Mid-Ohio Saturday Notebook

Photo: Sam Cobb/IMSA

***An increased number of fans are in attendance this weekend thanks to the State of Ohio’s lifting of a 30 percent limit of spectators at outdoor sporting events last month. The previous ordinance would have resulted in a capacity of 20,000 of fans this weekend.

***Mid-Ohio is still enforcing social distancing and other health protocols on site, with fans not permitted to enter the paddock as has been the case in all IMSA races since the onset of the pandemic.

***Patrick Long, who scored maximum qualifying points for his quickest time in GT Daytona qualifying, told Sportscar365 that he wasn’t going after the fastest time but rather looking to use the session to evaluate changes made to his No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3 R from practice earlier on Saturday.

“The car was not where we wanted it this morning,” Long told Sportscar365. “We were scrambling. I have a saying with Bobby [Viglione] my engineer that we’re either in the box, out of the box or halfway and we weren’t in the box this morning. We have to have a balance that’s good for qualifying and the race.”

***The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R will start from the rear of the field on Sunday after a ride height infraction found in post-qualifying inspection. Zach Robichon initially qualified the car sixth in the GTD class.

***Meyer Shank Racing team co-owners Mike Shank and Jim Meyer as well as Vasser Sullivan’s Jimmy Vasser and James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan are set to arrive at Mid-Ohio on Sunday morning following Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series round at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

***Ed Jones finished 14th for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan while MSR’s Jack Harvey recorded a 23rd place finish after a wheel gun issue and flat tire.

***Shank said its relationship with fellow Acura DPi team Wayne Taylor Racing has been fruitful, with the current integration and information sharing at at “one level.” He indicated it would expand to a “different level” if the partnership continues into the LMDh era, as it is currently planned for both teams, which are on multi-year contracts.

***Gradient Racing, which is making its first start of the season under its own team banner, is utilizing the former No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo chassis according to Marc Miller. The Texas-based team’s Acura from last year’s WeatherTech Sprint Cup campaign has since gone to use in the HPD GT3 Academy. 

***Miller told Sportscar365 that Gradient’s plans are currently on the Sprint Cup races only. The Andris Laivins-led team operated SunEnergy1 Racing’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo in the first two rounds of the season that included a runner-up class finish at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with the possibility of additional enduros for the Kenny Habul-backed effort.

***Spencer Pumpelly is calling strategy on the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Mercedes this weekend. Pumpelly has been in similar roles with the team in previous years, including being on the box for the team’s Rolex 24 class win in 2017.  “I’m not running the sprint races so I’m able to help,” he told Sportscar365.

***IMSA is implementing a new recognition for class-winning cars in each WeatherTech Championship race, with the overall ‘Apex sticker’ presented to the finishing driver at the end of the race following TV interviews. The stickers will be placed on the car behind the left side window.

***While not mandatory, IMSA hopes it will become a “badge of honor” and something that teams “proudly display” at each event. Stickers for class winners from Daytona and Sebring have already been distributed.

***IMSA President John Doonan told Sportscar365 that he’s hopeful of being able to release the 2022 schedules at Road America, with the target of returning to “some normalcy” by holding its ‘State of the Sport’ address during the Aug. 6-8 weekend as it typically had been done pre-pandemic.

***Doonan said he also hopes to have more information by Road America on what IMSA’s TV package with NBC will look like for next year, amid the network’s decision to discontinue NBCSN at years’ end. The majority of NASCAR races on NBC are understood to be shifting to the USA Network, which is believed to be among the options for IMSA as well as the Peacock streaming service.

“We’re in a long-term agreement with NBC and are working very closely with our colleagues at NASCAR,” Doonan told Sportscar365. “We’ve had some great internal discussions and ongoing discussions with the NASCAR folks about what it looks like going forward. We’re really pleased to be in a long-term contract. Then it really comes down to the distribution plan.”

***A large contingent of executives from both Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus are expected this weekend including Jon Ikeda, the vice president and Acura Brand Officer.

***Ross Needham will take over as team manager for Team Hardpoint EBM’s GT Daytona operation, effective June 1. Needhan, who previously worked as the chief mechanic on the factory CORE autosport-run No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR-19, replaces Will Bamber, who will focus on the team’s Porsche Carrera Cup North America operation as well as client-based activities at Virginia International Raceway.

***Hardpoint EBM team owner Rob Ferriol has admitted interest in joining Porsche Carrera Cup North America later this year, potentially as a third entry in selected races alongside its full-season entries of Riley Dickinson and Efrain Castro.

“Obviously last year was a bit of a strange year to be in WeatherTech, so there’s still a number of tracks on the WeatherTech calendar that I haven’t driven,” Ferriol told Sportscar365. “I think there’s an opportunity there for me to potentially get in a car [get track experience] and run with those guys.”

***Live NBCSN coverage of the Acura Sports Car Challenge begins Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET, with Dave Burns being joined by Calvin Fish and former NASCAR crew chief Steve Letarte in the booth. Dillon Welch and Parker Kligerman will be serving as pit lane reporters for the broadcast, which will be available on Trackpass in NBC Sports Gold.

***John Hindhaugh, Jeremy Shaw and Shea Adam will again be on the call for the race for IMSA Radio as well as IMSA.tv for international viewers.

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