An underdog team allied to a powerhouse manufacturer emerged the victor in Saturday afternoon’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
Rebel Rock Racing returned to the Pilot Challenge full time this season after running only select races in 2017 and 2018, co-drivers Robin Liddell and Frank Depew pairing up to bring the program back to life, with Depew as team owner and Liddell as team manager.
That combination has finally proved successful, winning today’s race overall in the No. 71 Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R and earning Rebel Rock’s first Pilot Challenge victory.
Liddell was able to keep the determined No. 60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 of Kyle Marcelli at bay to cross the finish line first by .587 seconds.
The win halts a rocky start to the season that, before last week’s finish of fifth at Watkins Glen, didn’t see a result within the top 20.
“To finally get here, and with Frank especially, in his first season – he’s had a very difficult start to the season, as I’m sure you’ve seen, and that has put a lot of pressure on him,” said Liddell. “But he’s a true sportsman and he’s a team player. He hasn’t wavered his support. I’ve worked very hard with him and he’s worked very hard to get better. I think you saw the results of those efforts (today).
“It’s easy to overlook, from the outside looking in, the amount of effort that any of these guys put into their racing,” Liddell continued. “But without these guys, we wouldn’t have a series — especially in this championship. So we need to look after these guys and we need to give credit where credit’s due. Hats off to him, because he’s done a mega job.”
“I’ve never driven this track, so Robin and I came here in a rental car and drove around to show me the track,” added Depew. “We went pretty slow, but then I showed up here with the Camaro. It’s a pretty daunting track. It took me a while but I was making pretty big jumps. I was about two seconds off the leader for this race, which I was pretty happy with.
“I kept the car where I needed to and then Robin did all the hard work. I think that, to be at this point and to actually win a race at this point, especially at a track I’ve never driven – because I’ve got a lot of experience at other tracks – is a tall order and an amazing accomplishment.”
Marcelli, a Toronto native, looked to defend his 2018 CTMP victory with co-driver Nate Stacy, looming large in Liddell’s mirror for the final 15 minutes of the race following a restart. The team ultimately wound up second place, their best performance of the year thus far.
Another Canadian representative in the field, Montreal-based team Motorsports In Action, finished third with drivers Jesse Lazare, also from Montreal, and Corey Fergus. It’s the third podium for the team in the season’s five races.
When Mikey Taylor brought his leading No. 17 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi RS3 LMS in for a pit stop halfway through the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race, the team’s momentum took an unexpected hit that required the remainder of the race to fight back from in the TCR class.
At first, the fire extinguisher was accidentally set off, creating confusion among the team members as Taylor and co-driver Britt Casey, Jr. swapped spots. Then, as Casey tried to exit the pit box, a tire blocked his path and forced the Audi up and over the equipment.
A drive-through penalty was assessed for the car that had led the entire race to that point, dropping it down the charts and down a lap.
Casey was able to fight back through the field in outstanding fashion, skillfully navigating past all the top cars in the final 15 minutes of the race to finally come door-to-door with teammate Stephen Simpson in the leading No. 54 JDC-Miller Audi. The two bounced off each other, with Casey eventually able to pull away for the win by 3.854 seconds.
“It was super wild,” said Casey, Jr. “I think it all started as soon as the driver change happened…The only reason we were able to pit when we did was because Mikey was able to drive it for, like, an hour and 10, and no one else could do that. We led the whole first stint and managed the gap the entire time, and it made my job a lot easier. I had more tools to work with at the end with tires, and we came back from a lap down, P10, and just [drove] methodically from there. It was like focus forward.”
“Overall, the car was quite a dream to drive, so it wasn’t too difficult,” added Taylor. “But pity about that whole pit stop issue. We’ll work on that for the next one. I’m just happy we came back from it. I didn’t think we could win. I thought we could maybe podium if we got back on the lead lap, but yeah, a win is awesome.”
Similar to how Casey made his way up the field, Colin Mullan – who co-drives with Max Faulkner in the No. 52 L.A. Honda World Racing Honda Civic – snuck into second place as many of the top cars jockeyed for position, erring with either drives through the grass or contact that derailed them.
Jonathan Morley was an example of the latter, after making contact with Simpson’s Audi, skidding far off-line. Only thanks to a monumental save did Morley hold onto third place for him and co-driver Gavin Ernstone to round out the TCR podium.
Today’s Canadian Tire Motorsport Park 120 will be televised on Tuesday, July 16 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge is officially halfway through its 2019 campaign, with the second half of the season kicking off at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park on July 18-20.