The long, fluid and fast street course of Watkins Glen International awaits the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in upstate New York this weekend.
With Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen this weekend, drivers in the DPi class can’t help but feel an air of urgency when it comes to the championship fight.
Once the grueling endurance race at The Glen is over, the DPi field heads to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario before concluding the season at Road America in Wisconsin and with the annual Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta .
The No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing piloted by Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist sits at the top of the prototype standings just 10 points ahead of Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque’s No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05.
The next closest team in the standings starts the Cadillac train, with Chip Ganassi Racing of Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn in the No. 02, 96 points off the leader.
Behind the No. 02 sits CGR teammates Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande in the No. 01, 143 points off the Meyer Shank Racing Acura.
Still, the Acura teams are feeling the heat from the Cadillac teams that are pushing.
“I expect the cars to be extremely close,” said Jarvis. “It’s mainly known as the Acura track. I looked back a bit and the pace of the caddies over the last year was very close. I think they definitely closed the gap from the 6 hours to the shorter race the following weekend. Given the move they seemed to have made this year, we can assume they will be in the fray. It won’t be the Acura Walk that some people think it will be. I think it will go to the end, some strategy is required. It’s going to be tough, that’s for sure.”
Taylor said the execution details at Watkins Glen will be critical.
“The Cadillacs have improved a lot this year and I can imagine where this track has favored us in the past,” said Taylor. “Although the 31 (Action Express Racing Cadillac) won in the wet conditions last year. I think this year, even in the dry, all seven cars will be fighting for the top spot. So it will be a matter of positioning yourself well on the track, not making any mistakes and beating everyone at the last stop.”
Watkins Glen is the only six-hour race on the IMSA schedule. That leaves each team weighing the merits of using two riders or adding a third.
This weekend, both Acura teams will only field their two main drivers, while three Cadillac teams will field a third driver in the group.
“For us on the two-rider side, keeping it simple has always been our philosophy,” said Taylor. “If you said the driver was a robot, you would take a driver and just let a man do the whole thing. To go one step further and think that we’re going to slack off a bit, and you’d rather have two just because we’re getting more practice time. The race weekend is pretty limited, the time you can drive in traffic and just the ease of driver changes.
“So by having a rider start and get the track conditions and get up to speed and then get back on a second time, the second time they get on instead of a third rider getting on, they’re back up to speed,” Taylor continued. “That third guy could just sit back and relax. I think that’s just an example of how competitive it is that those little details of an outlap, an over-under cut, whatever it is, those little details make a big difference for us.”
Jarvis believes keeping it simple will better enable the team to deliver the best possible performance on Sunday.
“We’ve ridden two so far,” Jarvis said. “(It) just allows us to get into a rhythm. All you need is a wet workout or a problem and you have really little time to practice. At Mazda there was never a debate, we only drove three while it was debated this year and we felt that two was better overall. With two it will be difficult. When it’s hot, this route presents a real challenge for the driver with minimal downtime when getting off.”
The high standards imposed by every driver at Watkins Glen make the 3.4-mile street course a world of its own when it comes to gaining race car confidence and comfort.
“Watkins Glen is such a tough track that on the first practice session I don’t know how the other guys feel, it takes me six or seven laps, whereas on normal tracks it’s the out lap and you’re comfortable,” Taylor said . “That one, your first five laps and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I’m still a second and a half off and I don’t know how to go any faster.’ However, you are much better prepared in the race.”
As the Championship finals draw closer, there is a sense of urgency for both drivers as they seek to maximize the number of points they can score in each event.
“If you can win, you have to win,” Jarvis said. “But even if, for example, the caddies are very strong and third place is the best we can achieve, it’s important that we do it. We have a very difficult task to beat the Wayne Taylor Racing sister car and the 10th. But the caddies are also extremely strong.
“There is no such thing as a bad car. I’ve been in championships where you have twice as many cars, but nowhere near the level we’re at now,” continued Jarvis. “The problem with the smaller number of cars actually makes it more difficult. When a car has a bad race it’s only fourth or fifth, you just don’t seem able to get that points advantage that you want.”
As the two Acura ARX-05s battle it out for the DPi Championship, Taylor stressed the importance of making sure both teams keep the Cadillac brigade in check.
“We can’t just look at 60, and 60 can’t just look at us,” Taylor said. “We have to make sure we win races or end up on the podium because we can’t let anybody, especially we can’t let a Cadillac come into play.”
#DPi #battle #roars #Watkins #Glen