It’s nice to be the only multiple race winner and have the points lead. It’s even better to have that going into a track that traditionally favors your Porsche 911 GT3R. And if it’s your team’s home race, with lots of friends around, that’s the icing on the cake.
That’s the position that Wright Motorsports finds itself in at this weekend’s Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio, Round 5 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen are leading the GTD points, having taken the No. 16 to victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and at the most recent race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Hardwick and Heylen hold a slim 30-point lead over Korthoff Motorsports’ Stevan McAleer, but they have a good shot at extending that lead at Mid-Ohio.
“Mid Ohio is one of my favorite tracks, one of my best tracks,” enthused Hardwick. “I’ve always done well there. I was on the pole there in the Michelin Pilot challenge last year. And Jan and I were on the podium there… I’ve had a streak of podium finishes there since 2019. So that’s a really good track for me personally and for our team, and it’s the home race for Wright Motorsports. I think we’ll be strong there.”
Wright was dominant in the closing hours of the Rolex, with Richard Lietz joining them at Daytona. Sebring was a rough go despite taking the pole, problems striking immediately. Long Beach was a non-points race for GTD, and then Hardwick and Heylen bounced back to win in Monterey.
“The season is starting in a great way for us,” said Hardwick. “We had an unfortunate mechanical issue at Sebring that took us out right from the beginning. But our team fought really hard that race and we got all the way back inside the top 10. That’ll mean a lot for the championship. But obviously, wins do too. And it’s really a strong team effort, because, man, we’ve overtaken a lot of cars in pit lane and on strategy, both at Daytona and Laguna Seca. And some unbelievable driving from my teammate. I think Jan Heylen is proving to the rest of the world what we knew going into the season – that he’s one of the top GT drivers on planet Earth right now, and I’m really fortunate to be teamed up with him.”
Heylen might dispute that statement, or perhaps not, but recent results back it up. His long association with Wright Motorsports is paying off for both him and the team. Heylen is buoyed by the success of the 2021 Michelin Pilot Challenge season, where he took the GS title. Heylen and Wright also took the 2021 IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup championship in GTD with Patrick Long and Trent Hindman. And not only is the IMSA season off to a good start, but Heylen took the first two races in GT World Challenge America Pro-Am with father-in-law Charlie Luck. Now it’s time to hopefully bring a home-state win for John Wright and the team.
“It’s fun to go back to Mid-Ohio given that the team’s home base is just down the street, so it’s a fun race for all of us and I know the team is looking forward to it, so it’s nice to go into the weekend leading the championship,” said Heylen. “I think it puts some good healthy pressure on the team and everybody there to do well. But yeah, I think over the years Mid-Ohio is a good Porsche track, so I expect us to do well, just like we did that Laguna. Laguna was also a good track for for the Porsches in general, regardless of BoP. And you know, we’ll have we’ll have some races after Mid-Ohio that maybe don’t suit the car as well. But hopefully we can capitalize on this weekend, where we know that the Porsche should perform pretty well.”
One thing that will make the Mid-Ohio race interesting is that the GTD teams will be the only GT cars on the track, sharing space with DPi, LMP2 and LMP3, with GTD Pro on hiatus until the end of June and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. In previous races, the front of the GTD field has often had to contend with Pro cars in the mix, sometimes separating them from a target, or a pursuer.
The Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio begins at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, with USA Network broadcasting the 2h40m race.