WATKINS GLEN — The Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM) sports car racing team was busy this past week along with several other teams of the new Tudor United SportsCar Championship (TUSC) participating in a two-day test session held at Watkins Glen International in anticipation of next month’s running of the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
The two-car ESM team is riding a wave of positive momentum after a victory May 4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calf. In the headlining Prototype class, ESM co-drivers Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek took their LMP2 style car to a big win there. They and their sister ESM car, which is co-driven by Floridian Scott Sharp and Scotland’s Ryan Dalziel, were busy at The Glen during the test session.
The TUSC series is a new venture, the result of merging the former Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and American Le Mans Series (ALMS) into one unified traveling sports car series. Of the eleven scheduled races in 2014, four of them – the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen – are all part of the new Tequila Patron North American Endurance Championship.
The TUSC, which is sanctioned by IMSA, has four classes of competition, including Prototype (P), Prototype Challenge (PC), Grand Touring Le Mans (GTLM) and Grand Touring Daytona (GTD). The Prototype class features two different styles of race cars. The closed cockpit Daytona Prototypes formerly of Grand-Am race against the open cockpit LMP2 machines formerly of the ALMS.
Balancing the technical rules over the last few months to equalize the performance of the Daytona Prototypes and the LMP2 cars has proven to be a huge challenge for IMSA officials. They have made several balance of performance (BOP) adjustments to try to make the two different types of cars equal and are getting closer. Daytona Prototype cars won the first three events of the season, including Daytona, Sebring and Long Beach before the ESM team earned the win in Monterey, which was the first in the new TUSC for any team driving an LMP2 style car.
Brown will drive in next month’s Sahlen’s race here with van Overbeek. Anthony Lazzaro has been added for the six-hour endurance event. Sharp and Dalziel will co-drive the other ESM entry. While Brown is new to the Glen’s course, van Overbeek is not. “We’re trying to figure out our set-up for here but it’s nice having that win under our belt and I hope and expect it’s not our last,” said van Overbeek of San Francisco. “I raced here in the past in the six hour and won it in 2003 in the GT class.”
The Sprit of Daytona team, featuring co-drivers Richard Westbrook of England and Canadian Michael Valiante, had the only former Grand-Am Daytona Prototype style car at the test at The Glen. More horsepower and added down force have been added to the Daytona Prototype style of car for this season. They were adjusting at the test.
“There are new regulations and this is the first time we’ve run in this format in our car at this track and with the new down force package, it is really incredible,” said Westbrook. “I think our type of car is better in some sections here today and the LMP2 cars are better in others. If you look at the last couple of races, Laguna in particular it was a very close fight. Looking at the times here we obviously have the clock on ESM and they seem right with us and vice-versa.”
Many GTLM teams were busy during The Glen’s test sessions. Bill Auberlen was co-driving with his teammate Andy Priaulx for the Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing BMW team. “I’ve been coming here forever,” said Auberlen of The Glen. “This is Andy’s first time. I know this track so well that I know how our older GT cars – the Rolex series car that we were with here last year – how they handled. Now we bring the GTLM car here, our BMW Z4 and it is on rails.
“It’s mind-boggling how fast we’re going through these corners here,” said Auberlen. “We’re lapping six, seven, eight seconds a lap faster and we’re going 23 miles per hour slower in a straight line. That gives you an idea of how much faster we’re cornering today. It is so exciting and fun to be here with the BMW factory. But with the Corvette factory and Viper factory teams to compete against all these other teams, it’s all new.”