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.

Round three of the 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge was held at Watkins Glen International as a support event for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. Thirty-seven entries would compete for four hours around the 11-turn, 3.337-mile road course in an event titled the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 at The Glen.

The weather played a big part in the outcome of the event. With less than thirty minutes remaining in the contest, rain began to fall. During the final round of pit-stops, teams had to make a difficult decision – slicks or rain tires. Initially, it appeared that rains were the better choice but once the precipitation ceased the track dried quickly. In the final fifteen minutes, those drivers on the dry tires had the advantage.

Thirty-seven drivers prepare to enter Watkins Glen International’s turn-eleven in anticipation of the Starter’s flag. Pacing the field in the No. 33 Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG is Indy Dontje. Sharing the front row with Dontje is the second Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG entry is Christian Hohenadel. Hohenadel fell short of securing the pole by just 0.171-seconds.
Sharing the No. 35 Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG was Jeroen Bleekemolen, James Cox and Dylan Murry. They were the eighth quickest Grand Sport entry. During the race, an incident damaged the car, but the team was able to rebound. In the final round of pit-stops, the crew selected slick tires. Murry who was driving slid down the order but as the track dried, he moved to the front and captured the team’s first victory.
With the demise of the Street Tuner category for 2019, Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra moved to the TCR class driving the No. 73 LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic TCR. To date, the duo had recorded a runner-up finish at Daytona International Speedway but was the first retiree at Sebring International Raceway. LaMarra qualified ninth quickest in TCR. They were able to capitalize on the misfortunes of their competition and earn the win.
The TCR Motul Pole Award went to Michael Lewis. Lewis was driving the No. 98 Hyundai Veloster N TCR that he shared with Mark Wilkins for the team’s first victory in the previous round at Mid-Ohio. The pair were leading their category when the rain started. During the final pit-stop, the team put rain tires on the car which proved to be the wrong decision. Wilkins lost the top spot but was able to salvage a runner-up finish.
The Grand Sport podium for the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240. In the center are the winners, Jeroen Bleekemolen, James Cox and Dylan Murry. This was the first Michelin Pilot victory for the team and drivers. The runner-up’s, Devin Jones and James Clay who is absent due to his commitments at Pikes Peak stand on the left side. And, completing the podium are third-place finishers, Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal.
Quickest in the Grand Sport qualifying session and winning the pole position was Indy Dontje. Driving the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG prepared by Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport this was his first IMSA Michelin Pilot series pole. Sharing the Mercedes-AMG with Dontje was Russell Ward. Unfortunately, the team was not able to deliver the same results during the race. The car retired after sixty-six laps in twenty-eighth position.
Leading the title chase in TCR are Shelby Blackstock and Tom O’Gorman. They won the first two races of 2019 – Daytona and Sebring. A tire failure in qualifying prevented Blackstock from recording a time and the No. 37 Honda Civic TCR started at the back of the grid. The pair were able to move through the field and were lucky to fifth in class when O’Gorman ran out of gas on the final lap. The result allowed them to retain the points lead.
As well as the four-hour race at Watkins Glen International, BimmerWorld team leader, James Clay was also participating in the 97th annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Clay and his driving partner, Devin Jones started fifth in the BimmerWorld Racing BMW M4 GT4. They were one of the teams that chose slick tires during the final stop and earned a runner-up finish. More importantly, they now lead the championship.
The Carbahn Motorsports Audi R8 shared by Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal started the four-hour contest in the fourth position with credit going to McQuarrie. The pair remained in contention throughout the race. The team’s decision to stay on dry tires during the final pit-stop was rewarded with a third-place finish. For McQuarrie and Westphal, this was their second podium of the year.
Entering round three the Grand Sport point’s leaders were Corey Fergus and Jesse Lazare. The pair finished third in the season’s first two events. At Watkins Glen, they started ninth in the Motorsports In Action McLaren GT4. During the last stop, the team fitted the McLaren with rain tires, Fergus moved from seventh to first. However, the track dried and he dropped to an eighth-place finish and third in the championship standings.
Securing their second consecutive podium finish was the No. 61 Roadshagger Racing by Audi RS3 LMS TCR shared by Gavin Ernstone and Jonathan Morley. Ernstone was the ninth quickest TCR entry during qualifying. They were one of the teams benefitting from the tire issues encountered by the Honda teams. At the checkered flag, the pair finished sixteenth overall and third in class.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR podium at Watkins Glen International. On the left are the second-place finishers from Bryan Herta Autosport, Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis. And, on the opposite side and completing the podium are Gavin Ernstone and Jonathan Morley. In the center, earning their first victory of the season are LA Honda World Racing drivers, Matt Pombo and Mike LaMarra.

1GSJ. Cox / D. Murry / J. BleekemolenMercedes-AMG103-
2GSJ. Clay / D. JonesBMW M4 GT4103-
3GST. McQuarrie / J. WestphalAudi R8103-
4GSA. Brynjolfsson / T. HindmanPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport103-
5GSF. DePew / R. Liddell / A. DavisChevrolet Camaro GT4.R103-
6GSR. Foley / B. Auberlen / V. BarlettaBMW M4 GT4103-
7GSJ. Pesek / J. BufordFord Mustang GT4103-
8GSJ. Lazare / C. FergusMcLaren 570S GT4103-
9GSJ. Mossing / E. FossMercedes-AMG103-
10GSK. Wilden / B. JohnsonFord Mustang GT4103-
11GST. Giovanis / G. CosmoMercedes-AMG103-
12GSN. Stacy / K. MarcelliFord Mustang GT4103-
13GST. Probert / B. Mosing / J. PiscitellMercedes-AMG103-
14TCRM. Pombo / M. LaMarraHonda Civic TCR103-
15TCRM. Wilkins / M. LewisHyundai Veloster N TCR103-
16TCRG. Ernstone / J. MorleyAudi RS3 LMS TCR103-
17TCRR. Nash / R. McDonoughAudi RS3 LMS TCR103-
18TCRT. O'Gorman / S. BlackstockHonda Civic TCR103-
19GSH. Schmitt / G. LiefoogheBMW M4 GT4102-
20GSK. Koch / T. CookeAudi R8102-
21GSR. Ecklin Jr. / R. Abdolvahabi / B. KiddAston Martin AMR Vantage102-
22TCRR. Block / T. Lewis, Jr.Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR102-
23GSP. Holton / K. WittmerMcLaren 570S GT4100-
24GSS. Pumpelly / T. Collingwood / J. TeccePorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport99Did Not Finish
25TCRT. Lamb / B. HendersonHonda Civic TCR92-
26TCRM. Filippi / H. GottsackerHyundai Veloster N TCR91-
27GSB. Ward / C. HohenadelMercedes-AMG88Did Not Finish
28GSR. Ward / I. DontjeMercedes-AMG66Did Not Finish
29TCRJ. Vance / J. Salinsky / N. GalanteAudi RS3 LMS TCR51Did Not Finish
30TCRM. Johnson / S. Simpson / M. TaylorAudi RS3 LMS TCR51Did Not Finish
31TCRA. Popow / A. PapadopulosAlfa Romeo Giulietta TCR50Did Not Finish
32GSM. Siegel / T. DyerAudi R844Did Not Finish
33GSH. Plumb / O. TrinklerMercedes-AMG28Did Not Finish
34TCRC. Gilsinger / R. EversleyHonda Civic TCR22Did Not Finish
35TCRM. Faulkner / C. MullanHonda Civic TCR16Did Not Finish
36GSS. Hargrove / O. FidaniPorsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport7Did Not Finish
37GSG. Jeannette / R. SalesAudi R81Did Not Finish

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