With a 31-point lead heading into Friday’s title-deciding round at Road Atlanta, Scott Maxwell and Billy Johnson are on the brink of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS championship.
The Multimatic Motorsports pairing, who have scored five wins in nine races in their Ford Shelby GT350R-C, will only need to reach the 45-minute mark in the two-hour and 30-minute race to score driver points in order to be crowned champions.
However, according to two-time Continental Tire Challenge champion Maxwell, that achievement is easier said that done, especially given the level of unpredictability the season has already seen.
“I think we’ll keep our mindset as it’s been for the first nine races,” Maxwell said. “Obviously we’re not going to take any unnecessary chances and I’m sure.
“We still have to take the green to win the teams’ championship. The problem is, if something goes wrong in the first 45 minutes, Billy would lose out, so we’re really cognizant of that because he needs to at least get a lap in.
“That may be the only thing we change up a little, in the first 45 minutes, maybe I’ll just be more wary of getting this thing into Billy’s hands, just so he doesn’t lose out.
“We could finish last and maybe still clinch the championship but if we’re not running around at the end, and he doesn’t get in the car, then he’s not part of that and that’s the whole idea.”
While the results show a rather dominant run for Johnson and Maxwell, the varying level of competition, as well as Balance of Performance that’s arguably been stacked against the Ford, has made it anything but clear sailing.
The pairing kicked off the year with a dominant run at Daytona but were hit with BoP changes, primarily to the incoming Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, that saw a string of three consecutive wins for Trent Hindman and Cameron Cassels.
Johnson and Maxwell rebounded at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July, the first of three straight wins of their own, in races that Johnson said they were not the favorites at.
But with an average of six to eight GS cars this year, Johnson, who is chasing his first IMSA title, said the lack of competition has been one of the biggest disappointments.
“At the end of the day, the competition has been pretty close but just the races going back and forth, there hasn’t been a long train of 4-5 cars duking it out,” he said.
“That’s what I miss the most about this series, just every single position, every single pass, and racing guys with the strengths and weaknesses of the cars; that was the best part of the series and unfortunately in the current state, there isn’t that.”
Having returned to victory lane at penultimate round of the season at Circuit of The Americas, Johnson said they’ve instead been able to rely on the strengths of the team to put them in position for wins.
“It’s more of better pit stop execution for us to move forward in the field and traffic management,” he said.
“It’s been close, and that’s why the championship is still fairly close, but it’s not the on-track racing that I really loved about the series.
“Between everyone, I don’t think I’ve walked away from a race saying, ‘We’ve missed that setup.’ I’ve walked away from pretty much every race saying, ‘I don’t know what else I would want more.’ As far as setup goes, I really haven’t had a complaint.
“I think as a team, we’ve been optimizing it better then any other team. Given what we have, running 500-600 pounds more weight on the same tire, running out of brakes… It’s just physics.
“I’ve been proud of the Multimatic and Ford Performance team for doing everything they can.
“I don’t think we’ve left anything on the table as a team and it’s been awesome to be a part of such a well-greased machine and effort like that.”