IMSA Michelin Challenge: Dramatic win for Rebel Rock Racing


Minutes before the start of the two hour race as fans were making their way out of pitlane and drivers were getting ready to get their helmet on, IMSA officials postponed the start due to a storm system with lightning in the area of the track.

Once the system had gone by, the damped track was going to be a challenge in itself as the teams had to make a decision on which tires to start the race. Also Series officials shortened the race form a 2hour race to a 75 minutes race.

That changed the strategy completely for teams regarding fueling, tires and driver change.

Canadian Racers News was standing by Compass Racing’s pit box as Paul Holton took the start in the McLaren GT4. Radio communications were ongoing between driver and engineers and the possible rain that could affect the second half of the race.

From the green flag onward there was constant changes in positions and as the track was drying some of the teams who opted to start on slicks were gaining some advantages.

We asked Kuno Wittmer how the conditions determined the strategy: “We have had such bad luck in the past 4-5 events that is was time to get things turned around. And yesterday through the night the guys worked tirelessly to make major changes to the car(They had shown up at Road Atlanta with a new chassis and then changed the engine overnight, NDLR). As for the race, with the rainfall, we did not know exactly what to do as in deciding the tire choice. We gambled to start on slicks even though the conditions were not ideal to run on slicks.”

The race was also shortened form a 2hour race to a 75 minutes race that also affected the minimum drive time for one driver. “Usually the minimum drive time is 45 minutes for a driver and it was done to 25 minutes for this shortened race,” Kuno confirmed. “We were on of 3 or 4 cars to start on slicks. Paul started the race and drove brilliantly in these driving conditions showing patience and talent. He fell back a little but then the track conditions changed for the better and the race started coming to us. We were keeping an eye on the coming dark clouds and have we pitted one lap later we were going to get caught in the rain and there was also the minimum drive time for me that would have probably been short. So, the strategy worked perfectly fo us. The boys did an incredible job so my hat’s off to Compass Racing and McLaren for this.”

“I then went out with rain tires with 23 minutes on the clock. And this type of driving conditions, I enjoy very much. We were then in second place just behind the MIA McLaren (with Corey Lewis driving, NDLR) and I took the time to analyze where he was on the track and looking at setting up a pass. On the last full course yellow we only had 12 minutes remaining and with a long track like Road America, I wasn’t sure we were going green again. Then I was told it was to be a green-white-checkered. And I knew I had to try to pass him if not in corner 1 it was to be corner 3. Corey had a good restart but I was right behind him. I finally was able to make the pass in corner 3. From then on, it was all about keeping him behind me. And then, come to the last corner, I knew we had this and rolled onto the front straight and getting ready to celebrate.”

It is at that point the drama occurred. Heading to the checkered flag in a comfortable position with meters to the Finnish line, Kuno made a human error. “I’ll be man enough to admit my own error. As we always celebrate the win under power crossing the finish line, I mistakingly hit the P.I.T button instead of the radio button. 20 years in the business and 300 plus races and this happened today. We all learn form our mistakes and move on to the next race.”

And with this, Rebel Rock Racing of Robin Lidell/Franck DePew took a surprised win to them having had started the last lap in fourth place 0.070s before the Compass Racing McLaren. In third, the Murillo Racing Mercedes AMG of Mosing/Fox.

Jesse Lazare/Corey Fergus ended up in 7th place for Motorsport In Action while AWA with Orey Fidani and Chris Green(who have now switched from Porsche to McLaren GT4 finished 10th and Kyle Marcelli 12th for KohR Motorsports.

In the TCR class, the same dilemma occurred for Bryan Herta Motorsports of Mark Wilkins/Michael Lewis.

Asked how they approached the race with all the changes to weather and race length, Mark started by congratulating his teammates in the sister car. “I am very happy for the sister car, it was a great day for the team and I have to congratulate Mason and Harry on their win as they’ve had a season of challenges and this is great win for them. We ended up fourth which is great for the championship as we retain the lead.”

“Strategy wise in the race, we elected to start on rain tires. We thought the track would take longer to dry,” Mark continued. “I think it was a fair call and in the end we try to pit in at the 25 minute mark. Michael went out on slicks and then the sky opened up again. Looking back, the reverse strategy would have been the better option it seems but it was a gamble. Michael did a great job driving on slicks for a long time and then had to pit with just over 13 minutes as we had a tire failure. So we took the opportunity to switch to rain. At that moment, the last full course yellow came up and this gave us a chance to regroup. With fresh rains tires and plenty of grip, Michael had a great last lap and we went form 10th to fourth.”

Second in the TCR class went to O’Gorman/Blackstocks in the LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic TCR and third to Ernstone/Morley in Roadshagger Racing by Audi RS3 LMS TCR DSG.

James Vance driving for Fast MD Racing ended up 7th in the Audi RS3 LMS TCR DSG.

Next round is at VIR on the weekend of August 23-25.

Images: Patrice Marchessault / PMstills Photography

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