There are no E-Z Passes on any of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race cars in today’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, even if some of the drivers might have had them on their rental cars en route to the picturesque road course.
There won’t be any easy passes on the 1.53-mile bullring, either, in today’s two-hour, sixth round of the 2015 season.
Only a couple weeks ago, IMSA announced what had been a pair of two-hour split races between GS and ST would be combined into a single, two-hour race Saturday morning.
It makes sense from both publicly identified reasons: it gives fans a greater chance to view the cars during the fan walk, and it gives the series a better TV timeslot.
But the primary reason occurs from an optics standpoint: With only 12 GS cars and 28 ST cars, separate races wouldn’t have looked good.
Compass360 Racing’s Karl Thomson, who fielded both two GS class Subaru WRX-STis and ST class Honda Civic Sis in separate races last year, but now only has two ST class Audi S3s this year, explained what is likely to happen with the melded pot of cars on the series’ tightest track.
“I think with the GS guys, we have two issues,” Thomson told Sportscar365. “The fast GS guys will come up on slow ST guys within a lap or two.
“Then you have the ST ‘fast guys’ faster than slow GS guys. The slow GS guys might back the ST cars up. That will cause some frustration.
“But that’s multiclass racing. It’s why we’re there. I totally get why we did it, because it’s not much of a race with 11-12 GS cars.”
Driver sentiment in the paddock seems to back up Thomson’s assessment.
“ST speed is an issue, particularly in the corners,” said Fall-Line Motorsports’ Trent Hindman, the defending GS class champion who co-drives the No. 46 BMW M3 with Ashley Freiberg.
“If it goes more than 15 laps before we get into traffic, I’d be surprised,” added Corey Lewis, co-driver of the No. 36 Strategic Wealth Racing Porsche Cayman in ST. He shares the car with Matthew Dicken.
“I understand why they did it, but the fast ST guys will be up with the slow GS guys pretty quickly,” said Owen Trinkler, who co-drives with Sarah Cattaneo in the No. 44 CRG-I Do Borrow Honda Civic Si.
As mentioned above, the biggest issue drivers seemed to express is cornering speeds, with some ST cars going through Turns 1 to 4 roughly as fast as the GS cars.
The respective polesitters for today’s race, Matt Bell (GS) and Chad McCumbee (ST), said getting in a rhythm through traffic will be key to success, without making any rash moves – sometimes easier said than done on such a tight circuit.
“The speed differential is so big in a couple sections of this track, where it’s so difficult to pass,” said Bell, who co-drives with Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R.
“It really slows you down on a lap. I was getting quite frustrated in practice, trying to find some time.
“Some of the ST cars are properly fast on the front straight, and some of the other ST cars are fast in the corners. The problem is the ones you catch most often after the uphill. It’s hard to pass them in West Bend. A lot of it will come down to how daring people are in traffic.”
McCumbee, who had the ninth overall time in qualifying and will share the No. 5 CJ Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5 with Stevan McAleer, isn’t overly concerned.
“There’s no need to think about it too much before we get going,” McCumbee said. “I don’t know how they’ll split the starts but the bigger the gap the better. With our car being so good, we can hang onto the end of the GS field, no problem.”
Bell carries a less optimistic viewpoint about the race, but still thinks it will be another entertaining Continental Tire Challenge race.
“I have a feeling there will be a lot of cautions during this race,” he said. “With a two-hour race, it will be an interesting event.”