DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A full IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge field of 38 cars for this week’s Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 includes a pair of entries making their series debuts.
Capstone Motorsports and Blackdog Speed Shop each have joined the Grand Sport class for the four-hour race Saturday at Watkins Glen International.
Based in Colorado, Capstone will field the No. 60 Mercedes-AMG GT4 for drivers John Allen, Kris Wilson and Gary Ferrera. It also brings Capstone’s growing University of Alabama College of Engineering sports car racing internship program to the IMSA paddock for the first time.
Allen, a 1979 UA College of Engineering graduate, helped initiate the engineering-based internship program to provide students with real-life experience in the fast-paced world of motorsports.
“Sports car racing today is about so much more than just driving fast and flat out,” Allen said. “Along with driver ability, engineering is the most important aspect of success in today’s high-tech arena of sports car racing. We established the internship program a couple of years ago to open this world to UA engineering students that might not be aware this incredible opportunity exists. We can’t wait to get to Watkins Glen next weekend to debut both our racing team and the internship program in IMSA.”
This week’s race will mark the second Pilot Challenge start for Allen. Wilson and Ferrera bring more series experience, teaming for a second-place finish at Daytona in 2019. Wilson was also part of the winning GS team at The Glen in 2007.
Blackdog Speed Shop has drivers Tony Gaples and Michael Cooper set to team up in the No. 34 McLaren 570S GT4 for the team’s Pilot Challenge debut at The Glen. Plans also call for the team based near Chicago in Lincolnshire, Illinois, to race at Road America in August, with an eye toward more extensive competition in the future.
Blackdog brings a lengthy resume of GTS/GT4 success in other series to the Pilot Challenge, with 41 race wins and five driver championships since 2013. Gaples and Cooper have been an integral part of that achievement and are eager to make their Pilot Challenge debuts as well.
“Driving in these two races in the Michelin Pilot Challenge is something I’m really looking forward to doing with Blackdog Speed Shop,” Gaples said. “Among the team, we’ve all wondered how we would stack up against the teams and drivers in IMSA, so now we get to find out. Sharing a car is something we will have to get used to, but I’m excited to have my long-time teammate and good friend Michael with me for these two races. Let’s see how things shake out for us.”
The No. 13 AWA McLaren leads the GS standings on the strength of two wins in the first three races this year. Kumo Wittmer is reunited with Orey Fidani in the car this week. The duo won the season opener at Daytona – the only other four-hour race on the 2021 schedule – but Fidani missed last month’s race at Mid-Ohio for the birth of his child. Wittmer teamed with Chris Green to win that race. Twenty-four GS cars are entered this week for Watkins Glen.
The Touring Car (TCR) class standings find Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler, co-drivers of the No. 77 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Veloster N TCR, at the top despite not winning yet in 2021. The duo has finished fourth, third and second in the opening three races.