Anticipation Builds For 2017 WeatherTech Championship As New GT Daytona Models Begin Testing

Anticipation Builds For 2017 WeatherTech Championship

As New GT Daytona Models Begin Testing

Lexus, Acura Both Prepare To Field Two-Car Full Season Efforts

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 15, 2016) – Lexus made its long-awaited IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut on the first day of a two-day sanctioned test at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday. The Lexus RC F GT3, operated by Paul Gentilozzi’s 3GT Racing team, turned its first laps around Daytona’s 3.56-mile road circuit.

Though only one RC F GT3 is present at the two-day test, 3GT Racing will campaign a pair of the cars for the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season. Announced in early 2016, sports car legend Scott Pruett will co-drive one of the Lexus entries with Sage Karam.

“I’m so excited to be back at Daytona, I love everything about it,” Pruett said on Tuesday afternoon. “This is the start of everything with Lexus and everything they’re doing. Everything we have to learn about the car is new. We’re trying to get a lot done in a short period of time.”

While Lexus engines and vehicles have competed in the United States previously, the new program represents the first direct manufacturer involvement.

“We’ve had a fairly long history of racing here in the States, just not directly,” said Lexus Motorsports Manager Mark Egger. “We’ve had engines in prototypes, privateers run IS300 & GS400 cars and trophy trucks in the Baja series, but this RC F program in IMSA brings the whole package together. There’s a lot of excitement about starting a brand new program.”

In January, Lexus will debut at the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona, but for Pruett, the race is the continuation of a longstanding legacy. He has captured more than a dozen class wins in the historic race, and currently stands tied with Hurley Haywood for the most overall wins with five. Though he likely won’t break the overall category in a GT Daytona (GTD) ride, he’s still very excited about returning to Daytona.

“It’s really exciting now that we are finally here, without a doubt,” Pruett said. “When I rolled in yesterday, I was just all smiles and grins, because it’s real now – this is where it all starts.”

Pruett isn’t the only excited party – Lexus is very much looking forward to joining the series as well.

“There is much anticipation about entering the WeatherTech Championship, which is the premier sports car series in the United States,” Egger said. “With all the tracks we’ll visit, we feel we’re hitting the high notes of who we want to compete against and will also be able to showcase our technologies that we’ll take into our road-going cars.”

Acura NSX Officially Debuts at Daytona with Michael Shank Racing

The first day of testing at Daytona International Speedway also saw the familiar Michael Shank Racing (MSR) team bring out the unfamiliar Acura NSX GT3 for its first official test session.

With seven hours of testing available on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the test provides an opportunity for the team to learn what the new car can bring to the table.

“One car is working on chassis balance and the other is working on mileage for durability, and so far, so good,” said team owner Michael Shank. “We’re trying to over-deliver and just keep everyone headed in the right direction, try to keep everyone happy and make progress and knock our list down.”

The new relationship between Acura and MSR has been an easy transition for both sides. With MSR headquartered in Ohio, the shop is already located near Honda’s manufacturing, research and development centers.

“It kind of became a natural fit when we looked for which teams to help support the introduction of the GT3 NSX,” explained Honda Performance Development, Inc. Vice President and Chief Operation Officer Stephen Eriksen. “Because he (Shank) is located in Ohio, we were able to capitalize on resources within Honda outside of just HPD. We’ve actually been able to pull in key members from manufacturing and R&D that know the production car really well to work on the racing program. The whole thing has made for really nice synergy.”

Shank and Eriksen also were aligned on what the objective of this week’s test was for Acura – log miles.

Said Eriksen, “It’s really a chance for us to pound out miles and start tuning the various things that can be tuned on the car. We’ve got some very experienced drivers who have been able to guide us because this is our first time to do a GT3 car. They’ve been really helpful in helping set our priority list of what to work on as we finish up the cars specifications.”

The Acura driver lineup was announced late last month at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada and all four drivers are on-hand for this week’s test. Andy Lally and Jeff Segal are paired together for the test, while Katherine Legge and Ozz Negri are teamed up in a second car after switching from Prototype to GTD.

“I’ve done Prototypes for so many years, so I went from the quickest class to the slowest class,” Negri explained during today’s session. “There’s a lot of difference between driving style in both cars. There’s a lot of things to take in but it’s all going in the right direction and I actually enjoy it a lot.”

NOTEBOOK

  • BMW Team RLL stands as the lone GTLM entrant at the two-day test, and the team is gathering a significant amount of crucial data. The team’s technical director, Jay O’Connell, pointed out to driver John Edwards that the November Test is almost exactly the same distance away from the winter solstice as the Rolex 24 itself, meaning that the track temperatures should be nearly identical.

“That’s not something that I would have thought of, but apparently we’re getting a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be like during the race,” said Edwards. “That’s a good thing, as the last time we were here it was on a completely different spec of tire.”

  • Stevenson Motorsports driver Robin Liddell on testing at Daytona: “The test has been quite good so far. The track started off a bit dirty and there aren’t enough cars to really get it rubbered-in very effectively over the course of the day. The car feels good, but we have some setup issues that we’re working on and trying to improve. Like everybody else, we’re just shaking off the cobwebs. We want to go through procedural stuff and what not in January. The bigger set-up stuff we can try to do now to see what we can learn from that.”

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