IMSA Wire: IMSA News Roundup

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – “We’re reppin’ IMSA,” says Sage Karam of himself and Michael Shank Racing and their efforts in the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Karam is a full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver, sharing the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 in the GT Daytona (GTD) class with Scott Pruett, a sports car racing legend and veteran IndyCar and Indy 500 racer. Karam is driving the No. 24 DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet IndyCar for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and qualified 21st for his fourth start in the legendary Memorial Day weekend race.

Michael Shank Racing, meanwhile, is making its Indianapolis 500 debut this year with the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda for driver Jack Harvey. Rookie Harvey starts 27th in the 33-car field, exactly two rows behind Karam. Shank’s team fields a pair of full-time Acura NSX GT3s in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class, competing head-to-head with Karam’s team among many others.

“It’s awesome to finally get that opportunity,” said team owner Mike Shank of realizing his lifelong dream of competing in the 500. “I came from nothing. To be able to win the Rolex (24 At Daytona), win Petit (Le Mans), do Le Mans (24 Hours) and do the Indy 500, we’re showing the world – I hope – that we are capable of anything.

“We are a racing company and we’re prepared to race anywhere, although my loyalties and my heart lie in sports car racing, because that’s what truly puts us in this position to be considered for all these things. I’ll never leave sports car racing. Maybe I’ll do the Indy 500 each year, potentially, but who knows about that too? It’s just really a thing for me personally, that I wanted to do.”

Shank had been close a time or two in the past before the opportunity finally presented itself this year. He credits his partnership with Honda and Acura as the driving force to make it happen in conjunction with Andretti Autosport.

Make no mistake, however, as it’s the same team that runs the Nos. 86 and 93 Acuras in IMSA that are carrying the load at Indy. During most of the practice days at Indy, about half of Shank’s team was onsite at the Speedway working on the IndyCar, while the other half stayed back in his Ohio shop preparing the Acuras for the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic coming up on June 3 on Detroit’s Belle Isle.

“When we need to do pit stops, I bring the whole team in,” Shank says. “All my IMSA guys are over the wall. I’ll tell you, in IMSA, our pit stops are 25 to 40 seconds long. (Monday), we did a 6.8-second pit stop.

“I was so proud of my guys. We didn’t get to practice on a dummy car back at the shop for weeks on end. My guys learned on the pit lane, in front of God and everybody, (last) Wednesday, fumbling around and figuring it out. By the end of that day, I’m like, ‘Holy cow, I think we’ve got something here.’”

Another source of pride for Shank was the fact that his regular crew chief on the No. 86 Acura, Adam Rovazzini, earned the prestigious Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award, named for the legendary IndyCar crew chief.

“The crew chief from the IMSA program won the Clint Brawner Award,” Shank said. “Forever and always, his name will be on a plaque at the (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) Museum, and he got a good chunk of cash.”

For his part, Karam – who came up through the open-wheel ranks before embarking on his first season of full-time sports car competition this season – credits his experience in IMSA and the No. 14 Lexus for making him a better driver in the IndyCar.

“This is the most comfortable I’ve ever been in an IndyCar and the best I’ve been driving,” Karam said. “I really do credit that to racing with Lexus. I’ve learned a lot as far as how to be patient in the IndyCar, just because – in the Lexus in IMSA – it’s not only one guy in the car. You’ve got a teammate you’ve got to hand the car off to, and you’ve got endurance races.

“You’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to be smart, you can’t make mistakes and you never want to give a damaged car to your teammate, so I’ve learned how to be real mature behind the wheel just from driving sports cars. It’s really applying for me in IndyCar.”

So, when the green flag flies shortly past noon eastern time this Sunday, IMSA fans will be watching the outside of Rows 7 and 9 and rooting those drivers and teams on.

“If we can pull out a good result, it makes IMSA look that much better,” Karam says. “In all honesty, there’s so much talent in IMSA.”

CATCHING UP WITH MARINE VETERAN LIAM DWYER FOR MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND: Flashback to Memorial Day weekend three years ago.

In dramatic fashion, Liam Dwyer claimed his first victory in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at his home track, Lime Rock Park. The former Marine and his co-driver Tom Long, bested the other Street Tuner (ST) class competitors for the victory in their No. 27 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5.

The win was a far cry from what the military veteran could have ever expected, considering that in May, 2011 during a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Dwyer stepped on an explosive that resulted in the loss of his left leg and years of recovery time.

“When I first got injured and during my first two years (of recovery), my goal wasn’t to get into a race car, my goal was to learn how to drive again,” Dwyer explained. “I never imagined I would be racing cars. I love cars, I didn’t start club racing until 2013 and the next year, I’m doing three races in the IMSA series and winning.”

Dwyer first enlisted in the Marines after the USS Cole was attacked in October 2000, and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan during the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Several years later, the Connecticut native actively sought out a combat role with the Marines and served in Iraq until early 2008.

Dwyer then took some time away from the military during which he became more invested in sports cars. His passion, though, quickly took a back seat after receiving a phone call in 2010.

“I got a call from a guy I got deployed with to Iraq saying, ‘We’re putting a team together to go to Afghanistan and I want you on it,’” said Dwyer. “I was in Afghanistan in December 2010 and in May 2011, I stepped on a giant bomb over there that blew off my left leg and injured the remaining limbs of my body.”

Dwyer spent the next several years of his life recovering at Walter Reed Medical Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

“For my first two and a half months at Walter Reed, I was in surgery three times a week,” said Dwyer. “I lost count after my 50th surgery. I don’t know how many surgeries I’m at now because of my injuries. There’s a lot that goes on with it and it feels like eight steps forward, 10 steps back sometimes. But then you’ll take 12 steps forward and only nine steps back, so it’s a slow progression and you’ve got to be very patient with it.”

Patience paid off for Dwyer, as he not only earned the 2014 victory, but went on to capture a special win at Mazda’s “home track” of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2015 with co-driver Andrew Carbonell. The Marine who saved Dwyer’s life back in 2011 also was present as a guest of the team.

Fast-forwarding to 2017, Dwyer’s ST team is one of only a handful to finish in the top 10 each race so far. For Memorial Day weekend, he has different plans this year with a break now in the series schedule – a relaxing weekend in Florida.

“My family is from Middlebury, Connecticut, and they have a Memorial Day parade that I used to be a part of,” Dwyer said. “Being that I’m now in Florida, I most likely will not be up there for Memorial Day, but when I am, it’s hot dogs, cookouts, burgers, parades, speeches, hanging out with family. Being that its Connecticut Memorial Day weekend, there’s big racing at Lime Rock. We’ll usually attend those races if I’m up there.”

After already winning on Memorial Day, a victory on Fourth of July weekend at Watkins Glen International would prove to be even more special this year.

“I’ll have a lot family there, but this year we’re having a special guest come to the race,” Dwyer said. “One of the doctors who operated on me, who’s actually done lots of operations on me, and he’s the one I credit for keeping my right leg…he will be there with his family to watch me race. I wanted him to come and see what I do now with the life that he’s given me.”

Bringing his doctor to Watkins Glen is more than a mere gesture for Dwyer, as he hopes to convey a broader message.

“Three days after our season ends in Atlanta later this year, I’ll be going up to Walter Reed and he’ll be doing a pretty awesome surgery on me to hopefully make me even faster,” Dwyer explained. “It also reminds people that yeah, I’m racing now, I’m retired from the military, but my life as an amputee is still ongoing. I still have a lot of procedures I’m going through and it’s always part of the story with me.”

CORE AUTOSPORT WRAPS UP SUCCESSFUL WATKINS GLEN TEST: A number of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams have utilized the nearly one-month break between Circuit of The Americas and next week’s Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix as an opportunity to make final preparations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But even those IMSA teams not fielding cars in the 24-hour endurance classic have been hard at work preparing for the upcoming slate of WeatherTech Championship races, including the next round of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

One of those teams is CORE autosport, who recently tested at Watkins Glen International in preparation for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on July 2.

CORE autosport knows a thing or two about what it takes to win Patrón Endurance Cup races, scoring wins in the Rolex 24 At Daytona (2014), Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida (2014, 2016) and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen (2014). The team also won the Patrón Endurance Cup title in 2014.

But that success all came in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class, where the team was a stalwart dating back to the American Le Mans Series, winning five consecutive class championships between 2011-2015. This season, however, CORE autosport made the move to the GT Daytona (GTD) class with its new No. 54 Porsche 911 GT3 R.

While much of the early part of the season has seen the team getting acclimated to the new car, the test at Watkins Glen represented a chance to turn more laps outside of a race weekend.

“The test was a great opportunity to get our Porsche 911 GT3 R on track at Watkins Glen for the first time ever,” said Colin Braun, who has been with CORE since 2012. “We had great weather both days and [co-driver] Jon (Bennett) and I were able to turn a ton of laps.”

Among those also testing at Watkins Glen were GT Le Mans (GTLM) teams Porsche GT Team and BMW Team RLL, the GTD points-leading No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG GT3 and the No. 43 Keating Motorsports Multimatic-Riley LM P2 car to be shared at Le Mans by WeatherTech Championship regulars Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ricky Taylor.

For CORE autosport, the test at Watkins Glen was about focusing on the second half of the WeatherTech Championship season and positioning itself for a strong finish to its debut season in the GTD class.

“The Six Hours of The Glen really kicks off the second half of the IMSA season,” added Braun. “We want to make sure we arrive with a strong setup so we can hopefully get a good finish and create some positive momentum going into that second half.”

Before they head to Watkins Glen, CORE autosport competes in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich. on June 3. The race can be seen live on FS2 beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.

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