Continental Tire Challenge Grand Sport Championship Up for Grabs During Summer Stretch
Thursday, July 27, 2017

Heading into the final four races of the 2017 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season, there’s one championship battle that has fans and drivers eager to see how the cards will fall.

In a unique twist this year, the Grand Sport (GS) class features cars built to universal GT4 technical specifications racing against cars “grandfathered” in from previous years. Most teams have made the switch to the new GT4 regulations, which will be used exclusively in the class for 2018. Four of those teams are in a near deadlock for the class championship set to be awarded at Road Atlanta in October.

Atop the championship leaderboard sit two McLaren GT4s fielded by C360R, one Porsche Cayman GT4 each from CJ Wilson Racing and Bodymotion Racing, and a Porsche Cayman GT4 MR run by RS1. The five cars are separated by a mere 12 points in the standings.

“The thing that’s interesting is that as the series has moved to the GT4 platform, a bunch of the teams, including us, we’ve gone and got new cars,” said C360R Team Principal Karl Thomson. “With all new cars, even ones you get from the factory, there’s a fair amount of development that happens, particularly in the first year.

“One of the things that we decided to do was to have a really aggressive testing program early in the season, so between the Daytona race and the time we got to Watkins (Glen), we probably did 10 different test events at different tracks. That made a really big difference. I think we have a really good handle on the car and obviously that’s shown.”

For C360R, a large part of the team’s success is due to the driver pairings. In the No. 76, which sits second place, five points out of the lead, young gun Paul Holton is paired with Continental Tire Challenge veteran Matt Plumb, who made his 100th series start at Watkins Glen this year and is tied with Billy Johnson for most series wins, at 23. The duo delivered McLaren’s first GT4 victory in the world at Circuit of The Americas in May.

The team also fields the No. 77 McLaren for Mat Keegan and Nico Rondet, who sit fifth in the standings with three podiums this year, but have struggled to overcome a major obstacle in the last two races. Overheating issues with the No. 77 moved the C360R drivers into a different McLaren, one fielded by fellow GS competitor and Canada-based team Motorsports In Action.

“When it was clear at Mosport that we weren’t going to be able to solve the overheating issue with the (No.) 77, it was a really simple answer to go and come up with another option because we always do everything we can to make it to the grid and make it to the finish,” said Thomson. “You see that in the driver standings. The guys are still in with the show because we never say die.”

Thomson’s C360R cars, though, will be forced to keep up the pace in the remaining four races, given the competition from the rest of the field.

Sitting in first place in the standings with one win and an additional podium this season is the No. 12 Bodymotion Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 of Trent Hindman and Cameron Cassels.

Cassels, who made his first Continental Tire Challenge start at Road Atlanta in 2015, and Hindman impressively hold the lead after somewhat of an inconsistent season. However, finishes outside the top three this season have coincided with poor fortune by the team’s toughest competitors, so the Bodymotion teammates will be looking to finish the year strong and keep the rest of the pack at bay.

Behind Bodymotion and the No. 76 C360R team in third place are the young duo of Dylan Murcott and Dillon Machavern. The No. 28 RS1 Porsche Cayman GT4 MR team seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time, finishing second in the last two races. The two podiums have been the best Continental Tire Challenge finishes for both drivers and if there’s one team in the field looking to get on the top step of the podium, it’s this one.

One team that never can be counted out, however, is CJ Wilson Racing. With two podiums in six races, the No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 of Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer is ready to fight. While the results haven’t always been there for the team, the experience has.

“This has been a tight championship battle from the first race,” said Miller, who finished second in the 2016 GS standings with then-co-driver Daniel Burkett. “For our Porsche Fresno No. 33 team, we are still in this fight squarely on reliability, execution of stellar pit stops and solid pit strategy.

“I would love to be in the position we were last year and have a car capable of winning based on race pace, but this year, with the increased competition from the newer GT4 cars, we just don't. What we do have though is an experienced team that have made cool and calm decisions and put together the best results with what we have to work with.”

Bechtolsheimer, now past halfway in his first full Continental Tire Challenge season, agrees.

“It feels good to be in the hunt, just a few points back, with four races to go,” he said. “A big part of what has kept us in the fight is the flawless execution and strategic calls from the team. To be honest, without our share of some bad luck we would be in an even better position.

“Marc is as fast as anyone in the series and I've been happy with my progress, keeping the gap between starting and finishing driver as tight as possible. If the team keeps delivering the strategic wizardry and execution like they have all season, we should be in the Championship fight right to the end.” 

The Continental Tire Challenge returns to action at Road America next weekend, with the two-hour Road America 120 scheduled for Saturday, August 5 at 5:30 p.m. ET.