-hour, forty-minute sprint will see two different races taking place at the same time and on the same track (See “Traffic” below), as the GTLM and GTD classes take to the 1.478-mile circuit for round six of the 2021 IMSA championship season.
1/ Final ‘Vette Send off….for now
One thing has been constant through the IMSA years, and that is Corvette Racing. The team, which scored the100th victory of the program at Lime Rock Park in 2016 and has more Lime Rock Park wins (5) than any other entrant in IMSA, competes in the GTLM (GT Le Mans) class, which will be eliminated from the IMSA programming in 2022.
So the 2021 Northeast Grand Prix marks the final appearance for the two yellow and grey machines in their current GLTM configuration at Lime Rock Park.
But have no fear Corvette fans, the team will be back next year as IMSA has granted a waiver to allow the squad to make modifications so they can be eligible for GTD Pro class competition next year. The GTLM battle will feature the internecine battle for the two Corvettes as well as the Proton Porsche 911.
“I’m looking forward to going back there,” said No. 3 Corvette Racing pilot Antionio Garcia. “In a lot of ways it feels like the longest race of the year. You’re running three hours with 50-second laps so it’s very challenging. The 10 laps before you get into traffic are pretty calm. After that, it’s very tough. There is no rest there. In a good qualifying run if you run all session, could be a 20-lap attempt. That’s half-a-stint at most tracks we go to. Mentally it’s demanding because of that.”
2/ So… how fast to these things go?
That’s nearly always the first thing anyone asks about a race car, so let’s dive in. Looking at the data from the last time the WeatherTech series was at Lime Rock Park in 2019, the pole-winning time that Laurens Vanthoor set was all of 49.133 seconds, good for an average of 108 miles an hour. This despite the fact that the WeatherTech drivers have a couple of extra corners to navigate with the chicane at the end of the back straight. Which, incidentally, is barely straight.
But things get properly straight and wide open on the Sam Posey Straight, allowing these guys to really stretch their legs—to the tune of 155 miles an hour by the BMW M??, clocked during the race in 2019.
What about the GTD runners? Well, they are not too far off, with Bill Auberlen notching a top speed of 149 miles an hour in 2019, with a pole lap time of 51.464 seconds— good for an average speed of 103.124 mph. Not slow!
3/ Pit stop times critical:
With a lap of Lime Rock Park taking all of 53 seconds for the Michelin Pilot Challenge GS runners, the time spent in the pits can mean that cars return one or even two laps down. If cautions fall just perfectly, some times might risk it and try to make it on one stop (about a minute and 15 seconds of stopped time), while others are required to make it on two stops (which adds about 45 more seconds of stopped time for a shorter fuel stop. So keep an eye on pit lane as the time spent here could be pivotal for the race.
“Pit stop execution will be huge,” said Jordan Taylor. “It’s a short lap and Lime Rock will be a track position race. Driver changes, tire changes and fueling will have to be the best of the year.”
4/ Racing through Traffic:
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.
Which means that the drivers are all dealing with traffic…a lot of the time. And with two classes racing at the same time, there will be a lot of close calls as the faster GTLM machines look to muscle their way through the GTD runners.
5/ Local Yellow: What, these guys again?? Yes, Turner Motorsport is not only leading the Michelin Pilot Challenge Championship, but they are also atop the WeatherTech GTD standings.
Will Turner first started his eponymous team by selling brake upgrade kits out of the back of his 3-series at Lime Rock Park track days. Now, the Boston-based Turner Motorsport will bring the championship lead, a history of success, and a lot of taco-loving fans to Lime Rock Park this weekend.
Auberlen and his co-driver Robby Foley lead the IMSA GTD class championship ahead of the Aston Martin duo of Ross Gunn and Roman De Angelis, with 2018 GTD champions Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow hanging tough in third.