In Their Own Words: How IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Drivers Prep for Endurance at Watkins Glen International
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

For the second and final time of the year, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge is set to go endurance racing.

Next weekend, Watkins Glen International will host the Pilot Challenge’s fourth race of the season – the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 – which is the remaining four-hour endurance race on the schedule. The standard race length is two hours and the first enduro of the year was held at Daytona International Speedway, where Pilot Challenge kicked off the season.

Meanwhile, drivers have had plenty of time to prepare for next weekend’s race that ends a nearly two-month hiatus for the series, which last competed at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 4. It also kicks off the summer of racing, with four races taking place in the next six weeks.

Here is how some of the top drivers are preparing heading into one of the toughest weekends of the year:

Alex Popow, No. 3 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta

“I have been training a lot on my bike, I'm doing good runs, lots of cardio. I think I'm in my best shape in the last eight years and we need this to have a competitive race at the Glen. We are only a two-driver lineup, so we have to stay strong to be able to fight for the win at the end of the race. Watkins Glen is my favorite track in the USA, so I'm excited to go back with our Alfa Romeo in great shape to fight for the win, and with these new Michelin Pilot tires, it is going to be a lot of fun to drive the car.”

Harry Gottsacker, No. 21 Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb Agajanian Hyundai Veloster N TCR

“We started the year with a long race in Daytona and it was the first race of the year for the BHA team. We’ve learned a lot of things about our strategy and the strengths of the new Veloster N TCR. I think this puts the team in a good position to capitalize on everything we have learned at Watkins Glen.

“As far as my preparation as a driver, I’m spending time on my simulator doing stints that equal what my time in the car could be at Watkins Glen. It is going to be hot, so I’m doing my workouts this month in the Texas heat to get used to it. When we get to race weekend, it’s going to be important to stay ahead of hydration and make sure all of our driver comforts in the car are working.”

Trent Hindman, No. 7 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport

“To me, these four-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge races are among the best changes made to the series in recent years. Generally, the attraction sees a few additional cars on grid and a handful of drivers that you don’t otherwise compete against, so having that break in monotony is just another opportunity to go test yourself. 

“There are so many additional variables that are presented with a race that’s twice the length of what we’re conditioned to, the main change being 2-3 additional pitstops where you can really manipulate your strategy and almost run a different race entirely compared to the competition. 

“I’m no strategist, but I know at Park Place Motorsports we have one of the best in the business on our pit box, and for a long distance endurance race, that’s a massive advantage to have on your side. That, coupled with an excellent co-driver in Alan Brynjolfsson and an equally stellar team servicing our car over the wall, we look forward to hunting down back to back wins in the VOLT Lighting 718 Cayman GT4.” 

Alex Papadopulos, No. 3 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta

"Many people don't understand the beating that our bodies take in endurance racing. Given that this race is four hours, us drivers are constantly dealing with the extreme heat in the cars, the pounding, the adrenaline, and the heavy loss of fluid in our bodies, which is why we have to train extensively.

“Outside of training on the track, I work out twice a day. First is weight training for an hour to make sure I stay on top of my strength. The second workout is purely conditioning, which is the most important for these kinds of races. This consists of 30 minutes to an hour every day in the 90-degree weather either biking, running, circuit training, or even basketball outdoors. Another important factor for me is to constantly be hydrated and stretched out before going out on track to avoid cramping during the longer stints."

Ryan Nash, No. 12 ROWE Racing Audi RS3 LMS

“I’ve been prepping for the race a lot between testing with the eEuroparts Racing team on track at Watkins Glen and training at home on the simulator. With the race being four hours I’ve been focusing more on exercises that help improve my cardio stamina. The team’s strategy does not differ other than its an extra two hours. From past experience at the four-hour race at Daytona, we feel very confident the team is ready to perform at its highest level.”

Nate Stacy, No. 60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4

“It’s definitely a challenge to change up the strategy for an extra two hours. A lot of teams have different ways to approach so much extra time, but one slip up will cost you positions and with a field this competitive, one position is everything. Nevertheless, (team owner) Dean Martin and the guys at KohR Motorsports have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep things interesting.”

Colin Mullan, No. 52 L.A. Honda World Racing Honda Civic

“The four-hour races are completely different from the usual two hours in numerous ways. There is a lot more the team can do with the strategy, so we have to be willing to take more risks as the race goes on. Fortunately, the L.A. Honda World Racing team with LAP Motorsports has always been strong in the long runs. We won Watkins last year with the MINI team, and our teammates finished 1-2 at Daytona, which is the other four-hour race on our schedule. I’m confident in our team, it’s just up to the drivers to perform now!”  

Roy Block, No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta

“My approach to preparing for the four-hour racing focuses on primary objectives: one, retaining an optimal mental performance condition over a two-hour period; and two (the) ability to physically perform in adverse conditions, especially high temperatures.

Optimal mental performance is the emotional/mental state where the driver races in a calm yet highly aware state. I use a combination of visualizing exercises developed specifically for each track/race weekend. These exercises create purposeful behaviors to ultimately make me comfortable with any racing situations. Over the past three years I've been working with Beltrame Solutions to develop and hone these skills.

Fitness-wise, I developed a routine that combines strength/flexibility/aerobic performance. My typical week includes 15-20 miles of running, 60 miles of cycling, 90 minutes of bikram yoga (done in 100 degree plus room), and 120 minutes of strength training. As I get closer to race weekend, I make sure to have one to two workouts that last two hours - the typical duration of a double stint expected in a four-hour race.”

The Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 goes green on Saturday, June 29 at 1:55 p.m. ET on with IMSA Radio commentary. The NBCSN broadcast of the race will air on Thursday, July 11 at 6 p.m. Updates throughout the weekend can be kept up with on or on social media using the hashtags #TiogaDowns240 or #IMSA.