The long, flowing and high-speed road course of Watkins Glen International await the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in upstate New York this weekend.
With the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen this weekend, drivers in the DPi class can’t help but feel a hint of urgency when it comes to the championship battle.
Once the grueling endurance race at The Glen is complete, the DPi field heads to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, before capping off the season at Wisconsin’s Road America and with the annual Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
The No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing entry piloted by Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist sits atop the prototype standings, a mere 10 points ahead of Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque’s No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05.
The next closest team in the standings starts the Cadillac train, with the Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn in the No. 02, a distant 96 points back of the leader.
Behind the No. 02 sits CGR teammates Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande in the No. 01, 143 points back of the Meyer Shank Racing Acura.
Still, the Acura teams feel the heat of the Cadillac squads applying the pressure.
“I expect the cars to be extremely close,” Jarvis said. “It’s predominately been known as an Acura track. I had a little look back through and the pace of the Caddies last year was very close. I think they definitely closed the gap from the 6 hours to the shorter race the following weekend. Given the step they seemed to have made this year, I think we can presume they’re going to be in the fight. It’s not going to be the Acura walk over that some people sort of believe it will be. I think it’s going to come down right to the finish, some strategy involved. It’s going to be a tough one, that’s for sure.”
Taylor said executing details will be crucial at Watkins Glen.
“The Cadillacs have shown a lot of improvement this year, and I can imagine where this track used to favor us in the past,” Taylor said. “Although the 31 (Action Express Racing Cadillac) won last year with the wet conditions. I think this year, even in the dry, I think it’s going to be all seven cars fighting for the top spot. So it’s going to be a matter of a little bit of track position, not making mistakes and beating everyone out on that last stop.”
Watkins Glen is the only six-hour race on the IMSA schedule. That leaves each team weighing the advantages of utilizing two drivers or adding a third.
This weekend, both Acura teams will use only their two main drivers, while three Cadillac teams will insert a third driver into the fold.
“For us on the two-driver side, it’s always been sort of our philosophy of just keeping it simple,” Taylor said. “If you were to say the driver was a robot you’d take one driver, and just have one guy do the whole thing. To take it one step beyond that and think we’re going to degrade a little bit, and you’d rather have two just for the fact that we get more practice time. The race weekend’s pretty restricted, the amount of time you get to drive in traffic, and just the simplicity of driver changes.
“So by having a driver start and get the track conditions and get up to speed and then get back in a second time, that second time he gets in, instead of a third guy getting in, he’s right up to speed again,” Taylor continued. “That third guy might be just easing back into it slightly. I think that’s just an example of how competitive it is that those little bits of an out-lap, of an over-under cut, whatever it might be, those little details for us make a big difference.”
Jarvis believes that keeping it simple will better allow the team the best possible performance on Sunday.
“We’ve run two up to now,” Jarvis said. “(It) Just allows us to get into a rhythm. You only need a wet practice or an issue, and you’re really short on practice time. At Mazda, it was never even a discussion, we just ran three, whereas this year, it was discussed and we felt that two was better overall. It’s going to be tough with two. If it’s hot, this circuit, with minimal downtime when you get out of the car, it certainly makes it demanding on the driver.”
The high demands that each driver pushes through at Watkins Glen, makes the 3.4-mile road course in its own world when it comes to gaining trust and comfortability within the race car.
“Watkins Glen is such a high-commitment track, that when you go there for the first practice, I don’t know how the other guys feel, it takes me six or seven laps, where at normal tracks, it’s the out-lap and you’re comfortable,” Taylor said. “This one, your first five laps and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh I’m still a second and a half off and I don’t know how to go faster.’ Although in the race, you’re way more prepared.”
Being prepared down the stretch as the championship finale grows closer, gives both drivers a sense of urgency, as they try and maximize the number of points they can score at every event.
“If a win is possible, you need to win,” Jarvis said. “But likewise, if for example the Caddies are very strong and third place is the best we can achieve, it’s important that we do that. We’ve got the very difficult task of beating the sister car in Wayne Taylor Racing and the 10. But also, the Caddies are extremely strong as well.
“There isn’t a bad car. I’ve been in championships where you have the double the car count, but nowhere near at the level we’re at now,” Jarvis continued. “The issue with the smaller car count, it actually makes it more difficult. When a car has a bad race, they’re only fourth or fifth, you just don’t seem to be able to get this sort of points gap that you’d like.”
Even as the two Acura ARX-05s battle for the DPi championship, Taylor stressed the importance of making sure both teams keep the Cadillac brigade at bay.
“We can’t just look at the 60, and the 60 can’t just look at us,” Taylor said. “We have to make sure we’re winning races or finishing on the podium because we can’t let anybody else, most importantly can’t let a Cadillac get in the game.”