Michelin Pilot Challenge Season Opens with Surging 48-Car Field

As the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge 2022 season unfolds this week at Daytona, two questions resound: Who’s ready to seize control in a wide-open Grand Sport (GS) class? And can anyone dethrone Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian in the Touring Car (TCR) division?

Opening salvos to answer those questions will be launched in Friday’s BMW M Endurance Challenge, the first of 10 races on the schedule. A sizable field of 48 cars are entered for the four-hour race; 32 in GS and 16 in TCR.

The GS championship is up for grabs after Wright Motorsports, which won the 2021 title, opted to focus on its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship effort this year. It hardly leaves the cupboard bare for manufacturer Porsche, however. Nine of its new Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsports are entered in the BMW M Endurance Challenge.

A Porsche topped the speed chart in all five sessions during last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test and in qualifying on Thursday. Sebastiaan Bleekemolen turned what to date has been the fastest lap – 1 minute, 52,636 seconds (113,782 mph) in the last session of Roar testing – in the No. 540 Black Swan Racing Porsche he shares with brother Jeroen Bleekemolen and team owner Tim Pappas.

Pappas has been pleased with the team’s transition to the Clubsport. He and Jeroen Bleekemolen are scheduled to run the entire Michelin Pilot Challenge season, with Sebastiaan joining for the two four-hour events.

“Once again we’re here at Daytona with a new car and we’re just trying to learn,” Pappas said. “I would say so far, though, everything went quite well. The car’s not significantly different from last year’s car from a running standpoint. We’re just pushing as hard as we can and we’ll see what happens.”

PF Racing is home to three of the five Ford Mustang GT4s entered at Daytona. Two of PF Racing’s Mustangs are one-off projects for NASCAR Ford drivers Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton, Chase Briscoe and Hailie Deegan. But it’s been the full season No. 40 Mustang with co-drivers Chad McCumbee and James Pesek that’s set the team’s pace thus far.

“We’ve worked on our platform with our Mustang for a year now, and we finally feel like we’re starting to make some ground and get back to where we need this Ford to be,” said McCumbee, who along with Pesek finished 18th in the GS driver standings last season. “Everybody at PF Racing and Ford have worked hard to get us to this point.”

Other teams and manufacturers to watch in GS this season include the two Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 entries. no. 95 co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern finished second in GS points last season, while No. 96 drivers Robby Foley and Vin Barletta were fourth. the no. 7 Volt Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 duo of Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman returns after finishing third in the 2021 standings.

Bryan Herta Autosport Aims for Fourth Straight TCR Crown

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