BRASELTON, Ga. – Wright Motorsports’ Jan Heylen is the field’s best hope to prevent Turner Motorsport from walking out at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta Friday with the Grand Sport championship. He went a long way towards gaining an advantage on the pack by topping the speed charts in both Michelin Pilot Challenge practice sessions. His lap Thursday morning at 106.374 mph is the best lap of the weekend.
Practice No. 1
Heylen’s quickest lap at 105.973 mph came very early in the one-hour session. The rest of the field on-site took their turn trying to beat Heylen’s time, but none could do so. Heylen’s lap ended up being nearly a quarter of a second faster than Grand Sport points leader Bill Auberlen in his BMW. Archangel Motorsports’ Trent Hindman was third in his Aston Martin, followed by Riley Motorsports’ Scott Andrews in the quickest of the Toyotas. KohR Motorspots’ Kyle Marcelli was fifth in his Ford Mustang GT4.
TeamTGM’s Owen Trinkler was sixth in his Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, then Rebel Rock Racing’s Robin Liddell. Murillo Racing’s Eric Foss was eighth, then Mark Kvamme in the CB Motorsports Mercedes. Robby Foley was 10th in the second Turner Motorsport BMW.
In TCR, Bryan Herta Autosport’s Mark Wilkins was fastest in his Hyundai Elantra N TCR with a lap at 103.672 mph. This lap was good enough to tie (to the thousandth of a second) for 18th overall with the Forbush Performance Toyota GR Supra GT4 of Tom Long. Long set his lap first, so he is officially 18th fastest while Wilkins is 19th.
Wilkins’ lap was three-tenths of a second faster than Copeland Motorsports’ Tyler Gonzalez in the best Hyundai Veloster N TCR. JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Mikey Taylor was third fastest, then Stephen Simpson and Mason Filippi.
The session was slowed by two red flags. The first red flag came just five minutes into the session when New German Performance’s Tristan Herbert slid off-course in turn 5 and got stuck in the gravel trap. He was pulled out of the trap and was able to continue in the session.
In the final 15 minutes of the session, Van Der Steur Racing’s Rory van der Steur went off at turn 7 and crashed his Hyundai. This caused an eight-minute red flag, after which teams had less than five minutes remaining in the session. The Van der Steur Hyundai did not return after the crash. At this writing, the Van der Steur Racing crew is working on the always sensitive rear suspension of the No. 19 Hyundai, which was bent pretty badly.
Practice No. 2
Thursday morning brought another element into the mix. Rain. From the start of the session to the end, precipitation fell on the 2.54-mile road course. It started as just a couple of spritzes here and there, but picked up as the session went on. Despite this, it never rained hard enough for the track to actually get wet.
Heylen brought out his best form towards the end of the session. On the car’s 28th lap of the session, he set the best Michelin Pilot Challenge lap of the weekend to this point, a lap at 106.374 mph. However, things were not all great. Teammate Ryan Hardwick pulled the car off the track at turn 5 with two minutes remaining in the session and had to be flat towed back to the paddock.
Heylen’s lap was one-tenth of a second faster than Marcelli’s Mustang. Foss was third, then Foley and Andrews. Auberlen was sixth with Trinkler close behind. Liddell was eighth, while PF Racing’s Chad McCumbee was ninth after the team solved a mechanical issue with their Mustang. Hindman rounded out the top 10.
In TCR, JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Chris Miller put down a lap at 103.874 mph right as the checkered flag fell to top the class in 20th overall. Miller’s lap was three-sevenths of a second faster than Bryan Herta Autosport’s Ryan Norman. Teammate Harry Gottsacker was third, while KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering’s Tim Lewis Jr. was fourth in his Alfa Romeo. VGMC Racing’s Karl Wittmer was fifth in the best of the Honda Civic Type-R TCRs.
In addition to Hardwick pulling off-course during the session, there were also off-course excursions for Riley Motorsports’ Pierre Kleinubing and New German Performance’s Cliff Brown. No red flags were thrown during the session.
Qualifying for the FOX Factory 120 is scheduled for 3:55 p.m. Thursday afternoon. We will have a recap of the session and a word with the pole sitter for you here at Frontstretch.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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