XM SATELLITE RADIO VICI RACING's Nathan Swartzbaugh has moved into contention for the IMSA GT3 Cup title after finishing fourth in a drama-packed race at Mid Ohio Nathan Swartzbaugh has moved into serious contention to claim the inaugural IMSA...
XM SATELLITE RADIO VICI RACING's Nathan Swartzbaugh has moved into contention for the IMSA GT3 Cup title after finishing fourth in a drama-packed race at Mid Ohio
Nathan Swartzbaugh has moved into serious contention to claim the inaugural IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge title after finishing in fourth place during round two on Sunday, a drama-packed, rain-hit race held at the Mid Ohio Sportscar Course.
Nathan was propelled into fourth position with just minutes of the 45- minute race remaining after two competitors fighting for third place collided, although unfortunately one of them was his new VICI RACING team mate Tony Massari. Ricardo Imery, who finished second in the race and becomes the new championship leader, has now been handed guest driver status for the remainder of the series, which has put Nathan into a very strong position to lay claim the inaugural IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge title. The 14 points Nathan scored in Mid Ohio, added to the 10 points he claimed at Road Atlanta, mean he is now just 6 points behind second placed Jay Poliscastro (on 30 points), with 30 points still on offer from the remaining three races. (On paper Imery still holds the advantage with 36 points, although he will not now be able to further add to this tally).
For the 19-year-old Californian Nathan Swartzbaugh, in just his first season of sportscar racing the result was a terrific achievement. "Nathan drove an excellent race," commented VICI Racing Team President Ron Meixner after the race, "he showed a lot of maturity to steer well clear of trouble in an incident packed race, and kept closely to our instructions. He is obviously very fast in the wet, and my opinion that Nathan is a name for the future is just reinforced by his performance today."
While Nathan had an 'uneventful' race, the same could not be said for pretty much anyone else in the 29-car field. The race was run in wet conditions with the fastest lap of the race being around fifteen seconds slower than the previous day's pole position time. The race went live under full-course yellow flags, and during its 22-lap duration the Safety Car was called upon twice.
Tony Massari, in his first outing at the wheel of the no11 XM SATELLITE VICI RACING, had been safely on his way to a third place finish when, with just four laps remaining, he was punted off the track after an over enthusiastic manoeuvre from the following car driven by Tom Pank. Both cars were forced to retire instantly.
Meanwhile, Steve Valentinetti in the third VICI RACING entry had a steady run to the 12th place at the checkered flag. Having suffered a series of unfortunate mishaps literally from the moment practice began, the highly experienced Porsche racer was glad to register a solid finish.
The weekend's activities had begun when XM SATELLITE RADIO VICI RACING headed for the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course last week with their newly expanded three-car line-up: Tony Massari, Steve Valentinetti and Nathan Swartzbaugh - all raring to get to grips with the technically demanding, 2.258-mile race track.
During its inaugural year, the 5-race IMSA GT Cup Challenge, for identical- specification Porsche Type 996 cars, is supporting the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), guaranteeing the burgeoning championship excellent levels of exposure and prestige. The North American GT3 Cup is aiming to capture the action and excitement that has long surrounded the highly successful European Porsche Supercup, a goal, that if round one at Road Atlanta was anything to go by, is seemingly assumed.
That opening IMSA GT3 Cup race last month at Road Atlanta in Georgia, kicked off XM SATELLITE RADIO VICI RACING's series participation in the best possible way. Their young series 'guest driver' Alfred Renauer, facing up to a new challenge at a new circuit in a new country, started proceedings off by dominating both free practice sessions and claiming pole position with a more than two second margin in hand. The 20-year-old German driver then went on to wrap the weekend up by winning the 45 minute race, after having fended off the attentions of many much more experienced drivers.
The Florida-based team were looking to build on this excellent result. That said, with three new drivers, two new cars, and additional technicians having been flown in from VICI's German base for the event, it was always going to be a weekend that would involve much hard work.
Friday saw proceedings 'officially' starting off, with two 30-minute free track sessions being available to the IMSA GT3 Cup competitors. However, while VICI RACING only arrived during mid-week at Mid Ohio, several of their rival teams had already been testing at the track for up to a week, and in terms of data acquisition and evaluating set-ups VICI RACING were thus starting a long way behind.
Alfred Renauer, who won the opening IMSA GT3 Cup race while participating as a guest driver for VICI RACING, was on hand to coach all three drivers, and in particular Tony, who had now replaced him in the no11 XM SATELLITE RADIO car. Alfred was able to help Tony to familiarise himself with the new car, and help him to analyse his feedback effectively for the team's technicians to digest.
The morning free practice session, held in very mixed conditions, saw Tony Massari settling quickly into what was a very unfamiliar car, and running on wet tyres like all the other drivers, he posted a best lap of 1:29.756 to set 4th fastest time, 1.282 seconds of Riccardo Imery's fastest time.
"We know Tony very well as he has been working on the US racing scene for sometime now, and we keep bumping into him," said VICI RACING Team President Ron Meixner prior to the event, "I personally feel he is a genuinely exciting driver just waiting to be 'discovered', and believe that this series, and the Porsche GT3 Cup racer, will give him an ideal opportunity to show people exactly what he is able do."
With conditions continuing to deteriorate during the afternoon's second 30- minute session, Tony set his fastest lap in 1:29.688, good enough to place him seventh fastest on the timesheets. With the inclement weather preventing much in the way of useful data from being collected, VICI RACING were keen for Tony to make full use of the session to continue learning more about the car's characteristics.
Nathan Swartzbaugh and Steve Valentinetti had productive practice sessions as they both worked for the first time with VICI RACING's technical staff. For Nathan the meeting was also about getting his new Porsche GT3 Cup car properly sorted. "Nathan has a new car here which has recently been delivered from the Porsche factory in Germany," commented Ron Meixner. "As with all new racing cars it needs a whole host of detailed changes to be made, such as revising the suspension shims. We are also working to fine tune the car so Nathan feels completely comfortable driving it, especially as it is so different to anything else he has raced before."
The weather changed in time for Saturday's 30-minute qualifying session, with warm and sunny conditions greeting the VICI RACING trio as they took to the track. However with only very limited running in poor conditions to fall back upon compared to many of their rivals, it was going to be an uphill task to achieve an ideal set-up.
Tony eventually posted a best time of 1:27.850 from the 8 laps he ran, and this proved good enough to claim an excellent third on the grid, just 1.091 seconds off the pole-winning time of 1:26.759 set up Ricardo Imery in the first of the Farnbacher-Loles entries. Between them would line-up Lawson Aschenbach, who set a 1:27.316, in another Farnbacher-Loles run car.
Tony Massari was pleased with the outcome. "It's been a really steep learning curve for me, especially as rain hit our practice sessions badly," he reported. "The team has been great, really professional, and got the car set up for qualifying so well. Alfred's input has been invaluable in helping me to familiarise myself with the car and its traits. It's such an enjoyable car to drive and very forgiving, and I just cannot wait for the race. I suffered from traffic problems all through qualifying so I think that there is a lot more to come in the race."
Nathan Swartzbaugh claimed a row five slot after setting a best time of 1:29.783. The 19-year-old Californian resident highly impressed the team with his swift progress and his ability to provide precise and incisive technical feedback. Meanwhile Porsche sportscar veteran Steve Valentinetti was not satisfied with his qualifying result due to several incidents limiting his testing time. However, he qualified 16th place on the grid, with a qualifying lap of 1:30.299.