The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship rolls into Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a tie at the top of the DPi standings between Ricky Taylor/Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura and Oliver Jarvis/Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura.
The good news for both teams is that historically, the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio has favored the Acuras, with ARX-06s winning every race here in the DPi era. The bad news is that Cadillac seems to be closing the gap on the smoother tracks. And more bad news for the MSR squad as it seeks a win at its home track, only about an hour from their Pataskala, Ohio base … between Penske and WTR, Taylor has won this race three of the last four years and is the defending champ after he and Albuquerque won for WTR last year.
“The wins have come in very different ways,” Taylor explained. “Last year, we won on fuel mileage and battling with the 31 [Action Express Racing Cadillac] right to the end in a fuel race and the other years, maybe more so on controlling from the lead. It always seems to take something different when you get to Mid-Ohio. There are a lot of different factors in play. So I don’t expect we’re going to be able to use the same book of how to win Mid-Ohio again. It always seems to throw something new at you, so we’ll try and keep improving from where we were last year.”
The best of the Cadillacs at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca two weeks ago was the No. 31 of Pipo Derani and Tristan Nunez. As far as maximizing points on a track where Cadillac isn’t expected to contend for victory, they succeeded. And the No. 31 was in contention at Mid-Ohio last year.
“I think we’ve done extremely well [at Mid-Ohio] considering that it’s a track that better suits the Acuras,” said Derani. “We were so close to winning [in 2021], but we came up short at the end. It’s such a difficult place to pass. We weren’t quite able to do that last year and the year before.”
The MSR squad is looking to back up its Rolex 24 at Daytona victory. It was a tough scrap in the previous race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but traffic got the best of them and Taylor and Albuquerque left with the victory. Now it’s down to taking advantage at a track where it may have an edge, and finally bringing a home-state win to the team.
“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the car underneath us that we did in Laguna,” said Jarvis. “The team did a fantastic job. I spoke to Tom after the race and he was extremely, extremely disappointed. I think that’s just the racer in him. You know, when you’ve got a quick car, and you take the lead like he did, and then to lose it through traffic is ever so frustrating, but he managed to relax on the on the way back to the airport, and I realized it was still a good weekend for us.
“Mid-Ohio is much the same, to be honest. We’ve got to go out there, see where we’re at. But if we do have a quick car, like we did at Laguna, it’s important that we don’t drop points. It’d be nice to get that win at the team’s home race. That would be important, but also looking for the championship. You can’t afford to miss your wins when they’re available; it doesn’t happen often. So it’s important we take those opportunities if we want to win the championship at the end of the year. We’re going into it full of confidence. We’ve made some big steps with the car this year, and hopefully that follows on to Mid-Ohio.”
Mid-Ohio is the third points-paying race of the season for LMP2. Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel leads the points chase with the consistency of two podium finishes in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA, and go into Mid-Ohio looking to solidify that lead with a victory.
“I think consistency is the most important thing in a Bronze championship,” noted Dalziel. “There are guys like Ben Keating out there that are just exceptions to the rule a little bit, but with most Bronzes I think it’s the balance of how hard do you push them without making mistakes. These guys can always find a little bit more time, but it’s very easy to try and push for that extra two tenths and lose 20 in the gravel driving through it.
“We went and tested there a few weeks ago. Dwight hadn’t been there for a long time and we got at least a couple of dry laps towards the end of the day. I think we’re in a pretty decent place; I’m not sure if any other P2 teams they’ve tested at Mid Ohio. We all love to win, but to win championships, it’s consistency we need and we just need to have consistent podiums throughout the rest of the year.”
Four different winners
In DPi, no team has scored more than one win through four races this season. There’s a good chance that changes at Mid-Ohio, but so far, of the full-season entries, only the No. 5 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac of Tristan Vautier and Richard Westbrook and the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Pipo Derani and Tristan Nunez haven’t visited victory lane.
Rain in the forecast
The current forecast calls for a good chance of rain for the race on Sunday, and while the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams saw a good bit of wet running in practice for Daytona, they haven’t had a wet race yet this season. Most would say they rather the first one not come at Mid-Ohio.
“It’s probably one of the scariest tracks in the wet just because it’s the zero grip,” said Oliver Jarvis. “In fact, ‘scary’ is not the word, it’s just not a huge amount of fun, because it’s just so low grip. To get any tire temp or to get the tires working is very, very difficult. But you know, it’ll be a new experience. I haven’t driven the Acura in the wet, so it will be interesting to see how that behaves. But I certainly wouldn’t choose Mid-Ohio of all the tracks to race in the rain.”
With no GTD PRO, Lexus doubles up
Having traditionally left GTLM out of the lineup at Mid-Ohio due to the proximity of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, IMSA kept to that with the creation of GTD Pro, so that class will be on competition hiatus until the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen at the end of June. The GTD contingent will be able to race each other without any worry of GTD Pro cars in the mix.
Lexus, which is the title sponsor of the race and has been splitting the two Vasser-Sullivan RC F GT3s between GTD and GTD Pro, will run two cars in GTD at Mid-Ohio. Jack Hawksworth, normally paired with Ben Barnicoat in GTD Pro in the No. 14, will instead partner with Richard Heistand in the No. 17.
First sprint race for LMP3
The LMP3 teams will be making their first sprint race start of 2022, having competed only at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring for points this year. There are nine LMP3 entries, with Lance Willsey and Joao Barbosa in No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier leading the points coming in, thanks to winning at Sebring with Malthe Jakobsen.
“I definitely expect the competition like in the previous races,” said Barbosa. “It’s been a class that’s been steadily growing with better teams, better drivers, and it’s been very competitive in the last few races. So definitely going to see a great race between the LMP3s. The Sean Creech Motorsport guys have been working really hard. We had a long break after Sebring, so we were able to test a couple of days in Mid-Ohio and the car was feeling great. So we’re looking forward to going there and and see if we can come out of Mid-Ohio with a strong result.”
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will have a two-hour race on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. Eastern. Prototype Challenge racers will have their first go since Daytona in a 1h30m race on Sunday morning, and Idemitsu Mazda Global MX-5 Cup has a pair of 45-minute races, one on Saturday afternoon and the other on Sunday morning.
How to Watch
The Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio, a 2h40m race and Round 5 for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, starts at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, broadcast on USA Network. Qualifying, at 1:15 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, will be available on IMSA.tv.
IMSA Radio will also be live for most sessions. Go to IMSA.com and click on the IMSA Radio button to listen.