Teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship were greeted with dreary skies and some fog on Thursday morning as the first timed session of the season kicked into action. Despite the wet track, there was no precipitation that fell during the session. The result was rather mixed.
Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian‘s Oswaldo “Ozz” Negri, Jr. set the best overall time with a lap of 1:54.807 (111.631 mph) in his No. 60 Tire Kingdom-sponsored Ligier JS P2-Honda. That time was more than 1.5 seconds quicker than Maurizio Mediani could turn in the No. 37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan.
The real stars of the session were the GT-Le Mans teams. Since the class is “free” in regards to tire choice, all the teams choose to run Michelin rubber. The tire compound works much better in the wet than what Continental provides. Last year’s Petit Le Mans, where Porsche North America‘s No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR managed to win overall, is proof of the performance.
Before Negri topped the charts, the top 8 cars were GT-Le Mans entries. Once the dust settled, Risi Competizione‘s Toni Vilander was fastest in class with the team’s brand new Ferrari 488 GTE that only just arrived in the United States a few days ago. Vilander’s time was less than three-tenths of a second off of Negri’s best lap. Frederic Makowiecki was second in class with his No. 912 Porsche, followed by David Calado for SMP Racing in another Ferrari 488 GTE and Dirk Werner in the No. 25 BMW M6 GTE for BMW Team RLL.
Prototype Challenge saw Ryan Lewis, driving BAR1 Motorsport‘s No. 26 turn in the fastest lap of the session with a time of 2:00.221 (106.604 mph). Note that PC teams are running with last year’s rules package, which includes no traction control. The cars are a bit difficult to control in moist conditions and Lewis found that out the hard way when he spun exiting the International Horseshoe late in the session. The car was undamaged in the spin. BAR1 Motorsport’s second entry (No. 20) shared by Tomy Drissi, Marc Drumwright, Johnny Mowlem, Ricardo Vera and new signee Brendan Gaughan was second fastest.
GT-Daytona was topped by 18-year old Matt McMurry with a lap of 2:02.249 (104.835 mph), good enough for 23rd overall. Riley Motorsports‘ Jeroen Bleekemolen was second fastest in the No. 33 Dodge Viper GT3-R, carrying sponsorship from Gas Monkey Garage this weekend. Spirit of Race‘s No. 51 Ferrari 458 Italia shared by Peter Mann, Raffaele Giammaria, Matteo Cressoni and Marco Cioci was third quickest, followed by Turner Motorsport‘s No. 97 BMW of Michael Marsal, Markus Palttala, Maxime Martin and Jesse Krohn.
There was one accident late that brought the session to an early close. Spencer Pumpelly spun Change Racing‘s No. 16 Monster Energy-sponsored Lamborghini Huracan GT3 exiting turn 4 of the tri-oval and contacted a tire barrier placed near pit entry. Pumpelly was unhurt and has been treated and released from the Infield Care Center. The team is repairing the Huracan in the garage.
Given the conditions, some teams chose to take it easy early on. 11 teams did not put up an official time in the session. Some, like Panoz DeltaWing Racing, did get out on track for shakedown purposes, but never ran a full lap in anger. Others simply stayed in the garage.
IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams have one more practice session Thursday at 1:25 p.m. Qualifying is currently scheduled for 4 p.m., but it is possible that IMSA could scrap it due to conditions.