15 May Race Report: Mid Ohio 2018
Two Winward/HTP Motorsport AMG GT4 cars in the Top seven finishers doesn’t tell the full story of Round 3 of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at the Mid Ohio SportsCar Course. Both Mercedes AMG GT4 cars were fast all week, but ultimately neither quite had the overall race pace to give the Houston team a genuine shot at victory lane.
Both Winward/HTP Motorsport cars pitted just after the halfway point of the two-hour race, giving Damien Faulkner in the #33 Techemet car car and Indy Dontje in the #57 Sonic Tools example about thirty five laps to make an impact. The Donegal man’s run to fifth place at the flag was an irritating one as on multiple occasions he encountered traffic at which severely hampered his chances of meaningful progress. “It was a really frustrating race to be honest. I think I hit every piece of traffic. I think I had to back out of multiple potential accidents,” explained the clearly frustrated Irishman. Faulkner was significantly more enthusiastic about the performance of his teammate, Russell Ward. “The level Russell has reached is fantastic. He basically matched my lap times in his stint and I wasn’t hanging around.”
For Dutchman Dontje, the charge from P14 into the Top 10 has become a familiar one having been faced with similar situations in both Rounds One and Two. “We had a solid pit stop which meant I came out in P14. It was hard to get a rhythm in the first three laps as the tires came in but then I was really able to get into a groove and push,” said the 25 year old from Alkmaar. “Seventh today is good and to be P6 in points, just nineteen of the lead, is fantastic for Bryce, myself and the whole team.”
Thursday’s unofficial promoter test day gave all four drivers a chance to get comfortable at the 2.258 mile, thirteen turn natural terrain road course. Having missed the team’s test there in April, this was Dontje’s first experience of the track. “My first laps here were in the rain and it really felt like driving on ice. After a couple of laps I found the line and the lap times were about where I needed to be. On used tires we were there and that was encouraging. The track is extremely tight and it is one of the reasons I love racing here in the USA, it is a totally different experience to racing on the tracks in Europe. You can’t make a mistake here, if you do you are going onto the grass or into the sand, I love that, it’s real racing for me!”
The first official sessions of the weekend came on Friday in mixed conditions which varied from dry and cold to fully wet. Damien Faulkner gave the whole team a jolt of confidence by running the fastest overall lap of the day for Winward/HTP Motorsport. “We were on new tires so we weren’t hiding anything with our performance, but it’s great to be able to show what we have,” explained the Irishman.
Saturday’s schedule included a short 15 minute practice session prior to 15 minutes of qualifying and, of course the two hour race. Bryce and Russell Ward would start the race and the Father and son pairing were behind the wheel of their respective AMG GT4s for qualifying. A Red flag interrupted the session after 7 minutes which caused some confusion in the Winward/HTP Motorsport pit. Russell Ward placed his #33 Techemet Mercedes in the line at pit out instead of returning to his pit box. This contravention of the rules produced a drive through penalty immediately on resumption of the session. “That essentially wasted two laps as I had to do an outlap, then do the drive through and then basically do another out lap”, Ward explained. “I was expecting to get just one hot lap before the checkered flag came out, the tires felt great and I really thought I was taking it easy. I came by and I saw that the checkered flag hadn’t come out so I had one last shot at it. I thought to myself “you’re in eighth but you have one lap to put it all together.” It really just came to me, it didn’t feel difficult, it flowed nicely, the whole lap felt smooth and clean and P4 is an awesome result for Winward and HTP.”
Russell Ward’s impressive qualifying effort was just +0.397 seconds off pole position. For Team Owner, Bryce Ward, a qualifying time of 1:30.240, also with his final lap of the session, placed him on the inside of the tenth row in P19. In reality, the elder Ward has shaved almost four seconds off his times from Thursday and he entered the afternoon’s race full of confidence.
At the drop of the Green flag on Saturday afternoon, both Wards lost places as they waited for their Continental Tires to reach optimal temperature. By the fourth lap of the race, Russell Ward was able to record the race’s fastest lap to that point as Bryce moved up to P17 running consistent times. The first full course caution of the day saw a number of the GS Class leaders call to the pits for fuel, this promoted the #33 Techemet AMG GT4 to P2 with the Sonic car now running in 7th. The race restarted on Lap 19, Bryce Ward lost one spot immediately but then held off a number of more experienced competitors for the next 21 laps before pitting for fuel, setting the stage for Indy Dontje to make another charge into the Top 10.
The younger Ward impressed everyone with a controlled drive in P2. “The AMG GT4 is really good on tires but it just takes two or three laps to get them up to optimum racing temperature. On the restart we all picked up so much clag and crap off line that nobody was quite right. I was delighted to be able to stay ahead of a solid group of more experienced drivers but I didn’t quite have enough for [Chad] McCumbee’s Mustang.” He pitted on Lap 38 to hand over to Faulkner and conclude what was, without question, the most impressive drive of his fledgling sportscar career.
After three rounds of the 2018 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Bryce Ward and Indy Dontje sit P6 in the Championship (71 points) with Russell Ward and Damien Faulkner P16 (44 points). The next round of the series will be held at Watkins Glen International on Saturday, June 30th.