MICHELIN Pilot Challenge Thursday Notebook
Thursday, January 24, 2019

Holton Hot Out of the Gate, Gives McLaren MICHELIN Pilot Challenge Motul Pole Award

Paraplegic Michael Johnson Torches TCR Field for First Motul Pole Award

The stage is set for the 2019 season-opening IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge race, scheduled for Friday at 12:15 p.m. ET and streamed on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary.

After a gorgeous sunset qualifying session, Paul Holton in the No. 75 Compass Racing McLaren GT4 steered his way to the top of the charts, earning the first Motul Pole Award of the year. Holton’s time of one minute, 52.143 seconds (114.277 mph) bested the previous track record set by Spencer Pumpelly last year by 2.993 seconds.

“It was really good,” said Holton, who scored the final Motul Pole Award of the 2018 season at Road Atlanta in addition to two others last season. “The guys did a really good job setting up the car, they’ve done a lot of work. We didn’t get the car until two weeks ago. Managed to shake it down in a week and prep the car for IMSA. We’ve done a really good job there and the guys have worked really hard and had a lot of long 16-hour days. I’m really happy to reward them with the pole and hopefully we can actually stay there the whole race tomorrow.”

In total, this was the 10th pole for McLaren since joining the MICHELIN Pilot Challenge in 2017.

In the TCR class, it was a stunning performance by Michael Johnson in the No. 54 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi RS3 LMS. Johnson, a paraplegic since age 12, toppled the rest of the field by .852 seconds, posting a lap of 1:58.433 (108.208 mph).

“I did not expect to get that quick of a time, especially how we were doing in practice earlier,” said Johnson. “I thought it was going to be a low 59, but the car is running really great. My engineer, Cole, did a phenomenal job setting up the car and making sure I’m comfortable out there. That was just putting all the pieces together and I was able to click off two quick lap times in the 58s back-to-back, so that was really impressive for myself to know I can do that and I just need to put it together tomorrow.”

After winning his first MICHELIN Pilot Challenge race at Lime Rock Park in July 2018, this was Johnson’s first Motul Pole Award in IMSA. It also comes one year after Johnson was recovering from a broken leg suffered at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 in 2018.

“I’m really proud of myself to know I put all the pieces with my training to make this happen,” said Johnson. “It shows what I can do as an athlete and nothing can stop what the human body can do. I’m a perfect example of that.”

A post-qualifying penalty was assessed to the No. 69 Motorsports In Action McLaren GT4, which originally qualified second overall but was found to be under the minimum weight.

The four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge goes green at 12:15 p.m. ET, streaming live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary. Fans on site are invited to take part in the pre-race fan grid walk beginning at 11:15 a.m.

The race television broadcast will air on Feb. 6 on NBCSN at 1 p.m. ET.

 

Ryan Nash Ready to Inspire in First IMSA Season

More than 15 drivers are making their IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge debut on Friday in the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge, one of which is 23-year-old Ryan Nash. Nash, a native of Montebello, New York, will be making his debut in the No. 12 eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing Audi RS3 in the TCR class alongside fellow newcomer Russell McDonough.

Nash hails from an open-wheel background, having most recently competed in the winter and summer series of the Lucas Oil School of Racing. He was vice champion of the 2018 winter series and won three races in the summer series.  The connection with eEuroparts came during the summer of 2018, having shadowed the team at Watkins Glen via his driving coach. He tested the car at Lime Rock in August and the rest is history.

And perhaps there’s no better place to begin realizing his dream than Daytona International Speedway. 

“It’s just an awesome track in general, not only for the fans but the drivers as well,” said Nash. “Even though it looks very simplistic, it’s very not, especially if you get a chance to walk up on the banking. Driving the car and you get on there, it’s like ‘Oh, this is nice,’ but when you walk it, it’s like ‘Whoa, the incline.’ I love this track, it has lots of history and it’s a very fun track to drive.”

Nash is also the lone African-American driver in the stout 49-car field, something he is proud and eager to embrace as his career progresses.

“To be able to be one of the few African American drivers, I’m very blessed,” said Nash. “I’m happy that I’m able to hopefully use my platform to inspire and encourage other people. I love being able to be an inspiration of hope and to try and affect change and bring more people of not only all ethnicities, but black people as well to get into motorsports and racing. Just go after whatever you feel, whatever it is you want to do in life, just go after it.”

Nash is certainly going after it. Like all drivers, the goal is to climb through the ranks, but the youngster is also content to enjoy the moment in the MICHELIN Pilot Challenge.

“One day, somewhere down the line, I would definitely love to step up to P3 or Daytona Prototypes and run with the big guys,” said Nash. “But for right now, I would love this experience as well so I’m going to use TCR and eventually GS to get into prototypes.”

 

Marc Miller Hoping to Continue Porsche Podium Streak at Daytona with Former Competitor

The last time Marc Miller raced at Daytona International Speedway in the IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge was in 2017 and with good results, which the longtime IMSA competitor is hoping to replicate in Friday’s BMW Endurance Challenge.

Turns out, that runner-up finish in 2017 was actually a replication of his performance one year prior, as he also finished second in 2016. Both results came with CJ Wilson Racing in a Porsche Cayman GT4, but a one-year MICHELIN Pilot Challenge hiatus in 2018 prevented Miller from trying for three-for-three.

“After not being here in 2018, that was really tough to do because for six or seven seasons,” said Miller. “I felt like IMSA was my home away from home. Coming to IMSA events has just been the norm the last several years. It is really exciting to be back, especially at Daytona and the opening round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.”

His break from the series allowed Miller to work on other projects, such as racing in Trans Am and partnering with Andris Laivins to form Gradient Racing. Miller also is still involved with CJ Wilson Racing, but in a twist will be driving on Friday with the team’s former foe, Bodymotion Racing.

Entered in the No. 31 Bodymotion Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 MR with Pete McIntosh and Patrick Liddy, Miller described how the transition has been smoother than what most would expect.

“You had to basically relearn personalities,” Miller said. “They’re been great to work with, they’re a very talented group and they’ve proven it over the years. I feel like they were a great nemesis for us and to be part of that and see how they work and to blend in and be able to work closely with them has been a real treat and an honor to get that opportunity as well.”

 

New Aston Martin GT4 Sees First Track Time on Friday

Automatic Racing is back in the IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge with its fleet of Aston Martin Vantage GT4s, one of which is a bit different than the others.

Rob Ecklin, co-driver of the No. 97 Automatic Racing Aston Martin GT4 with Brandon Kidd and Ramin Abdolvahabi, explained how the team took delivery of the car less than one week ago.

“It’s the only Aston in North America right now,” said Ecklin. “It literally got off the airplane on Sunday. It got to Automatic Racing’s shop on Monday, I believe it was. We’ve got a wrap for this car, but it’s not wrapped yet in our livery.”

Thursday’s on-track activities started in the wet following a morning storm, but sunny skies prevailed for the remainder of the day and are expected for the weekend. The morning storm, though, made most MICHELIN Pilot Challenge teams shy away from making laps, including Ecklin’s squad.

“The only reason we didn’t go out this morning because it’s the only wet session for the weekend, so we didn’t feel we wanted to risk the car, the car is set up for dry,” said Ecklin before the car took part in second practice. “This car has not been on track yet so at 11:40, this car will be on the track for the first time in race form and dry set up and then we’ll be able to tell where the car sits.”

Ecklin also admitted his eagerness to start working on the learning curve associated with a new car.

“This car is set up quite a bit differently so I’m anxious,” said Ecklin. “I got it down to maybe four or five buttons I need to worry about. Now we need to go out there and feel the car and just give some feedback and see how it runs.”

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