Continental Tire Challenge GS Notebook
Monday, September 24, 2018

This is the first installment in a three-part series to examine some of the top IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge storylines heading into the series’ season finale at Road Atlanta on Oct. 10-13.

 

The 10th and final race of the Continental Tire Challenge season – the Fox Factory 120, as part of the Motul Petit Le Mans weekend with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – will take place on Oct. 12 at 1:25 p.m. ET and can be streamed live on IMSA.tv. Tickets are also available at RoadAtlanta.com.

The top-tier Grand Sport (GS) class wraps up its first year with full GT4 technical regulations, after announcing the platform in 2016. As a result, car count and manufacturer participation skyrocketed in the last two years, with a current average of 23 cars across eight marques contending for the top spot.

Entering the last race of the season, strong performances have put certain teams and manufacturers in prime position to secure a championship. Here’s a look at how some of those came to be:

 

Team TGM Holding Strong for Team and Manufacturer’s First Continental Tire Challenge Title

In what can only be described as a dream season, the Ted Giovanis-led squad enters the season finale leading the GS driver and team standings by 31 points. Before 2018, the team had yet to record a win in the Continental Tire Challenge. However, with veteran drivers Hugh Plumb and Owen Trinkler behind the wheel of the No. 46 Mercedes-AMG GT4, the team now has three victories and is well on its way to a potential championship.

"Our team has been in the series at some level since 2006 when we started very small, and since 2013, have evolved into the team we are today,” described Giovanis, who also co-drives Team TGM’s second car – the No. 4 Mercedes-AMG GT4 – with Guy Cosmo. “We are a true IMSA privateer team, as well as being the only team in the paddock with our cars solely dedicated to charities (JKTG Foundation and Camp Boggy Creek). 

“Being in contention to win the championship is something TGM has always strived for. In the beginning of 2018, we created a plan to develop our new cars and to achieve consistent top five finishes. We executed our plans and things seemed to evolve from there. So, we remain optimistic about Road Atlanta.”

In addition to the recognition within IMSA that would come from winning a championship, should Team TGM secure the GS title, the global recognition also would be off the charts. The team’s first victory at Lime Rock Park in July doubled as the first global victory for the Mercedes-AMG GT4, just one year after the car made its debut.

“It has been quite the journey to this point and there have been many highs and lows, but those hard times only make how far we have come more meaningful,” said Giovanis. “All I can say is that I am grateful to each of my team members, the support we have gotten from other teams throughout the paddock and Mercedes as well as everyone from our clothing vendors to hospitality to logistics services.  We are all truly a racing family."

 

Five Victories by Ford Puts Marque on Top of Diverse Manufacturer Battle

In one of the more diverse classes in recent Continental Tire Challenge history, there’s one manufacturer that has shown its strength and performance across the board this year.

Three teams with six different drivers have piloted a Ford Mustang GT4 to victory lane, totaling five wins in nine races. The No. 60 KohR Motorsports / Roush Performance duo of Kyle Marcelli and Nate Stacy lead the charge with three wins, while two teams have one victory apiece – the No. 8 Multimatic Motorsports machine of Chad McCumbee and Patrick Gallagher, and the No. 7 VOLT Racing Mustang of Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman.

Ford currently leads the manufacturer standings by 10 (291-281) over Mercedes-AMG, which claims the three victories from Team TGM’s Plumb and Trinkler. BMW with 260 points – and a steady season from BimmerWorld Racing’s James Clay and Tyler Cooke in the No. 82 BMW M4 GT4 – holds third place by two marks over Porsche, which took the first win of the season at Daytona with RS1’s Spencer Pumpelly and Dillon Machavern in the No. 28.

Should Ford take the title in 2018, this would be its second in three years. But as Global Director, Ford Performance, Motorsports Mark Rushbrook describes, there’s also a bigger picture in mind. The manufacturer’s participation in the Continental Tire Challenge has a larger impact within the organization.

"We've had tremendous success with our Ford Mustang GT4 customer program this year,” said Rushbrook. “Every team has made the podium and they have five wins among them. We've also been able to use this program as an opportunity to give our young Ford Performance drivers, crossover drivers from other series, valuable seat time on road courses that will make them better overall racers."

 

Marcelli Reaches End of Double Duty Season

While several drivers over the course of the year have dipped their toe into multiple series for one or two races, Kyle Marcelli committed in 2018 to contending full seasons in both the Continental Tire Challenge in the No. 60 Ford Mustang GT4 for KohR Motorsports, in addition to the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class in the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3.

As all 10 of the Continental Tire Challenge races are held in tandem with the WeatherTech Championship, the Canadian has kept himself busy on race weekends and done it successfully. Marcelli currently owns three wins in the Continental Tire Challenge with co-driver Nate Stacy and two wins in GTD with co-driver Dominik Baumann.

“It is busy, to say the least,” said Marcelli. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I’d say it’s a feast or famine industry. You have a lot going on or a little. This year I have a lot, and it’s been wonderful, but it’s been busy. I’ve ran both series in the past as one-offs, where I was full time in one series, but did a race or two in the other, but never balancing both on a full-time schedule. I didn’t know what to expect, but overall, I’ve really enjoyed it.

“I’ve learned to prepare different from a nutritional standpoint. You have to really balance that and be on top of your schedule. I literally carry a duffel bag for both so I can swap on the go. That’s been important. Then it’s just managing the schedule. That’s been essential as well. I go over the schedule with both teams in advance of the event and make sure we don’t have any conflicts. Both teams have been very open and accommodating to making the schedule work for me, so I’m not literally getting out of one seat and into another.”

Marcelli and Stacy currently sit second in the GS standings by 31 points behind leaders Trinkler and Plumb. In the GTD standings, Marcelli and Baumann rank fifth and, with one race remaining, out of championship contention despite the team’s success.

“From a performance standpoint, it’s been a pretty good year for both programs,” said Marcelli. “On the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge side, the first half of the season was stronger than the second half and thankfully we’re still second in the championship with one race to go. On the WeatherTech side, we have two wins and three podiums, which has also been a pretty good year. It’s been a roller coaster season over there as well. I’d do it again, if I was asked to do it again. I’d definitely do it again.”

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