Almost two months after the checkered flag waved in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, competitors in the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship (finally) take to the track again this weekend for the Acura Sports Car Challenge Presented by the TLX Type S at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Needless to say, most of the teams, manufacturers and drivers did not spend their “spring break” on the beach; rather, they logged plenty of time in wind tunnels, on dynamometers and shaker rigs, and at racetracks (real and virtual) trying to catch up to (or stay ahead of) the competition.
The first “sprint” race and first “natural terrain” road course on the 2021 calendar, the event presents different challenges than those posed by the Rolex 24 At Daytona or the Twelve Hours of Sebring. Thus, the results sheets from the opening rounds of the 2021 campaign are, if not exactly irrelevant, not necessarily a strong indicator of how things will go this weekend. Perhaps better insight into what to expect can be gained by looking to past WeatherTech Championship races at Mid-Ohio, where you’ll find that Acura and Lexus are both shooting for a fourth consecutive class win in Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and GT Daytona (GTD), respectively.
That said, this weekend finds the No. 10 Konica Minolta and No. 60 Meyer Shank with Curb-Agajanian entries flying the Acura DPi colors rather than the Acura Team Penske squad that scored the 2018-20 hat trick. While there’s no discounting Penske’s role in that winning streak, it’s equally true that the nimble, turbocharged Acura DPi appears well-suited to the twisty 2.258-mile rollercoaster of a road course, and that Meyer Shank would like nothing more than to score its first DPi win with its longtime partner at a track that’s just up the road from the Meyer Shank shop on the outskirts of Columbus.
Similarly, Vasser Sullivan Racing and Lexus are gunning for their first GTD win of the season. Given that Lexus’ two most recent GTD victories at Mid-Ohio came from VSR Lexus RC F GT3s, the Nos. 12 and 14 Lexuses have to start as odds-on favorites this weekend. Not that Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche and their teams are about to concede the win.
The weekend also offers a Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) doubleheader of sorts, with four teams entered in Sunday morning’s IMSA Prototype Challenge race also slated to compete in the WeatherTech Championship main event in the afternoon. Thus, one might imagine Jim Cox and Dylan Murry in their No. 91 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 applying the knowledge gained from the Prototype Challenge race to the Acura Sports Car Challenge later that same day. Or Rasmus Lindh and Dan Goldburg doing the same in their Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier.
Forty7 Motorsports will run a pair of Duqueine D08s in the morning and a single Duqueine in the afternoon, albeit with different drivers in all three cars. Lance Willsey will have an interesting day, driving the previous-generation Ligier LMP3 in the Prototype Challenge before stepping into the current-generation Ligier for the WeatherTech Championship race.
Will those teams and drivers put their Prototype Challenge track time to good use in the WeatherTech Championship event? Or will the knowledge gained in the development series race be offset by fresher competitors in the Acura Sports Car Challenge? Or will it all be a moot point if Twelve Hours of Sebring winners Jon Bennett and Colin Braun repeat their form in the No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier?
Also on tap is Round 3 of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge – the Mid-Ohio 120 – on Saturday afternoon. Turner Motorsport’s Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern will be out to bolster their lead in the Grand Sport (GS) points race as they try for their first win on the season in the No. 95 BMW M4 GT4, with Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler looking to do the same in their No. 77 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Veloster N TCR.
Finally, Rounds 7 and 8 of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires will see Michael Carter seeking to pad his championship lead in the No. 8 Carter Racing Enterprises Mazda MX-5 following a Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend that saw him take a win and a runner-up finish.
It’s a full weekend, for sure. If you can’t be there in person, be sure to catch all the action on IMSA.com, IMSA Radio, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN.