The Road America 240 got off to a rough start but featured a frenetic finish, with Eric Foss and Kenton Koch muscling their way to the overall and Grand Sport (GS) class win in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
Driving the No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4, Koch forced his way past Alec Udell in the No. 66 Kelly Moss Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport at Turn 8 of Road America’s 14 corners with five minutes remaining in the four-hour contest. Koch pulled away to claim the victory by 0.896s over Gregory Liefooghe in the No. 43 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M4 GT4. Udell finished third.
It was the third win this season for the No. 56 Mercedes, with Koch and Foss sharing the car in two of the victories. Foss now has 10 career Michelin Pilot Challenge wins and Koch, subbing for the injured Jeff Mosing, has four. Mosing is expected to return for the final two races of the season.
“I thought, ‘Man, this is the last race, at least for me, so we’ve got to finish the best we can,’” said Koch, who started the race on the outside of the front row alongside 16-year-old pole winner Luca Mars in the No. 60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4. “I feel there was multiple [potential winners] from everyone the whole time, and I just happened to be at the right place at the end to make it happen.
“I didn’t think we could win until the last lap,” he added. “We were struggling a bit with tire degradation, but I pushed my way through traffic to get some track position. Once I got the No. 43 behind me, they were all battling amongst themselves.”
Sean Quinlan qualified 16th in the No. 43, but well-timed pit stops well during the four full-course cautions that punctuated the first half of the race moved the BMW into contention.
Liefooghe felt there would have been a different outcome without the final caution of the race, which came with just under 35 minutes remaining. That yellow, which was extended when the No. 21 Riley Motorsports Mercedes suffered a lost wheel and spun while running at reduced speed, eliminated Udell’s concerns about fuel mileage.
“I feel like we had the strategy to probably win the race until the full-course caution came out because we knew [the No. 66 Porsche] were on much older tires,” Liefooghe said. “We knew we could get him, but we also knew we had guys behind us on newer tires that had a lot of pace, and they got the win.”
GS class championship leaders Alan Brynjolfsson and Trend Hindman finished fourth in the No. 7 Volt racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 and maintain an unofficial 220-point cushion over Foss and the No. 56 Mercedes.
Late Energy Surge Leads No. 5 Alfa Romeo to TCR Win
Near the end of the four-hour race, Tim Lewis didn’t think he had the energy to hold his position, much less go for the win in the Touring Car (TCR) class. Turns out he did.
Benefitting from fresher tires taken on during a pit stop under a late full-course caution, Lewis passed four cars in the last four laps, including the leader on the final lap, and went on to claim the TCR win in the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR he co-drove with Roy Block.
Considering how exhausted Lewis was, the sudden surge of energy took him – and his opponents – by surprise. While idling under caution before the restart with 10 minutes left, Lewis sat in fifth place but wasn’t sure if he could fight to hang on.
“I was very tired in the car,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t sure I had the energy to fight for 12 more minutes. Once we got going, the tires were hooked up and the car was hooked up. I could tell we had pace in comparison to the other guys.”
Lewis overtook two cars on the penultimate lap to move into second place, then set his sights on race leader Stephen Simpson in the No. 54 Michael Johnson Racing with Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR. Lewis made a clean pass heading into Turn 5 and drove away to win by 1.594s.
“I went for it, and it stuck,” Lewis said after he and Block collected their third win of the season. It’s the fifth career Michelin Pilot Challenge victory for Lewis and seventh for Block.
The victory also helped Lewis and Block gain ground on reigning class champions and 2022 points leaders Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler, who finished third Saturday in the No. 1 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR. Tim Lewis and Block closed within 30 points of Michael Lewis and Hagler with two races remaining.
“We just need to focus on the next race and our next test,” Block said. “Just work on our craft and put ourselves in position to succeed.”
The Michelin Pilot Challenge season resumes Aug. 27 with the Virginia is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix at VIRginia International Raceway.