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Michelin Pilot Challenge

Sebring Pilot Challenge Weekend Notebook

Ryan Myrehn’s Michelin Pilot Challenge notebook from Sebring…

Photo: Automatic Racing

***Automatic Racing unveiled its Invisible Glass livery for the team’s 2019-spec Aston Martin Vantage GT4 on Thursday at Sebring International Raceway. The team gave the car its debut in customer hands at Daytona in January and is here this weekend with a 45kg weight break following the recent Balance of Performance update.

***Aston Martin vice president David King and managing director of Aston Martin Racing John Gaw joined Automatic team owner David Russell and its two drivers, Rob Ecklin, Jr. and Ramin Abdolvahabi, for the unveil.

***Automatic will only campaign the new Vantage GT4 this weekend despite having an older generation car on site. The team expects to return to a two-car lineup with Daytona runners-up Kris Wilson and Gary Ferrera for most of the season beginning with the next round at Mid-Ohio.

***Two heavy crashes have ruled out a pair of GS class competitors from Friday’s Alan Jay Automotive Network 120. The No. 33 Winward Racing / HTP Mercedes-AMG GT4 suffered significant damage in a crash during the third practice session that immediately preceded qualifying. Driver Russell Ward was uninjured but told Sportscar365 that the car would not be able to be repaired.

***During qualifying itself, the No. 11 BGB Motorsports Porsche Cayman of Thomas Collingwood made contact with the tire barriers in Turn 17, bringing out the red flag. Collingwood was checked and released from the care center and the team was unsure if the car could be repaired in time for the race at the time of publishing.

***Ford is once again using the Michelin Pilot Challenge series to get some of its NASCAR drivers extra road course experience, this time with a quartet of NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series competitors.

***Two-time NASCAR Truck Series champion Matt Crafton said the challenge of Sebring was unlike any other track he had driven, adding that he had to step out of the car in the first practice after a handful of laps to process the tricky airfield course.

***Crafton and Grant Enfinger turned their first laps in the Ford Mustang GT4 at Sebring, while fellow Ford NASCAR drivers Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider had tested the car previously at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The four drivers are being coached by NASCAR-turned-sports car driver Chad McCumbee this weekend.

***Compass Racing’s McLaren 570S GT4 is sporting a logo for Justin Bell and Tommy Kendall’s new multimedia venture The Torque Show this weekend. The connection between Bell and the team runs deep, as Bell sits on the board for the Race Day Foundation charity that team principal Jill Beck runs, and served as the officiant for the wedding of Beck and the team’s other principal Karl Thomson last year.

***Thomson recently returned to the cockpit in Pirelli GT4 America SprintX competition at Circuit of The Americas earlier this month and picked up class win in Race 2 with his co-driver Jarett Andretti. He acknowledged that driving the McLaren has helped him in his role overseeing the team. “It gives me so much appreciation for what a great car this is,” he told Sportscar365.

***The Race Day Foundation helps to provide a “day away” for pediatric patients facing medical challenges and their families. The invitees are expected to make an appearance on The Torque Show this weekend in the paddock at Sebring International Raceway. Click here for more information on the foundation.

***In other nuptial news, this weekend’s GS pole sitter Owen Trinkler performed the ceremony for his longtime co-driver Sarah Cattaneo and her husband last November. Trinkler and Cattaneo last raced together in IMSA competition in 2017, ultimately finishing second in the ST class championship that year. The pair are racing together this year in Pirelli GT4 America West.

***Park Place Motorsports’ Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport is same chassis that won last weekend’s Pirelli GT4 America Sprint Am Race 2 with driver Alan Brynjolfsson on the streets of St. Petersburg. The team has two Cayman chassis, numbered 77 and 7, and those chassis will remain carry the same number the rest of the season no matter which of the two series it is racing in.

***Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman finished seventh in this car in the Michelin Pilot Challenge opener at Daytona.

***Alec Udell’s appearance with KohR Motorsports came relatively last minute when the team was looking for a driver to pair with DJ Randall. Randall competed in a three driver lineup alongside Kenny Wilden and Rod Randall at Daytona, and that duo remains a pairing this weekend.

***When DJ Randall committed to run at Sebring KohR elected to run a third car, and Udell got the call to join the team thanks in part to his previous experience racing Ford Mustang Boss 302s with team principal Dean Martin. The deal currently is for Sebring only but more races are possible later this season.

***Already a race winner in GS with the McLaren 570S GT4 dating to the first race of the year at Daytona, Compass Racing’s Kuno Wittmer will start his first race as a McLaren factory driver in the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 on Friday.

***LA Honda World driver Tom O’Gorman said the team had spent most the testing and early practice chasing a setup issue on the No. 37 Honda Civic Type-R TCR before finally discovering the root cause in Practice 2 on Thursday. O’Gorman, who along with Shelby Blackstock won the TCR class at Daytona, expected to be back on the pace in qualifying and it showed with a fourth place result.

***Although Tim Munday’s BAM! operation has ceded its role as the North American importer of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR to Risi Competizione, Munday remains actively involved with the KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering team that is running two of the cars in Michelin Pilot Challenge.

***Munday is serving the team in an engineering capacity and told Sportscar365 that he owns the chassis used by Roy Block and Tim Lewis Jr. The other chassis is owned by Alex Popow who shares driving duties with Alexandre Papadopulos.

***The team’s No. 5 entry for Block and Lewis did not turn a lap in qualifying after suffering from an electrical glitch at the start of session. The car participated in the Practice 3 just prior to the start of qualifications, but the car would not restart when the time came to head back out on track. The team believes the situation has now been rectified.

***The Alan Automotive Network Jay 120 is scheduled to start at 12:05 p.m. local time with live streaming coverage on IMSA.TV IMSA Radio. NBCSN’s tape-delayed coverage of the the race will air at 3 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 28.

John Dagys contributed to this report.

Ryan Myrehn is an Indianapolis-based broadcaster and reporter. In addition to his work covering primarily domestic sports car racing for Sportscar365, he is the lead announcer for SRO America's TV coverage as well as a pit reporter for IndyCar Radio. Myrehn, a graduate of DePauw University, is also the host of Sportscar365's “Double Stint” Podcast.

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