In 2019, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) was celebrating its 50th anniversary. IMSA was founded by NASCAR’s Bill France and John Bishop (a former executive director of the Sports Car Club of America) and Bishop’s wife, Peggy. They succeeded in creating their vision which was to build a sanctioning body for professional road racing in North America. From its humble roots, IMSA currently sanctions seven different race series: IMSA WeatherTech SportCar Championship, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, IMSA Prototype Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge – USA, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge – Canada, Lamborghini Super Trofeo and the Ferrari Challenge.

2019 began with a number of changes to IMSA’s production-based sedan series.

  • First, Continental Tire which had been the series primary sponsor since 2010 was replaced by Michelin and the championship would be renamed the ‘IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge’.
  • This also meant the teams would be using Michelin tires.
  • Finally, the Street Tuner which had been a mainstay since the series inception was dropped from the championship.

The 2019 edition of the Michelin Pilot Challenge consisted of ten events (Daytona International Speedway, Sebring, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Watkins Glen International, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), Lime Rock Park, Road America, Virginia International Raceway, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta). Most contests were 2-hours in length with the exception of Daytona and Watkins Glen where competitors would race for four-hours.

There are two race groups competing in the Michelin Piot Challenge:

  • Grand Sport (GS): This category underwent some changes in 2017. The new rules accepted cars prepared to the SRO (Stephane Ratel Organisation) GT4 technical requirements. The quicker of the two groups, this class includes cars such as the Ford Mustang GT4, BMW M4 GT4, Mercedes-AMG, Audi R8 and Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. Vehicles competing in this group produce between 400 - 450 horsepower and are capable of speeds over 175-mph.
  • Touring Car (TCR): TCR is a global touring car category which was added to the Michelin Pilot Challenge series in 2018. Cars competing in this category include the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR, Honda Civic TCR, Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR and Audi RS3 LMS TCR. They use a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine which will produce between 300 – 350-horsepower.

Close, competitive racing with cars that fans could relate to contributed to the popularity of the series. It also provided an environment for automotive manufacturers to test and showcase their products.

The opening round of the 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge took place at Daytona International Speedway as a support event for the Rolex 24. Forty-nine entries would compete for four hours around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile track which utilized an infield road course and almost the entire tri-oval in an event called the BMW Endurance Challenge.

The start of the first lap for round one of the 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona International Speedway. Leading the field of forty-nine starters is the pole-sitter, Paul Holton. Following Holton, at more than a few car lengths, is the Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4, Winward/HTP Motorsports Mercedes-AMG, Park Place Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport and the Carbarn Motorsports Audi R8.
Paul Holton was the fastest Grand Sport qualifier driving the Compass Racing McLaren 570S GT4. Holton broke the qualifying record by 2.993-seconds. At the start of the race, he sprinted into the lead. However, a pit speed violation by his co-driver, Kuno Wittmer dropped the duo down the race order. They charged back and on the final re-start, Holton shot into the lead and won by a margin of 6.931-seconds.
L.A. Honda World entered three Honda Civic TCR. Sharing the No. 37 Honda was open-wheel racer, Shelby Blackstock and former World Challenge competitor, Tom O’Gorman. They were never near the top of the timesheets in practice but found some speed in qualifying and started fifth in TCR and thirty-ninth overall. Changes made by the crew before the race gave Blackstock and O’Gorman the speed required to capture the victory.
Second quickest in the qualifying session was Corey Fergus driving the Motorsports In Action McLaren 570S GT4 – he missed the pole position by 0.804-seconds. Unfortunately, in the post-qualifying technical inspection, the McLaren was under the minimum and started at the rear of the grid. During the four-hour event Fergus and his co-driver, Jesse Lazare moved into second but lost the position on the final lap to finish third.
L.A. Honda World started the 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship with a one-two finish in the TCR category. Handling the driving duties for No. 73 Honda Civic TCR were former Street Tuner competitors, Mike LaMarra and Mat Pombo. They started twelfth in the fourteen car TCR field. By lap-52, Pombo and LaMarra were in contention. During the final round of pit-stops, they moved into the runner-up spot and finished second.
‘Cautions breed cautions’ and that is exactly what happened after a lap-24 restart. Entering turn one the Grand Sport entries of TRG – The Racer’s Group, Ian Lacy Racing, Murillo Racing and Automatic Racing tangled. The Automatic Racing Aston Martin AMR Vantage fared the best in the encounter and was able to continue and finish thirteenth in Grand Sport. Taking the brunt of the incident was the TRG Porsche which retired.
Qualifying the No. 99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 was Gary Ferrera. Ferrera was twenty-seventh fastest and would share the Aston Martin with the series veteran, Kris Wilson. During his stint, Wilson made great progress moving through the field and was running third in Grand Sport on the final lap. A well-timed pass allowed him to draft past the McLaren of Jesse Lazare and grab the runner-up spot by 0.007-seconds.
Starting at the rear of the field and fourteenth in the TCR category was the No. 23 Fast MD Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR piloted by Jared Salinsky, Nick Galante and James Vance. Their poor qualifying position seemed to be of little consequence. The trio made steady progress during the contest and by lap-87; they were in the class lead. The final round of pit-stops altered the race order but at the checkered flag, the trio was in third place.
Paraplegic, Michael Johnson scored his first series victory last year at Lime Rock Park. In the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, he grabbed his first class pole position. Sharing the No. 54 Audi RS3 LMS TCR with Johnson was Stephen Simpson and Mikey Taylor. Unfortunately, the team’s race ended on lap-28 when Johnson and the Audi of Lee Carpentier were involved in an incident at the ‘bus stop’.
Missing the top spot in TCR qualifying by 0.852-seconds was Lee Carpentier driving the No. 10 ROWE Racing prepared Audi RS3 LMS TCR. His partner for the four-hour event would be Kieron O’Rouke. At the start of the race, Carpentier battled for the class lead with the pole-sitter, Michael Johnson. Entering the ‘bus stop’ on lap-28, the two competitors made contact which severely damaged their Audis.
BimmerWorld Racing’s Nick Galante and Devin Jones captured the final Street Tuner championship. With the elimination of the class, Jones teamed up with BimmerWorld company principal, James Clay to compete in the Grand Sport category. The pair shared the No. 82 BMW M4 GT4 - which was gridded ninth for the start. A good race strategy and a steady performance by the two drivers resulted in a fourth-place finish.

1GSP. Holton / K. WittmerMcLaren 570S GT4101-
2GSG. Ferrera / K. WilsonAston Martin Vantage GT4101-
3GSJ. Lazare / C. FergusMcLaren 570S GT4101-
4GSJ. Clay / D. JonesBMW M4 GT4101-
5GSA. Cindric / C. Briscoe / B. JohnsonFord Mustang GT4101-
6GSR. Ward / I. DontjeMercedes-AMG101-
7GSA. Brynjolfsson / T. HindmanPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport101-
8GSM. Travis / M. Vess / J. HartPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport101-
9GSS. Maxwell / C. Custer / T. MajeskiFord Mustang GT4101-
10GSP. Gallagher / J. Pesek / J. BufordFord Mustang GT4101-
11GSK. Wilden / R. Randall / DJ RandallFord Mustang GT4101-
12GST. Giovanis / G. CosmoMercedes-AMG101-
13GSR. Ecklin Jr. / R. Abdolvahabi / B. KiddAston Martin AMR Vantage101-
14GSH. Schmitt / G. LiefoogheBMW M4 GT4101-
15GSJ. Mossing / E. FossMercedes-AMG101-
16GST. McQuarrie / J. WestphalAudi R8101-
17GSS. Rzadzinski / T. Collingwood / J. TeccePorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport100Not Running
18GSJ. Heylen / C. Luck / F. PoordadPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport100-
19GSH. Plumb / O. TrinklerMercedes-AMG100-
20GSR. Foley / B. McKee / S. McKeeBMW M4 GT4100-
21GSM. Miller / P. McIntosh / P. LiddyPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport100-
22TCRT. O'Gorman / S. BlackstockHonda Civic TCR100-
23TCRM. Pombo / M. LaMarraHonda Civic TCR100-
24TCRJ. Vance / J. Salinsky / N. GalanteAudi RS3 LMS TCR100-
25GSG. Jeannette / R. SalesAudi R899-
26GSM. Miller / D. KatechisAston Martin Vantage GT499-
27TCRT. Lamb / B. HendersonHonda Civic TCR99-
28GSD. Machavern / S. PumpellyPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport97Not Running
29TCRM. Filippi / H. GottsackerHyundai Veloster N TCR96Not Running
30GST. Grahovec / K. Reid / J. ClunieBMW M4 GT494-
31GSB. Ward / C. HohenadelMercedes-AMG92Did Not Finish
32GSN. Stacy / K. MarcelliFord Mustang GT492Did Not Finish
33TCRR. Nash / R. McDonoughAudi RS3 LMS TCR91Did Not Finish
34TCRM. Faulkner / C. MullanHonda Civic TCR86Did Not Finish
35GSS. Hargrove / O. FidaniPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport86-
36TCRA. Popow / A. PapadopulosAlfa Romeo Giulietta TCR83Did Not Finish
37GSJ. Cox / D. Murry / J. BleekemolenMercedes-AMG78Did Not Finish
38TCRM. Wilkins / M. LewisHyundai Veloster N TCR76Did Not Finish
39GSK. Grala / A. StrausBMW M4 GT469-
40TCRG. Ernstone / J. MorleyAudi RS3 LMS TCR68Did Not Finish
41GSK. Koch / T. CookeAudi R862Did Not Finish
42TCRC. Gilsinger / R. EversleyHonda Civic TCR54Did Not Finish
43TCRR. Block / T. Lewis, Jr.Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR54Did Not Finish
44GST. Probert / B. Mosing / J. PiscitellMercedes-AMG47Did Not Finish
45TCRL. Carpentier / K. O'RourkeAudi RS3 LMS TCR28Accident
46TCRM. Johnson / S. Simpson / M. TaylorAudi RS3 LMS TCR28Accident
47GSD. Staveley / F. GannettFord Mustang GT424Accident
48GSC. Bellomo / R. OrcuttPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport24Accident
49GSF. DePew / R. Liddell / A. DavisChevrolet Camaro GT4.R2Did Not Start

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