Paul Holton believes Compass Racing’s McLaren 720S GT3 is “in the window” to fight for a top-five finish in tomorrow’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.
The McLaren factory driver and co-driver Matt Plumb are giving the mid-engined GT3 car its North American race debut in this weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship round, as part of an initial WeatherTech Sprint Cup-only campaign for the team and car.
While Friday’s pair of rain-affected practice sessions saw unrepresentative times from the majority of the field, Holton said there were plenty of positives to take away from the first official sessions for the car and team.
“Yesterday, we were jumping up and down because we ran all day, no problems,” he told Sportscar365.
“The car was actually pretty quick and we think we’re in the window for where we need to be so that was really encouraging yesterday, actually.
“I showed up and I didn’t know where we’d be.
“I had done the BoP test with IMSA and I had no clue. I’m pretty confident that they actually got us in a window where we’re going to be fairly competitive out of the box.”
Holton, who has completed more than 3,000 miles in testing with the 720S GT3 in Europe, said his knowledge of the car, as well as the level of customer support from the British manufacturer, has paid the biggest benefits so far.
“It’s really easy for me to hop in the car and have an idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, especially systems-wise,” he said.
“We’re still working through some of those minor things as we’re finalizing the car for all customers.
“Especially once we came over for testing over here, it was really nice to already have an idea of which way I wanted to go setup-wise, and kind of steer the boat.”
After a trouble-free run on Friday, Holton said their expectations have been adjusted for the race, which will see a record nine GT3 manufacturers and 15 cars in the class.
It will also mark the Karl Thomson-led Compass squad’s first WeatherTech Championship outing since a four-race GTD program in 2015.
“Our mantra on Thursday was ‘Get to Sunday’, but I think now we’re probably looking for a top-five finish, come Sunday,” Holton said. “I think that’s realistic.
“I absolutely expect a dogfight. It’s been a long time since I was the slowest class.
“I’ve been passing people for a little while and now I get to get passed, so that’s going to be a bit of an adjustment for me.
“We’ll have to see how nice the prototypes play.”
Holton: Double Duty Has Made My GT4 Driving Better
Holton believes the extra track time gained this weekend by also competing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race with Compass’ McLaren 570S GT4 has improved his driving as a whole.
The 25-year-old Floridian is undertaking his first ‘double duty’ weekend and will do so for the remainder of the season.
“It’s actually been really good, because frankly, driving GT3 has made my GT4 driving better,” Holton said.
“You’ve just got to trust what the GT3 car is going to do, and you can’t force the inputs on it, whereas on a GT4 car, especially with the street car and ABS and stuff, it can lead you into a situation where you make problems worse with your own inputs.
“The GT3 car teaches you not to do that, so it’s made my GT4 [driving], especially braking, way better.
“The cars are pretty similar. Around here, most cars brake at the same places for most everything, it’s just a matter of how much speed you’re carrying and how much speed you lead off.
“It will be nice because for the first time ever I’ll get some previews of the track around the weekend for different sessions, so that’s been handy.”