Among teams taking advantage of the opportunity to sample both IMSA and the new Michelin tires at the Encore is California-based GMG Racing. The team is fielding the No. 22 Audi R8 LMS GT4 for Jason Bell, just-added Andy Lally and James Sofronas, who also owns GMG Racing.
“We’re excited to be down here at the Michelin Encore event here at Sebring,” Sofronas said. “I mean, obviously, we always want to race at Sebring, and an opportunity to try the new Michelin Pilot Sport, the slick, here for our GMG Audi R8 LMS GT4 car. It’s a great opportunity. There’s tons of track time. Jason Bell, who owns the car, who we support, it’s a great opportunity for him. He’s a local Floridian. It looks like the weather’s cooperating, so we’re excited to get going.”
It is GMG’s first IMSA race since the 2018 Continental Tire Challenge season-opening BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway. Sofronas likes what he’s seeing so far this weekend at Sebring, especially from the new MICHELIN Pilot tires.
“These tires have been great so far,” he said. “We’re still learning how to tweak on him, as is everyone, but for us, it’ll give us an advantage looking into next year.”
Atlantic Racing team debuts Adess LMP3 car, plans to race full-time in 2019
This weekend’s Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore is a significant one for the Atlantic Racing Team.
Not only is the team turning its first laps in a return to IMSA competition, it is doing so in the IMSA debut for an Adess 03 LMP3 car. A trio of drivers, Robin Shute, Jim Antunes and Tazio Ottis, are driving the car this weekend in what the team considers a tune-up to a full-time IMSA Prototype Challenge campaign in 2019.
Led by father and son Rolf-Ingo Strackerjan and Franz-Lucas Strackerjan, Atlantic Racing Team returns to IMSA after first competing in 1999. Since then, the team has competed in various series both domestically and internationally, including most recently in the Asian Le Mans Series.
“We are all very delighted to be back with IMSA,” said Strackerjan. “It’s a really attractive package, you get a lot of exposure which we as a team need in order to attract drivers. We sat down last year and we decided, let’s join IMSA again. We are really looking forward to the tracks, they look really good for an LMP3.”
The team has had expected growing pains this weekend at Sebring but expects to be up to speed by the time the IMSA Prototype Challenge season begins in January at Daytona International Speedway.
They will have full support from Adess to do just that, as the constructor joins Norma and Ligier, who both fielded cars full time in 2018. Adess representatives are on site this weekend providing support for the team.
“They give us a hand in setup and so on,” said Strackerjan, who said the team is embracing the underdog role. “There are advantages [to being the only Adess], but you also have the disadvantage of nobody to compare with. We’ve decided we’re an underdog so let’s do our best. And here we are.”
LMP3 teams not ‘taking time anymore’ with driver changes
The Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore is a unique event by nature incorporating GT4 and TCR cars that regularly compete in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and the LMP3 cars that make up the IMSA Prototype Challenge in one four-hour race.
But there is one aspect to the race that is especially unique for the LMP3 teams on site this weekend at Sebring International Raceway: driver changes. Yes, some teams and drivers that race in the IMSA Prototype Challenge are used to driver changes since the series shifted to an endurance racing format in 2018, but those pit stops are timed (minimum four minutes in 2018, two minutes, 30 seconds in 2019) so they typically aren’t as frantic as those in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Michelin Pilot Challenge.
It has forced several teams to dedicate time to completing their driver changes as efficiently as possible.
“In LMP3, we’re used to the minimum-time stop so we’re having to go through the rings of practicing pit stops, driver changes, all of that stuff,” said Kenton Koch, who is driving the No. 25 P1 Motorsports Ligier JS P3 this weekend with Joel Janco and Jonatan Jorge. “I know the TCR and GT4 cars have [pit stops] on lock down, we just had to figure them out ourselves. We don’t take our time anymore.”
Teams will have until noon Sunday to iron out their changes when the green flag flies for the Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore. The race will be streamed live on IMSA.tv with commentary from the IMSA Radio team led by John Hindhaugh and Jeremy Shaw. The race also will be broadcast on SiriusXM Radio.
Tickets will be sold at the gate of Sebring International Raceway each day, and military veterans will be admitted free with proper ID.
Stacy looking for second Sebring win of 2018 at Encore
If Nate Stacy and Kyle Marcelli cross the stripe first with their No. 60 Roush Performance/KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 shortly past 4 p.m. ET tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be a rare accomplishment. That’s because they’ve already won one race here this season, taking the win in March’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Alan Jay 120 during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts weekend.
This weekend, of course, all teams in the Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore are riding on Michelin tires, as they will throughout the 2019 season and beyond. Stacy likes what he’s seen from the tires so far.
“After running on them for a couple of sessions, obviously, the tires are great and last really well, with really good stick to them,” Stacy said. “We’ve gained already a ton of lap time just in a couple of days testing of tires, so honestly, the 2019 season is going to bring good competition and that’s going to bring a whole new aspect to the game. I think it’s been awesome. I hope to keep working with Michelin in the future and I think they are going to be really good for the series.”
Stacy is planning to return to what now is known as the Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2019, once again competing in the Grand Sport (GS) class with Marcelli as his co-driver. This weekend, he’ll share the car with team owner/driver Dean Martin in addition to Marcelli.
“Kyle’s been here a ton, so being able to look over stuff with him whenever I have any questions and him just being able to answer any question I have is just awesome,” Stacy said. “He’s been a great teammate this year, and I’m looking forward to doing the 2019 season with him again.”
Learning process for new Michelin tires already well under way for Johnson
In addition to Sunday’s four-hour race, the Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore offered a promoter test day on Friday and three practice sessions Saturday, giving competitors ample pre-race seat time. And with new tires coming to the Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2018, drivers like No. 54 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi RS3 LMS TCR driver Michael Johnson are taking full advantage.
“The first couple of practice sessions here at the SportsCar Encore at Sebring, it’s been going pretty well,” said Johnson. “We’re learning more and more about the tire and what it likes and what it doesn’t like and just the different weather conditions between yesterday and today, it’s a little bit cooler today, and just trying to get a grasp on what it’ll be like for 2019 with this tire. It’s been fun. I really enjoy running here. I missed the race earlier in March, so it’s good to be back.”
Johnson, a paraplegic who was injured in a motocross accident, picked up his first victory in the series this year alongside co-driver Stephen Simpson, winning the TCR class at Lime Rock Park in July. He’s looking forward to challenging for more victories next season, but knows it’ll get tougher with new competition coming in such as the recently announced Honda TCR program from LAP Motorsports and the Hyundai program introduced just yesterday by Bryan Herta Autosport.
“The competition here in 2018 has been fierce, it’s been competitive, and everybody’s been really good with each other,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to imagine that 2019 will be the same with all the new competitors coming and the different manufacturers as well. It’ll be a lot of fun.”