American teams set to shine in WEC at COTA
As the FIA World Endurance Championship invades Circuit of The Americas for the Lone Star Le Mans weekend, a strong contingent of American teams have assembled to do battle with the world’s best in the only North American round of the year.
Extreme Speed Motorsports (LMP2), Corvette Racing (GTE-Pro) as well as GTE-Am entrants Krohn Racing and 8Star Motorsports are set to fly the stars and stripes, with each team aiming to end up on the top step of the their respective podiums come Saturday at 11 p.m.
After a challenging season in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, highlighted by midseason mechanical woes and the current state of the Balance of Performance in the combined P2/DP class, the Scott Sharp-owned ESM squad elected to enter one of its HPD ARX-03b cars in the WEC race.
With equal competition and the chance to sample a new series, it came as the perfect opportunity, according to the former IndyCar and ALMS champion, who will share the wheel of the No. 30 Tequila Patron-sponsored car with Ed Brown and former WEC class champion Ryan Dalziel.
“All the guys are fired up about it,” Sharp said. “This is a chance for us to try out the WEC series on a familiar track. It is going to be fun because we’re racing against other P2 cars we’re competitive with.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re not sure where we measure up to the competition because of the different engine configurations, but I think we should be pretty good.”
Sharp also sees the foray into the WEC as a learning experience as the Florida-based team plans to make its debut in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, which runs to the same technical and sporting regulations.
“We’re going to race Le Mans next year, and we need to learn the processes because every series is different,” he said. “We’re on different tires, and that plays a big role in the handling of the car from the driver perspective, and the setup. The procedures are important for us to understand.”
ESM, along with Corvette Racing are pulling double duty between the WEC and TUDOR Championship events, which sees Brown take part part in both races, as well as Corvette’s trio of Ricky and Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner, the only all-American lineup in the six-hour WEC race.
"On the surface, it’s two races," Milner said. "The busiest part will be just the practice sessions, a lot of them being back to back. If you think about it, only doing nine hours of racing [on Saturday], we do 24-hour races, so really, that aspect of it won’t be a huge challenge. We’re basically driving the same car in both races.”
The Pratt & Miller squad has entered its Corvette C7.R test car for the one-off event, which will go against the factory Porsches, Aston Martins and Ferraris for the first time in a WEC race outside of Le Mans.
"I feel like we have some of the best GT racing in the U.S. in GTLM. But certainly, there’s something to be said about the guys who race full-time in the WEC," Milner said. "There’s factory teams and it will be a big challenge for sure.
"I’m looking forward to it, just to see how the competition compares in some way to what we have here in [the TUDOR Championship]. It will be a fun comparison and a way to see how the races play out.”
While Corvette Racing will battle for GTE-Pro honors, former full-time WEC entrant Krohn Racing will make its series return in GTE-Am with its signature green-liveried Ferrari F458 Italia for Nic Jonsson, Ben Collins and Texan Tracy Krohn.
"We enjoyed racing in the WEC in 2012 and 2013, and we jumped at the chance to compete within the series again, especially without having to leave our home state,” Krohn said. “We always like a good challenge and we’re happy to be able to run this event.”
Reigning GTE-Am champions 8Star Motorsports completes the American contingent, with the AF Corse-run operation featuring WEC debutant Jeff Segal, who will pair with Italians Paolo Ruberti and Gianluca Roda in the No. 81 Ferrari.
Segal, who claimed GTD class victory in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with Level 5 Motorsports, is hoping the drive could lead to future WEC outings.
“The WEC is a series that has always been at the top of my to-do list, and I’m most excited that I get to make my series debut on what feels like home turf at COTA,” he said. “Hopefully things go well for us in the race and then my focus will shift to what needs to happen to stay in the WEC for future races and even seasons to come.”