Tequila Patron ESM returns to IMSA competition this weekend at Watkins Glen for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen with a share of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points lead and a pair of wins at Sebring and Daytona in its back pocket.
The full-season FIA World Endurance Championship entrants are back stateside for their first U.S. race since Sebring, and its focus now is on adding to its advantage in the season-long championship within a championship.
It has been something akin to a dream season for the Florida-based squad, with wins in the two most prestigious American endurance races in an OAK Racing-provided, Honda-powered Ligier JS P2, coupled with two-consecutive podium finishes for the No. 31 Ligier Nissan in WEC competition.
A challenging run at Le Mans for both the Nos. 30 and 31 cars has been the only blip on the radar, but with the world’s foremost twice-around-the-clock endurance test in the books, the focus is now on winning championships in two different series.
Team owner and driver Scott Sharp said chasing a pair of titles was not on his mind at the start of the season, but the team’s success made the choice an easy one.
“It was a very minimal chance at the beginning of the year,” Sharp told Sportscar365. “We knew we could run Daytona and Sebring with the car from OAK, but then it had to go back for Le Mans [for Michael Shank’s team] and we didn’t know what the plans were for it afterwards.
“Fortunately with the success that we had, it was available but it’s been a bit of a thrash mode.”
That the Patron Endurance Cup happens to share the title sponsor with the team made the challenge all the more enticing.
“Coming off of Daytona and Sebring, those were huge wins for the team especially after the year we had last year,” Sharp said.
“It’s icing on the cake when your sponsor is the sponsor of the [Patron Endurance Cup]. To win those two races, standing up there accepting the Patron Cup, that’s pretty special.
“You hate it when it’s another team up there and not you. It was easy to make the decision when we were in the championship lead.”
The decision may have been easy, but the logistics of finding a car, prepping it for IMSA competition, and shipping it across an ocean was not.
Sharp said his confidence in OAK as well as the team he has assembled made it easy to focus on his job in the cockpit with full knowledge that a plan was in place.
“I’ve got great guys and there are great guys at OAK,” he said. “Ian Jones our team manager walked the whole process through and spent a lot of time pre-Le Mans planning it all out.
“Fortunately things went well for the Shank team and the car finished solidly, and everyone jumped on the car and it was buttoned up and ready to go early.
“It was a great effort and I thank everyone, whether it was the help that the Shank guys gave or OAK or our guys.
“It’s all worked out well, everything arrived on time. You could have had a couple of hiccups along the way but it’s all worked out.”
With the car in the States, the focus now has shifted to another strong performance in IMSA trim at Watkins Glen, with Sharp set to share the team’s solo entry with Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek.
The track has undergone a massive repave since the last time ESM competed in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, and although the team has not tested on the new surface, Sharp is confident in the team’s chances of locking in another strong result.
“We’re excited; I’ve always loved Watkins Glen,” said the Connecticut native. “It was one of the early tracks in my career that I started on.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s been a lot of accolades about the repave. I think there will be more grip, it’s quicker, which should be really good for us.
“I’ve always looked at it as more of a Euro-style track compared to some of the others in the US. And I think with it paved, it should probably be even a step more in the that direction.”
Despite those similarities to the European-style tracks that are the team’s main focus in WEC, Sharp cautioned that the differences in engine and tires make it difficult for the team to apply any lessons learned abroad to IMSA competition.
“If you think about it, we’re a whole different powerplant that is using the power differently,” he said.
“The biggest single thing is we’re racing on Dunlop tires over there and not the Continentals that we use here.
“That’s just a completely different tire that’s going to take a completely different setup. Between the two of those, it’s just a drastically different car.”
Sharp said he expects a wide-open fight for the overall win this weekend with a healthy mix of P2 and DP machinery in contention.
“I think it’s going to be a really tough race, frankly,” he said.
“The Shank team, they were good at Daytona and Sebring and finally got their win at Laguna and will undoubtedly run strong.
“From what I’ve heard, the Mazdas were very fast at the test there, so they could really be the team to chase.
“And Watkins Glen has historically been a really good DP track. Such a long straightaway once you get through Turn 1, it’s just a really long straightaway until you get to the Bus Stop, and that really suits the DP cars.
“But I think it’s going to be a really tough race. I don’t think there’s a clear favorite, and I think any of the cars that are entered have a really good chance.”