McLaren was the star of the show on Friday in the season-opening race of the 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season.
After starting from the pole, the No. 75 Compass Racing McLaren GT4 of Paul Holton and Kuno Wittmer took the checkered flag after battling for four hours on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. It was the third IMSA win for the manufacturer since joining the series in 2017.
“The car was really, really good,” said Holton. “The boys did a really good setup mechanically on the car. The car was the easiest thing I’ve ever driven. The racing out there was extra tough. We were three-wide through the trioval, three-wide through Turn 1, three-wide through Turn 3. Really good, respectful racing, hard racing. Was some of the most fun I’ve had in a race car in a long time.”
Holton – who was part of the lineup that delivered the first North American victory for the McLaren GT4 at Circuit of The Americas in 2017 with Compass Racing and then co-driver Matt Plumb – handed the car over to Wittmer early in the race before taking the reins back for the finish. The drivers combined to lead a race-high 58 laps.
“I think the biggest thing for us was seeing how well the car performs on Michelin tires,” said Wittmer. “Having done five years, give or take, in GTLM where we only drove Michelin tires in the past, being back on the Michelin tire, it’s almost like being back home. Everything worked perfectly well. There were no issues and no blistering, no flats, none of that. It was very comforting. A lot of confidence in the car going forward.”
The No. 75 was part of a thrilling four-way battle in the final half hour of the BMW Endurance Challenge involving the No. 99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin GT4, the No. 39 CarBahn Motorsports Audi R8 GT4 and the second McLaren in the field, the No. 69 for Canadian team Motorsports In Action.
It was a clash that lasted until the final second, literally, as Kris Wilson in the Aston Martin made for a photo finish by beating Jesse Lazare in the Motorsports In Action McLaren to the stripe for second place by .007 seconds. Wilson shares his runner-up finish with Gary Ferrera, while Lazare and Corey Fergus teamed up for the final step on the podium.
The race broadcast will air on NBCSN on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 1 p.m. ET.
If Friday’s race is any indication of the future and talent in the Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR class, IMSA fans are in for a treat.
Side-by-side battles between competing manufacturers became the norm over the course of the four-hour race, but it was Honda and L.A. World Racing that took the top spot. Crossing the stripe first was the No. 37 Honda Civic TCR of Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock, one of three entries for the team.
“The hardest part was to stay out of trouble, keep your wits about you, keep the car underneath us, because these guys were racing so hard,” said O’Gorman. “It was really easy to get caught up in all of it, the GS guys and the TCR guys. If you’d have told me this yesterday that we would be standing here, I wouldn’t have believed you. We worked really hard overnight, the L.A. Honda World guys did an amazing job. The race was really challenging and we just kind of checked ourselves until the end and we found ourselves in the lead and it came to us.”
For O’Gorman, Friday’s victory is his third in the series in only seven races contested since joining the series midway through 2018. Meanwhile, the victory caps off a triumphant return to the Pilot Challenge for Blackstock, whose last race in the series came in 2014.
“It’s always been nice to go back to the IMSA paddock for sure. I’ve had a blast always here at Daytona, I’ve had great success here at Daytona and so happy it continued. The weekend started a little rough for the team, but the team worked really, really hard and we were able to pull out a win. Yeah, to return back and both of us get our win, the first for Honda and the first for the team, a lot of good stuff.”
For the remaining podium spots, it was a battle between the No. 73 L.A. Honda World Racing car of Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra and a last-minute addition to the entry list, the No. 23 Fast MD Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR of Nick Galante, James Vance and Jared Salinsky. Ultimately, the No. 73 made it a 1-2 finish for Honda and the Audi took third.
With the first race of the year checked off, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge shifts its focus to its next round at Sebring International Raceway on Friday, March 15 at noon ET. The race will be streamed live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary.