The IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda completed a two-day test Wednesday at Sebring International Raceway in preparation for the series’ return to the storied circuit March 14-16.
Among the teams taking part in a trio of practice sessions was the Eurosport Racing team which campaigned the test’s lone pair of Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries, the No. 24 for Dr. Tim George and the No. 34 for Jon Brownson.
With the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda debuting a new one hour, 45-minute endurance racing format this season, the team utilized this week’s test as an opportunity to implement lessons learned from the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.
“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”
Eurosport Racing is no stranger to the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, with the Colorado-based team a series mainstay and championship-winning program since 2007. Still, a shift in 2018 from the series’ longtime sprint format has undoubtedly been an adjustment for even the most veteran drivers and teams.
A big change, but a welcomed change by George and the Eurosport Racing team.
“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”
The endurance format, George added, also prepares aspiring drivers and teams for a potential move to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“It’s good to have that endurance style format for the drivers and teams, they really get into that mentality that it’s not a sprint and you have to be more strategic,” he said. “I love to see two classes as well because that’s even more preparation for the WeatherTech Championship.”
Continental Tire Challenge Floridians Express Anticipation Over Hometown Race at Sebring
The IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge features a handful drivers who make their homes in the state of Florida, making Sebring International Raceway – site of next month’s Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 – a “home race” of sorts for them.
Ahead of the race, scheduled for Friday, March 16, more than a dozen cars participated in the two-day, IMSA-sanctioned test at Sebring, including some local drivers who logged testing miles on the track that was converted from a World War II air base.
“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”
The track is also about two hours from Palm Beach Gardens where Ramin Abdolvahabi lives. A neurosurgeon, he currently drives the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage.
“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” said Abdolvahabi. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic.
“I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”
And for the local teams, being at home offers added incentive to perform well in front of the hometown crowd.
“We’re going to stuff about 14 people into a house so yes, I’m going to have friends and relatives,” said Alan Brynjolfsson, team owner and driver of the No. 7 VOLT Racing Ford Mustang GT4. Brynjolfsson calls nearby Tampa home. “Sebring is kind of our home track, so we have a lot of confidence here and feel at our home track we should perform really well, so we always look forward to Sebring.”
Raso Pilots Porsches Instead of Airliners This Week at Sebring
One of the pleasant nuances of sports car racing is the fact that several drivers make their living doing something other than driving race cars. It’s not uncommon to find doctors, lawyers or executives battling it out on the racetrack.
One driver with a particularly interesting “day job” is Frank Raso, who was testing the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car this week at Sebring.
“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” Raso said. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”
The 54-year-old competed last year in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Gold Cup class, and was gearing up this week for another Gold Cup run in 2018. His best results last year were fourth-place outings on four different occasions.
“I didn’t race the full season last year because of work constraints,” Raso said. “It’s the same thing with this year, I won’t be able to do the whole season because of the work constraints and getting time off. I use my vacation weeks to actually go race or trade trips around and things like that.”
He’s got a solid team behind him and coaching from top drivers such as past IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge champions Eric Foss and Ryan Eversley. He also is able to draw from his own experiences as a pilot, which offers some similarities to driving race cars.
“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order,” Raso said. “It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.
“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no antilock brakes, no traction control and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
Newcomer Welham Brings Fresh Perspective to Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama
Among the 10 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama drivers testing at Sebring International Raceway the last two days were a handful of newcomers to the series in 2018, including Scott Welham, who was testing the No. 61 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machine in the Platinum Cup class.
The test provided an initial taste of professional racing for Welham, who is making the jump from the amateur ranks this season.
“I’m actually a Viper guy,” Welham said Wednesday morning prior to the third and final Porsche GT3 Cup session of the Sebring test. “I’ve been racing since about 2003 in a Viper. So, Vipers are front-engine, high-torque, and you go to this and it is more of a mid-engine, lower torque. I’m having an adjustment on actually having to roll through the corners, versus going on/off, binary, with the Viper. The transition is trying to learn the different car and the techniques and everything else.”
He credits the highly professional Kelly-Moss Road and Race team with helping make it as smooth a transition as possible. It’s been an eye-opening experience for the Louisville, Kentucky resident, whose previous experiences have largely been at the amateur level or working with much smaller operations than Kelly-Moss, which won last year’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA title with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said. “The other one at the amateur level is you always get these guys that do the turning the wrench and the driving.
“I got out of that eventually, but that was the progression you seem to go into. I think you’ve got to make the call on what you want to do. If you want to be a good driver, you need something like this to support you.”
Welham also is looking forward to the high-profile events that populate the 2018 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA schedule, beginning with next month’s doubleheader as part of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts race-week festivities.
“It’s a great attraction,” Welham said. “I mean, it’s just fantastic. You see it on TV, you watch it all the time and it’s like, ‘OK, do I have the ability to go that next level? Can I do it?’
“This year’s going to be a total test of me. I don’t have expectations of winning anything at this point, but if I have a three-year plan, and ultimately, hopefully, at the end of the third year I can actually be pretty good, that’s what I would like to do.”
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