TUDOR United SportsCar

TUSCC: Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix Preview

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AUSTIN, Texas —†After nearly a full month of down time, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship awakes from its slumber for the penultimate round of the series at the challenging Circuit of the Americas layout. With long straights, a thrilling set of medium and high speed corners, and plenty of undulation; any car competing in the TUSCC is pushed to its maximum capabilities here, meaning a car capable of winning on Saturday, is potent at any race at any time. The Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix however, marks the resumption of three closely fought championship fights, plus multiple debuts added in sustenance.

In the headliner Prototype division, the fight for bragging rights will most likely go to one of the Chevrolet Corvette DP runners, with Action Express Racing coming off back to back wins at Indianapolis and Elkhart Lake the most likely victor at this time. However both Wayne Taylor Racing and Visitflorida.com Racing cannot be overlooked nor can the Riley-Ford EcoBoost DPs of Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Shank Racing, with each claiming a runner up finish in the past two events. However, the Austin round could be a breakthrough for an LMP-eligible machine with most of the attention being placed on the OAK Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda coupe, which is making its North American race debut here.

In GT Le Mans, the once insurmountable lead held by Corvette Racing over SRT Motorsports’ Dodge Viper team is down to just six points entering Texas. However, with a recent adjustment in the IMSA Balance of Performance settings as reported by Rubbings Racing last week, a lighter in weight Corvette looks to re-solidify its hold on the championship lead. ¬†However, the attention of the Corvette program is split between the TUSCC race and an FIA World Endurance Championship six-bour enduro to take place later the same day. In addition to Corvette, other IMSA regulars Extreme Speed Motorsports and Krohn Racing will also battle it out against the best from this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, providing a potential preview to next year’s Le Mans race in June, as well as potential encounters early next year at either Daytona, Sebring, or both.

While Dodge SRT and Corvette are the GTLM headliners, Risi Competizione Ferrari has the recent momentum with two straight wins at Elkhart Lake and Virginia. However, the task for the home state runners (the Risi team calls Houston home) will be much more difficult as performance penalties were placed upon this car in the same BoP adjustments from last week.

Also not to be overlooked is the super tight fight in the GT Daytona class, which currently hosts a three-way stalemate at the head of the points table. AIM Autosport, Alex Job Racing, and Turner Motorsport have each had strong seasons to date with the latter of the three leading the way in terms of victories and momentum. However the best of the rest, the Audi R8 belonging to Paul Miller Racing could have the last laugh as it will feature more horsepower at CoTA than at any time this season.

And while the Prototype Challenge championship battle is pretty well sewn up in the favor of CORE Autosport, with three different winners in three events and the return of last year’s COTA winners BAR 1 Motorsports after a two race hiatus, anything could be possible.

With those teasers on the table, here are some of the parameters for this weekend’s action.

Entry List
Circuit of the Americas
Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix

CLASS # TEAM CAR TYPE ENGINE
P 2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Honda HPD ARX-03b Honda V6
5 Action Express Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP Chevrolet V8
10 Wayne Taylor Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP Chevrolet V8
31 Marsh Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP Chevrolet V8
42 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda V6
60 Michael Shank Racing Riley DP Ford V6
70 SpeedSource Lola B12/80 Mazda Diesel
90 Visitflorida.com Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP Chevrolet V8
01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley DP Ford V6
07 SpeedSource Lola B12/80 Mazda Diesel
PC 7 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
25 8Star Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
52 PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
54 CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
87 BAR 1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
88 BAR 1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
  08 RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
09 RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet
GTLM 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R Chevrolet V8
4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R Chevrolet V8
17 Team Falken Racing Porsche 911 RSR Porsche V6
55 Rahal-Letterman Lanigan BMW Z4 GTE BMW V8
56 Rahal-Letterman Lanigan BMW Z4 GTE BMW V8
62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia Ferrari V8
91 SRT Motorsports Dodge Viper GTS-R Dodge V10
93 SRT Motorsports Dodge Viper GTS-R Dodge V10
910 CORE Autosport Porsche 911 RSR Porsche V6
911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR Porsche V6
912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR Porsche V6
GTD 18 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
19 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
22 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
23 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
27 Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
30 MOMO NGT Motorsport Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
33 Riley Engineering Dodge Viper GT3-R Dodge V10
35 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS Audi V8
44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS Audi V8
46 Fall-Line Motorsports Audi R8 LMS Audi V8
48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS Audi V8
58 Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 GT3 Ferrari V8
71 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
81 GB Autosport Porsche 911 GT America Porsche V6
007 TRG-Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin V12 Vantage Aston Martin V12
300 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 BMW V8
555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 GT3 Ferrari V8

 

WEEKEND SCHEDULE:

Practice: Thursday & Friday, September 18-19, 2014 (Three sessions, each one hour in duration are available to all teams prior to qualifying)

Qualifying: Friday, September 19, 2014 (As is the case at all TUSCC events, every class will have 15 minutes of track time to post a qualifying time)

Race: Saturday, September 20, 2014 †The green flag will fly at 12:35 p.m. eastern time, with the race running over a timed distance of two hours, 45 minutes.

Follow Rubbings Racing on Twitter (@RubbingsRacing) and/or Matt Embury (@MattEmbury) for updates throughout Saturday’s race, beginning at Noon eastern time.

TV: Fox Sports 2 will have live coverage of the race on Saturday. Coverage begins at  12:30 p.m. eastern time. FOX will also carry a tape delayed version of the broadcast on Sunday afternoon.

Radio: motorracingnetwork.com live coverage begins at 12 p.m. eastern time

Live Timing & Scoring: www.imsa.com

TRACK DESCRIPTION:

Track Length: 3.427 miles

Turns: 20 (11 to the left, 9 to the right)

Track Surface: Asphalt

Description: Conceived by promoter Tavo Hellmund and world renowned road course architect Hermann Tilke, the Circuit of the Americas was constructed as the new home of the Formula One United States Grand Prix, hosting its debut race in 2012. The relatively twisty road layout, connected by three long straightaways features a near carbon copy of several familiar corners at famous circuits of the past and present.

Although the nature of the circuit at first glance would not suggest a track where a competitive race could be held, such was the norm as both the Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series each hosted memorable events here in 2013. With three good spots to overtake, including the signature high rise of the pit straightaway prior to the turn one hairpin, one should expect action a plenty in each of the four classes of competition that will take to the Texas-based course.

KEYS TO VICTORY:

  • Starts and Restarts: Things are likely to get pretty wild on the opening lap and on any restart here,¬†with multiple chances to gain ground and positions or lose them with contact or a spin out. Keeping the car in one piece early is critical to the long straightaways nature of CoTA, meaning any damage suffered along the way will be paid for in full as the race progresses.
  • Controlled Aggression: As mentioned before, there are certain places at CoTA where aggression pays well, but others where a softer touch is more effective. The quicker a team of drivers grows accustomed to it this weekend, the better their chances are at a high finish.
  • Pit Stop Strategy: At both Elkhart Lake and Virginia, teams making their final pit stop first benefited greatly in the final results allowing some teams to finish higher up the list than they normally would. Michael Shank Racing took advantage with a second place overall run at Road America, while Team Falken Tire Porsche did likewise in the GT Le Mans division in Virginia, nearly winning the race before finally succumbing to the Risi Competizione Ferrari on the final lap. Getting caught out on the wrong strategy could spell disaster to a team’s hopes for a title heading towards the season finale at¬†Atlanta.

TEAMS TO WATCH OUT FOR:

Prototype:

  • Action Express Racing: The Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa piloted Chevrolet Corvette DP has been the class of the Prototype grid for the past two races, and as their rivals have succumbed to blunders and mechanical failures along the same road, the Gary Nelson-run squad can afford to take a conservative route toward the championship, but that does not match the style they have shown in 2014. Expect another victory threatening effort from the red and white No. 5 and if all goes right, a stamp of authority on the series title could be placed following the Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix.
  • Wayne Taylor Racing: The Taylor brothers got a real dose of bad luck at Road America, as a mechanical failure during the final caution sent their Corvette DP off the road and into the tire barriers, costing the team serious championship points. With essentially nothing to lose at the point whilst facing a 16-point deficit, watch for the brothers to take a few extra chances to earn the victory in Austin. While some bad luck from Action Express may be needed to get them back in the championship hunt, this team dealt with the title pressure strongly one season ago.
  • Michael Shank Racing: The “other” Ford EcoBoost-Riley DP runners finally broke into contending mode at Road America earning a terrific runner-up finish. While being out shown by their Ford Motor Company rivals from Chip Ganassi Racing for most of the season, the Oswaldo Negri Jr. and John Pew driving duo have made more noticeable progress in the last several events, all simply by being around at the finish. May not be the fastest Prototype track side this weekend, but could yet be one of the most successful.
  • OAK Racing: The French-based squad has perhaps the second-most attention placed squarely upon it this weekend, as their brand new Ligier JS P2 coupe takes to the North American tarmac for the first time. If you go by the car’s debut run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, their chances of a win are pretty good. This car came within one hour of claiming a LMP2 class win this past June at Circuit de la Sarthe. However, if you go by their efforts in recent action in the European Le Mans Series sprint races where the car failed to finish on both tries, there could also be some growing pains in Austin likewise. The most experienced Ligier tester Alex Brundle has been called in to pair up with Gustavo Yacaman, which could very well speed up the learning curve for the team this weekend.
  • Visitflorida.com Racing: The only team that has been able to consistently match the strong efforts posted by Action Express Racing this season. Michael Valiente and Richard Westbrook have only finished outside the top five overall in just one event in 2014, and have claimed podium results in four of the last five events, including a win at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. This team won’t dazzle you with overly aggressive driving maneuvers, but always manage a standard performance that will keep them in the running for a good result as should be the case in Texas this weekend.

Prototype Challenge

  • CORE Autosport: While the Prototype Challenge championship leaders continue to reel in the podium finishes, the winner’s circle has eluded them in the past three races. With the title firmly in their grasp, except to see some more aggression from Colin Braun and Jon Bennett this weekend as it is probably too late in the going for a bad result to take the crown away from them now. There’s a reason this team¬†collected four wins in the season’s first five events, they are simply the cream of the crop in this division.
  • 8Star Motorsports: The Enzo Potolicchio-run squad finally claimed their long awaited first Prototype Challenge class win with a wire to wire domination at Virginia International Raceway, now comes the tough part can they repeat it? While a 24-point gap is perhaps a little too much to overcome in the final two events, expect Sean Rayhall and Luiz Diaz to continue to pursue victories in the final two rounds. Only a pair of clunkers at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis have prevented them from being a bigger title threat at this point of the championship.
  • Starworks Motorsport: The Peter Baron guided team has been the ultimate boom or bust throughout the 2014 TUSCC season. The aggression of drivers Renger van der Zande and Mirco Schultis has gifted the team two victories in 2014, but also has penalized them with three finishes outside the top five. Anything could be possible from the best of the two-car operation this weekend.
  • BAR 1 Motorsports: The defending Prototype Challenge class winners from a year ago at CoTA have endured a frustrating 2014 campaign, with only one podium finish so far this season. The team took the last two events off to dust itself off and have returned with a serious challenge possible led by the British veteran driver Johnny Mowlem. While still a long shot when compared to their rivals, this team could yet post a strong title defense this weekend.

GT Le Mans

  • Corvette Racing: With over half of the added extra weight removed from the car in time for the Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix, expect Antonio Garcia and a back to 100 percent Jan Magnussen to rejoin the battle at the front of the GT Le Mans division, after taking a back seat in the previous three rounds. This of course does not necessarily mean that another winning streak is in the cards either. Unlike three races ago, the team’s safety net in terms of the championship is all but gone, so the added pressure could yet still throw them another curve ball, as could fighting a two front battle this weekend as they enter cars in both the TUSCC and the FIA World Endurance Championship races in Austin.
  • SRT Motorsports: It will be interesting to see how the Viper team reacts to having to face a much more potent Chevrolet Corvette C7.R this weekend. Despite the Balance of Performance adjustments, the recent run of results still indicates that the momentum is with the entry of Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer, and a second GTLM class win of the season should also not be overlooked. As with the Corvette, the medium and high speed twists and turns of CoTA should suit the Dodge SRT machine positively leaving the potential of victory well within the reach of their two drivers.
  • Porsche North America: So far the aerodynamic aids granted to them by IMSA prior to Indianapolis have yet to provide benefits for the German marque and couple that with a recent run of mechanical gremlins mixed in and the second half of the 2014 campaign has been one to forget. To add insult to injury, Porsche privateer Team Falken Tire Porsche nearly won the most recent event in Virginia, settling for runner up honors. However, not all is lost for Porsche with two races left to run. The 911 RSR still leads the GTLM manufacturer’s championships and Porsche North America has entered a third car for Texas to further protect the small cushion they enjoy over Corvette, Viper, and BMW.
  • Risi Competizione: After a rocky start to 2014, Risi Ferrari’s luck has gone in the reverse direction of Porsche, as the home team for the CoTA event has finished second or better in the last three rounds, including two straight wins at Elkhart Lake and Virginia International. However, success comes with a price. The Balance of Performance settings which aided them are now limited in strength, meaning Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer will have to dig deeper if they are to continue their recent run of glory.

GT Daytona

  • AIM Autosport: Of the three teams even in the championship race, the Ferrari 458 driven by Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler have been the least impressive in recent days. The team has not earned a podium since a runner-up finish at Watkins Glen and while it has matched the numbers posted by both Alex Job Racing and Turner Motorsport in some events, they have not been able to gain ground as their rivals have. The increased RPMs that their Ferrari V8 engine can now turn as part of the Balance of Performance settings should help them this weekend and at Atlanta, but whether it is enough to reclaim their position as sole championship leaders remains to be seen.
  • Alex Job Racing: Despite still lacking a GTD class win and having only two more chances to claim one, AJR’s Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil are still a major threat in the championship race thanks to a resume that features only two results outside the top five this season. Like Ferrari, the Porsche GT America runners were helped by the BoP settings, receiving approval from IMSA to run a new aerodynamic package similar to one given to their Porsche counterparts in the GTLM division. So far the GTLM entry has not profited from the adjustments, but one should expect a decent payoff in the case of AJR’s effort to claim a win and the series championship.
  • Turner Motorsport: Of the three-way deadlock, Turner’s BMW Z4 has been the class of the trio in recent weeks even overcoming multiple BoP setbacks to maintain its strong run of results. Only a pair of letdowns to¬†start to the season at Daytona and Sebring has prevented Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala from running away with the GTD championship lead. Well fast forward to Austin where even more weight has been added to the BMW, yet as seen in the past the team should again find a way to turn a negative into a positive and contend for their fifth win of the season at CoTA.
  • Paul Miller Racing; The Audi runners are 11 points adrift of the triple dead heat on the GTD points table, but they could easily vault past all of them when the checkered flag falls to end the 2014 season in Atlanta. While a two millimeter larger air restrictor does not seem like much of an aid at first glance, when added to a car that is part of a usual 12 to 14 car jumble that is separated by less than a second in practice and qualifying, it could be all that Christopher Haase and Bryce Miller need to bridge the gap that separates them from a very possible dream, which could start well at CoTA this weekend.

Don’t forget to follow our coverage on Twitter (@RubbingsRacing, @MattEmbury) starting at Noon on Saturday

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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